Today we welcome guest blogger Lou Priolo. Lou is a long time friend, author, counselor, and conference speaker. Check out his regular blog site at www.loupriolobiblicalcounseling.com.
To my way of thinking, the place of the doctrine of justification in the believer’s life is much like the operating system on a computer. I’m a PC guy. My personal computer operates under a Windows operating system. Windows is always up and running, but most of the time, it runs in the background. I don’t see it. I can go for days without looking at it (although I know it is functioning as long as the other programs are operating properly). Occasionally, I have to go to the control panel to troubleshoot a problem, make some minor adjustments, or defrag my hard drive, but I don’t give it another thought because I have faith that it is doing what it is supposed to do. So it is with my justification. It is always up and running. Though I am not always consciously thinking about it, everything I do flows from it. Indeed, I could do nothing without it. But there are many other things I am called to do (there are many other responsibilities God calls me to fulfill) on which I must diligently focus my attention. Although I am very grateful for it, I cannot allow myself to be distracted by checking the stability of my operating system of justification every five minutes.
But what about the growing number of those who say that we must (or should or ought to) “preach the Gospel to ourselves every day?” If by Gospel they mean the entire ordo-salutis: effectual calling, regeneration, faith, justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification—the whole enchilada—there is not a problem (other than the fact that the Bible doesn’t exactly command us to do this). But if, like so many seem to be espousing today, they take a reductionist view of the Gospel—reducing it to justification (or to adoption) alone—there is a problem.
If a new or immature believer does not yet have the faith to believe once and for all that God has truly justified him, he would do well to “preach the Gospel of justification to himself every day” until his faith is mature. But to require me to “preach that gospel to myself daily” is to relegate me to the “O ye of little faith” society (which membership I would be only too happy to acknowledge if I thought it were true in regard to my justification). But the truth is that I believe God. I took Him at his Word when He said that He justified me. By and large, I walk around 24/7 with a righteousness consciousness that flows from my faith in Christ’s finished work on the cross. Even in the midst of my sin, I fully believe that I stand righteous and clean before my Lord (that I am still a son who is loved and accepted by my Heavenly Father) because I have been once and for all justified by faith in His blood. Indeed, my absolutely favorite Bible verse is Romans 4:8, “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not take into account.” Consequently, I have little desire to spend precious moments every day laying anew a foundation that has already been laid for me. Nor do I think that the foundation on which I am building my life somehow needs daily reinforcement. My foundation is firm! I would rather (and I believe the bulk of Scripture directs me to) spend my time building upon that foundation by growing in love, in holiness, and in good works. (I don’t believe we should have a reductionist view of the concept of grace either—grace is more than unmerited favor—it is the supernatural ability and desire that God gives His adopted sons and daughters to obey Him.) And yes, of course, I realize that I can do none of this apart from the Spirit’s enabling power, and that my motivation for working so diligently on my sanctification is out of a heart filled with gratitude for what Christ has done by justifying me (not to mention thanksgiving for a myriad of other mercies with which He has blessed me).
This is not to say that there aren’t moments in my life when, because I am overwhelmed with the guilt of a particular sin, I have to take a bath in Psalm 32, 103, and Romans 3–5 for a few days in order to personally appropriate that justification which I forensically know is mine but that seems to have eluded me experientially. Nevertheless, these moments of weakness (concerning my faith) thankfully for me have been the rare exception rather than the rule.
Of course, there are many other exceptions that could be cited of people who may rightly be encouraged to take a daily booster shot of the Good News of justification. Perfectionistic people, for example, or legalistic individuals, or those who struggle with certain eating disorders are typically those who don’t comprehend justification and its implications on their lives and therefore would do well to review (indoctrinate themselves with) that part of the Gospel until they are fully assured that what God has promised He is able to perform.
So, this is certainly not to imply that there is something wrong with meditating on Christ and what He has done in regard to one’s justification. Indeed, such meditation serves as our greatest motivation for cooperating with the Holy Spirit in the progressive sanctification process. Thus, it is certainly a good thing to do. But, it is the insistence by some that we are all obligated to do this daily that has prompted me to speak out about what I believe amounts to an unbiblical approach to sanctification.
Meditating on what Christ has done by justifying us is not, from the human perspective, what brings about our progressive sanctification (it is not the scriptural modus operandi for or the practical key to it). Obeying Christ’s commandments (in the power of the Spirit and from a heart that is properly motivated) is what does. Understanding justification (and being appreciative for it) is our primary motivation for sanctification, not a principal means of it.
So again, for those whose faith is weak (momentarily or chronically), or who do not understand or properly value the precious doctrine of justification by faith in Christ, or for those who are so proud as to believe that they can obey the Bible in their own power, I believe they should by all means proclaim the doctrine of justification to themselves as often as necessary until their faith is strengthened or until they come to grips with their own depravity. And for the rest of us, meditating on our justification and being thankful to God for it is a fine and proper thing to do. But for one Christian who struggles with (or is weak in) his faith to tell those of us who don’t that we are obligated to daily do what his lack of faith or knowledge (or perhaps lack of humility) impels him to do is presumptuous, if not legalistic. And for teachers and preachers of the Word who want to encourage others to meditate on the blessedness of being justified more regularly than perhaps they do in order to be properly motivated to obey God, for such teachers to not clearly delineate the biblical distinctions between justification and sanctification and thereby synchronize them in the minds of their hearers, is to put a stumbling block before those saints whom they are wanting to help walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. The Gospel is more—much more—than justification by faith alone.
 (including our responsibility to cooperate with the Spirit in the process by obeying Scripture)
 I make it my practice to read my Bible every day and am thereby reminded of what I have in Christ whenever I read (as I come across in my reading) the many Gospel passages in Scripture. And, of course, every time I partake of the Lord’s Supper, I do so in remembrance of Him.