The Scriptures teach and the Reformed churches confess that believers are definitively, finally, once-for-all justified before God. They will not be re-tried. They cannot be re-tried. To suggest such a thing is to insult the perfect righteousness of our Savior and to deny the once-for-all declaration of God. Christ did not become incarnate for his people, obey on their behalf, die, nor was he raised that we might be only provisionally justified only to be retried at the last day partly on the basis of Spirit-wrought sanctity or our good works issuing from the justification wrought for us and sanctification gradually and gracious wrought in us.
In the early days of the Federal Vision one of the errors the confessional Presbyterian and Reformed (hereafter P&R) churches were facing was the claim that, at the judgment believers will stand before God partly on the basis of Christ’s righteousness imputed and received through faith and partly on the basis of Spirit-wrought sanctity. To this teaching, in 2004, the United Reformed Churches in North America responded with three points of doctrinal affirmation:
- “that the Scriptures and confessions teach the doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, based upon the active and passive obedience of Christ alone.”
- “that the Scriptures and confessions teach that faith is the sole instrument of our justification apart from all works.”and determined to
- “remind & encourage individuals and churches that, if there are office-bearers suspected of deviating from or obscuring the doctrine of salvation as summarized in our confessions, they are obligated to follow the procedure prescribed in Church Order Art. 29, 52, 55, 61, and 62 for addressing theological error.”
The controversy continued however, and Synod again replied in 2007 with Nine Pointsof “Pastoral Advice.” The 9th point said:
Synod rejects the error of those who teach that there is a separate and final justification grounded partly upon righteousness or sanctity inherent in the Christian (HC 52; BC 37).
Synod said this because the clear teaching of God’s Word is that there is but one justification and it is “apart from the works of the law.” This is precisely what God’s holy, immutable Word says in Romans 3:28: “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (ESV). Just before that Paul had been equally clear:
the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom 3:22-24a; ESV)
This was Paul’s case to the church at Rome and to everyone who would listen. Genesis 15:6 is clear. Abraham was justified by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide).
For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due (Rom 4:3–4; ESV).
Paul repeated himself again in 5:1–2:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God (ESV).
It is being proposed (again), however, that there are two stages to salvation, initial and final. It is being proposed that believers are initially justified by grace alone, through faith alone but only finally saved through faith and works. Under such a proposal, however, our justification becomes merely provisional. In any two-stage scheme, justification in this life cannot be final.