And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments. (Deut 5:10 KJV)


A Joomla! Template for the Rest of Us




Please enter your questions, and we will get back to you as soon as possible. As an anti-spam measure, we ask that you re-type the code you see in the box below, prior to clicking "Send Message"

Chapter 2 The Repentant Goes Home Justified & The Shallowly Righteous Does Not

Who Goes Home Justified? Who Does Not?

Jesus taught how one is justified and not justified in the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. Jesus uses the same word for justified as Paul used everywhere that Paul taught about justification. Jesus clearly ties initial justification to repentance from sin. Jesus then ties the lack of justification to a similar lack of repentance — this time over the failure to recognize an incomplete obedience. Hence, Jesus means by justification God’s standards for imputing atonement to you, as discussed in the prior chapter.

Is there any way to square this parable with the idea that Jesus teaches justification initiates and is maintained by a moment of faith, let alone by faith alone? We will explore the arguments that try to square it that way.

First, let’s listen to Jesus alone.

(9) And he spake also this parable unto certain who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and set all others at nought:1 (10) Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. (11) The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. (12) I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I get. (13) But the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote his breast, saying, God, be thou merciful to me a sinner. (14) I say unto you, This man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled; but he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (Luke 18:9-14 ASV.)


1. Other versions are clearer: “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else....” (Luke 18:9.)


This parable is not hard to discern, particularly if you recognize that Jesus uses a Pharisee as the religious ruler to contrast against a Publican. Let’s put the comparisons and contrasts side-by-side in a table so the meaning is inescapable.


Thus, the Publican does something different than the Pharisee. The only difference is the Publican repents from sin he committed. The Publican sees the Law which he has failed to obey and he confesses his wrong. Thus, he “humbles” himself, as Jesus puts it. The Pharisee does not act similarly. He fails to humble himself. He does not see how his shallow knowledge of God’s Law causes his conduct to fall below the Law’s standards. Instead, he exalts himself. He praises himself and his two relatively insignificant good deeds of fasting and tithing.

Is the Pharisee’s problem in the parable that he has sufficient good deeds and no sin? Is the Pharisees’ problem that he thinks he is justified by obedience, but that is a wrong salvation formula (even an heretical one)?

The Modern Faith-alone gospel asserts, as we discuss below, that the Pharisee’s flaw which causes lack of justification is he in fact had no sin and was one-hundred percent obedient. The Pharisee supposedly did not realize this is not enough to be saved. This way faith-alone advocates can maintain works of obedience supposedly do not justify. By contrast, the Publican was supposedly disobedient and because he had faith alone, the cheap grace proponents insist this is why he went home justified. This interpretation is shocking to say the least.

Before we give time to the Cheap Grace Gospel proponents to argue these two points, let’s do our own careful analysis.

First, what did Jesus really intend us to see was the error of the Pharisee? What also did Jesus want us to recognize as the cause of the Pharisee’s failing?

Pharisees’ Flaw Was Failure To Repent Of Sin

First and foremost, it is obvious Jesus wants us to understand that had the Pharisee repented from sin, he too would be justified. This was the missing piece in the Pharisee’s visit to the temple. It is the only behavior different between the two men. Jesus calls it here humbling yourself. The Pharisee instead exalted himself.

Yet, this simple truth would destroy ‘justification by faith alone’ doctrine if the truth of what Jesus taught were ever spread far and wide. Thus, this obvious reading is ignored. Or the passage is twisted, as we shall see.

Pharisees Are Jesus’ Example Of Shallow-Law Keepers

Second, Jesus says in the parable that the cause of the failure of the Pharisee in the Temple to repent was his incomplete knowledge and adherence to God’s Law.

Jesus says the Pharisee in the Temple praises himself for tithing. Jesus elsewhere said Pharisees were good about following this less important command to tithe. However, Jesus faulted the Pharisees for ignoring the weightier commands of the Law. (Matt. 23:23). The Pharisee in the Temple also was right that he followed the fasting rules twice a week.

However, that was a command from the Oral Law,2 not the written Law given Moses. Jesus said elsewhere that the Pharisees negated the written Law by requiring obedience to their Oral Law — “mere commandments of men.” (Matt. 15:9.)

Thus, the cause of the Pharisee’s failure to repent was his sect’s shallow knowledge of God’s Law. In other words, the Pharisee was being destroyed by his shallow belief in what laws applied to himself. This was precisely what God said destroyed the people in Hosea 4:6. God said in Hosea that because the religious leaders were no longer teaching the full Law, the people were being destroyed.3 This is why Jesus elsewhere taught only when your “righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees can you enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:20.) Their righteousness was shallow.

Hence, contrary to what faith alone doctrine insists, Jesus was not teaching justification was lacking because the Pharisee was perfectly obeying the Law but lacked faith. Rather, Jesus is pointing precisely at someone who does not


2. The Pharisees fasted twice a week — on Mondays and Thursdays. This is deducible from an early Second Century document — the Didache, sometimes called theTeaching of the Twelve Apostles. It instructs: “Be careful not to schedule your fasts at the times when the hypocrites fast. They fast on the second (Monday) and fifth (Thursday) day of the week, therefore make your fast on the fourth (Wednesday) day and the Preparation day (Friday, the day of preparation for the Sabbath-Saturday).” (Didache 8:1.)

3. For full discussion, see 151 et seq.


keep the Law but merely thinks he does so as he waters it down. The Pharisees had replaced the written Law with their oral traditions. Hence, the Pharisee’s doctrine was so off that as he stands in front of the temple he can assure himself that he is obedient without realizing he was not obedient to God’s true Laws. He may have been faithful in keeping the oral law which his compatriots invented. This permitted himself to engage in self-justification by means of shallow doctrines. But it did not make the Pharisee truly obedient to God’s Law and hence justified.

Hence, this parable is not saying one is lacking justification if one obeys the Law perfectly.

Smug Self-Righteousness: What It Represents In Jesus’ Lesson

The Pharisee in the parable also thanked God that he was not like those who were “extortioners, unjust, and adulterers” such as the Publicans. Yet, was this true? Or was it a smug self-righteous attitude?

Jesus elsewhere said the Pharisees taught a diluted doctrine on adultery, permitting lust for a married woman if it did not end up in the act of adultery.4 By having a wrong view of the Law on adultery, this Pharisee’s self-examination ended up shallow and defective on the very issue of adultery which this Pharisee was congratulating himself that he obeyed.

Thus, the danger for the Pharisee was two-fold. He thought obedience to the Oral Law pleased God when in fact it had the opposite effect.

Second, when the Pharisee in the parable prayed to God, he did not have an adequate and clear knowledge of the Law. He could not do a proper self-examination. Such knowledge of Scripture is crucial to repent in favor of obedience to obtain justification in God’s sight. (Deut. 6:25.) Without knowledge of the Law, this leads to self-righteousness.


4. See page 165 et seq.


You are left to rely upon your own perceptions of right and wrong. Indubitably, due to self-interest, this leads to self-affirming thoughts. In a word, smug self-righteousness will result.

The Pharisee’s mistake was thus two-fold: he trusted in obedience to the Oral Law would impress God. He was also smug in his knowledge of the Law, assuming incorrectly that he kept it perfectly.5 This closed his mind to repentance.

This smugness is thus clearly what led the Pharisee to fail to repent. Jesus wanted us to see his blindness was about the Law’s provisions. With a mind closed against the Law’s principles, the Pharisee became smug about his right standing with God. The Pharisee was unable to even repent properly about adultery because of wrong doctrine on when it takes place. The Pharisee’s law-negating doctrines doomed him to never be able to properly repent. His resultant smugness locked him into a false sense of being right with God.

Was The Pharisee Being Scolded On His Doctrine Of Justification By Jesus?

The faith alone advocate, we shall see, is going to claim Jesus was scolding the Pharisee instead on his doctrine of justification. Allegedly, Jesus wants us to realize the Pharisee erroneously thought that he could maintain justification by works of obedience.

However, if Jesus taught that no one is justified by obeying the Law, Jesus would contradict numerous Scriptures, including provisions in the Law of Moses. (Deut. 6:25, discussed in the next section.) Jesus would therefore become a false prophet under Deuteronomy 13:1-5. This says anyone with signs and wonders who seduces us from following the Law is to be regarded as a false prophet even if their signs and wonders “come to pass.” But Jesus did not teach justification


5. Paul reflected having precisely this self-image of his time as a Pharisee. He said: “as touching the law, [I was] a Pharisee; (6)... as touching the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless.” (Phillipians 3:5-6 ASV.)

was without obedience to the Law. Only the Modern Gospel of Cheap Grace does so. It tries to impress such an heresy on top of Jesus’ parable. To do this, they must engage in a highly distorted reading.

To answer this issue, we need to look at the Law and the Prophets, and what they teach on justification.

Justification In the Law of Moses

Deuteronomy 6:25 states:

And it shall be righteousness unto us, if we observe to do all this commandment before Jehovah our God, as he hath commanded us. (ASV).

This teaches that ongoing justification is from observing to do all the commandments God had given to Moses. Notice this is not explaining how justification initiates. This is talking about how justification is maintained.

The Lutheran scholars Keil & Delitzsch in their Commentary on the Old Testament agree on this meaning of Deuteronomy 6:25:

[O]ur righteousness will consist in the observance of the law; we shall be regarded and treated by God as righteous, if we are diligent in the observance of the law.

Plaut, a Jewish commentator, concurs. (See Footnote 10 on page 137.) Thus, God taught in Deuteronomy 6:25 that if we obey the law it will impute righteousness to us. It was the identical principle Jesus had for when atonement applies, as demonstrated in the prior chapter.

The same is found in Leviticus 18:5.

Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and mine ordinances; which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am Jehovah. (Lev 18:5 ASV.)6

6. Paul quotes this verse and understood this is as “righteousness of the law.” (Romans 10:5; Gal. 3:12.) Paul then appears to say after Christ, righteousness is no longer by obeying the Law, but now is by having pistis, typically translated as faith. Paul says “the Law is not of faith (pistis).” (Gal. 3:11-12.) However, unless Paul meant faithfulness by pistis in his doctrine, Paul would be contradicting inspired Scripture. If so, Paul would be a false prophet. (Deut. 13:1-5; Isaiah 8:20.) Thus, if Paul meant to suggest that Leviticus 18:5 were ever superseded in the NT, this would nullify God’s word that these words given Moses were “eternal for all generations.” See Ex. 27:2130:21Lev. 6:187:3610:917:723:14214124:3Num. 10:8. Therefore, either we have mistranslated or misunderstood Paul or, by the Bible’s very blunt and harsh rule, Paul is a false prophet. This is fully discussed in my prior book, Jesus’ Words Only (2007). As we shall see, Paul often meant faithfulness (obedient living) by pistis. See page 468. If translated that way, Paul is fully consistent with the Law and Prophets. Yet, the dilemma of what Paul teaches when tension exists with Jesus’ words or the Law & Prophets is non-existent for the true Christian. The true follower of Jesus obviously follows whatever Jesus teaches and wherever He leads. See Jesus’ Words Only (2007).

Justification In The Prophets

We will see the same principle again in this quote from Ezekiel:

But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right (Eze 18:5 ASV.)

.... [and] hath walked in my statutes, and hath kept mine ordinances, to deal truly; he is just, he shall surely live, saith the Lord Jehovah. (Eze 18:9 ASV.)

Hence, the obedient is just and he will live. Likewise, the correct translation of Habakkuk 2:4 is that the “just shall live by his faithfulness.” In Hebrew, this means obedient living.7 The fact the Septuagint of 247 B.C. translated this passage with an ambiguous Greek word pistis, which can mean either faithfulness or faith, has led commentators to shallow out Habakkuk’s meaning of justification. They have often opted to translate it as faith, not faithfulness in several English translation.8 However, we cannot permit a Greek translation like the Septuagint to change God’s word in Habakkuk 2:4. Nor would that translation error — no matter what respected figure was misled by such a mistranslation9 — ever let us ignore Deuteronomy 6:25 and Ezekiel 18:5, 9, and a host of other passages on justification. Especially, when the Lord Jesus has the identical view of justification as we find in the Law and the Prophets.

What About Genesis 15:6?

There are no other passages in the Scripture that deal with justification. What about Genesis 15:6? It was another Septuagint mistranslation that misled respected New Testament figures to see that verse as dealing with justification. Genesis 15:6 had nothing to do with justification whatsoever in the original Hebrew text. An erroneous understanding was born solely due to a defect in the Septuagint Greek


7. In most English texts where Paul quotes Habakkuk in its Septuagint translation, pistis is rendered as faith rather than faithfulness. This translation would make it appear Paul was duped by the ambiguity in the Greek word pistis. However, no such ambiguity is present in the Hebrew original word emunah. The Hebrew word emunah in Habakkuk 2:4 is derived from aman, “to be firm, last.” When used as a personal attribute of man, it means fidelity in word and deed. See Jer.7:28; Jer. 9:2; Psalm 37:3. However, for doctrinal reasons, many English translations of Habakkuk 2:4 go back and alter the Hebrew translation to the impossible rendering of faith. Only a few evangelical translations of Habakkuk 2:4 are faithful to the original Hebrew text. For example, we read: “by his steadfastness liveth” (YLT); “faithfulness” (God’s Word); and “faithful to God” (Good News Bible).

8. Professor Dunning, Professor of Theology at Trevecca Nazarene College in Nashville, Tennessee, did a thorough analysis of the inappropriate ambiguity injected into Habakkuk 2:4 by the Septuagint Greek Translation. See Jesus’ Words Only (2007) at 272-76.

9. On the fact of this misleading translation and how it has impacted NT doctrine, including in how it advances a doctrine of justification at odds with Jesus, see my prior book, Jesus’ Words Only (2007) at 27273, 297-98, 507-08.


translation of 247 B.C. That translation alone created the possibility that justification of an individual was in view. However, in the original Hebrew, such a reading is missing.10

Hence, Jesus’ teaching of justification by repentance from sin is completely consistent with all prior scripture. Nothing refutes it. And nothing impels us to abandon Jesus’ lessons.

TABLE 2. Justification In Ezekiel 18: Good Deeds Lose Value When You Sin. A Mirror Of The Parable Of The Publican And The Pharisee

Justified Unjustified
Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive. (28) Because he considereth, andturneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die. Eze 18:27-28 ASV But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? None of his righteous deeds that he hath done shall be remembered: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die. Eze 18:24 ASV



10.See “Does Genesis 15:6 Support Paul’s Dispensing With Repentance?” on page 485 et seq. A brief synopsis is provided here. The meaning in Hebrew of Genesis 15:6 is unquestionable. When it says that “he believed the Lord, and [he] counted it to him for righteousness” (KJV), the second he is interpolated. In normal Hebrew syntax (and English too incidentally), the second he is to be identified with the he in the first clause: Abram aka Abraham. Thus, it was Abraham counting it (i.e., the promise of 15:5 of children in old age) to Him (the Lord) as a righteous deed. But the Septuagint Greek gnarled terribly Genesis 15:6. (This is what Paul quotes.) It said, “and it was counted to him for righteousness.” What was being counted? And who was counting? The Septuagint Greek translation opened up ambiguities that are simply not present in the Hebrew. The passage from beginning to end had nothing to do with the doctrine of justification. For further discussion, see Jesus’ Words Only (2007) at 251-53, 272, 506-07 and xxix.


TABLE 2. Justification In Ezekiel 18: Good Deeds Lose Value When You Sin. A Mirror Of The Parable Of The Publican And The Pharisee

Justified Unjustified
Publican - turned from wickedness Pharisee - recites obedience to lesser command of tithing and to oral law on fasting.
Publican - repented from sin Pharisee - failed to repent from sin

MacArthur’s Spin To Prove This Parable Teaches Justification By Faith Alone

John MacArthur defends a faith alone reading of the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican.

Thus, when MacArthur discusses Jesus’ doctrine of justification in this passage, he claims it is compatible with faith alone doctrine. To accomplish this, MacArthur claims the Pharisees were legalists. As proven in the later chapter on the Pharisees, this is a false depiction of the Pharisees.11 The faith-alone interpretation of Jesus’ parable, such as Mac-Arthur offers, collapses when we correct the wrong view of the Pharisees upon which his argument relies.

MacArthur begins with a wise approach:

But the one occasion where Jesus actually declared someone ‘justified’ provides the best insight into the doctrine as He taught it.12

This is absolutely the case. The best source of the doctrine on justification should be Jesus. When Jesus declares someone justified, we need to find out why.


11.See “Exceeding The Righteousness Of The Shallowly Righteous — Matthew 5:20.” on page 147 et seq. 12.John MacArthur, “Jesus’ Perspective on Sola Fide,” (2004) at http:// (last accessed 4/8/2007).



However, as we shall see, MacArthur will impress on top of Jesus’ words foreign ideas to make the foreign ideas palatable, and allegedly consistent with what Jesus teaches. Yet, those foreign ideas supplant and destroy Jesus’ message on justification.

To save belief-alone-for-justification, MacArthur commits two misrepresentations. He falsely depicts the publican (tax-gatherer) and the Pharisee. Yet, MacArthur initially summarizes this parable accurately.

He [Jesus] also told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer. The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, “God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.” But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14, emphasis added).

To this point, MacArthur is correctly summarizing the parable.

So why was the man who repented of sin justified but the man who failed to do so unjustified? The answer is blaring and obvious: repentance is key.

However, MacArthur will claim that the one who is unjustified is so because he had successfully engaged in complete obedience to the Law. And with that presupposition added to the parable, Jesus means supposedly to expose that perfect obedience cannot impute righteousness (justification) to you.

Then the justified Publican is supposedly justified — according to MacArthur — because he had been disobedient but now has faith, and hence is justified despite disobedience. Yet, faith is never once alluded to or mentioned in the parable. MacArthur therefore makes a highly improper superimposition of faith-alone doctrine upon the text.

MacArthur wants us to believe (at least here) that faith alone is what Jesus is implying justified the Publican.13 First, MacArthur says:

That parable surely shocked Jesus’ listeners! They “trusted in themselves that they were righteous” (v. 9) — the very definition of self-righteousness. Their theological heroes were the Pharisees, who held to the most rigid legalistic standards. They fasted, made a great show of praying and giving alms, and even went further in applying the ceremonial laws than Moses had actually prescribed.

Let’s stop there. MacArthur is saying that the Pharisees held to the “most rigid legalistic standards,” and they did not merely keep the Law perfectly, but “exceeded” the Law to the fullest extent possible. MacArthur is building a case that the Pharisee’s error was he thought his perfect obedience to the Law would justify himself. MacArthur is never implying they were wrong that they had indeed perfectly obeyed the Law. Jesus is therefore supposedly telling us someone who perfectly obeys the Law is unjustified.


13.MacArthur previously had taught repentance-from-sin (not merely a change in one’s mind) is a key to salvation and compatible with faith alone. (John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus (Zondervan: 1994) at 33.) Thus, it is likely here that MacArthur believes the Publican’s repentance is what justifies. However, in MacArthur’s unique worldview, he feels free to define repentance-from-sin as faith. This is unjustifiable. See page 87 et seq. Most evangelicals also disagree that repentance-from-sin is justifying. They even claim such an idea is heretical. See my prior book, Jesus’ Words Only (2007) at 399 fn. 23.


Incidentally, if Jesus indeed taught that as true, then Jesus would contradict Deuteronomy 6:25.14 Jesus would become a false prophet by virtue of Deuteronomy 13:1-5. That passage says any prophet who seduces you from following the Law’s teachings is a false prophet. But Jesus is not teaching this — not even remotely. In the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, the contrast is clear. The publican is someone who broke the Law and confessed.The Pharisee is someone who focused on the few good things they did like tithing. He proclaimed himself righteous. Yet, the Pharisee would not otherwise repent. However, MacArthur — after he has firmly established the beach-head of his wrong premise — brings home his point. Jesus supposedly teaches justification by faith alone:

Now He [Jesus]... astounds His listeners with a parable that seems to place a detestable tax-gatherer in a better position spiritually than a praying Pharisee. Jesus’ point is clear. He was teaching that justification is by faith alone. All the theology of justification is there. But without delving into abstract theology, Jesus clearly painted the picture for us with a parable.

There is now a second misdirection in the above quote. MacArthur injected one more false idea. MacArthur claims that the contrast Jesus was making was between a “detestable tax gather” and the spiritually flawless and obedient Pharisee.

Describing the publican and Pharisee in that way represents a slight of hand. It makes one think obedience does not justify and the disobedient are justified by faith alone.



14.For further discussion on this passage, see page 33.



Yet, in truth, the publican turned to obedience by his repentance while the Pharisee was a sinner following Oral law and the lesser Written law. The Pharisee had a shallow obedience, which thereby made the Pharisee a sinner. The Pharisee was smug in his self-made and shallow righteousness.

What should we conclude from MacArthur’s analysis?

It’s rather simple. MacArthur has set up a false contrast, misrepresenting both figures in the parable. MacArthur has described the Publican too narrowly — omitting his repentance activity. MacArthur also has falsely depicted the Pharisee as perfectly law-abiding despite (a) the elements in the parable pointing to only obedience to two commands and (b) Jesus’ many contrary lessons about the Pharisees as shallow Law-negators. (Matt. 15:6,9; 23:23.) This false re-construction of Jesus’ parable by MacArthur is clearly visible in Table 3 below.

TABLE 3. Justification: Jesus’ Contrasts v. MacArthur Contrasts.

Repentance Justifies (Jesus)Faith Alone Justifies (MacArthur)
Publican “beat his breast and not look up to heaven, praying, ‘Be Merciful to Me a sinner.’” Publican “detestable tax-collector.” MacArthur does not factor into the analysis the repentance-from-sin characteristic of the publican.
Pharisee ‘pays his tithe’, ‘fasts twice a week,’ and ‘thanks God not an adulterer etc. like that Publican over there’ Pharisee kept Law flawlessly and even exceeded to admirable lengths.


In this Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, Jesus is contrasting a sinner who repents against one who does not. Jesus declares justified a notorious publican/tax-collector who repents. Jesus declares unjustified a Pharisee who fails to do so. It’s that simple. Smug self-righteousness about little points of Law and the Oral Law prevents the Pharisee from repenting. They have to abandon their emphasis on the oral law (Matt. 15:6,9) and their myopic focus on less weighty matters of the Law — such as tithing (Matt. 23:23).

Hence, contrary to what MacArthur implies, the Publican is not simply a “detestable tax-gather.” Jesus is not declaring justified the tax-gather as one who remains detestable with no turning to obey. Nor is Jesus declaring the Pharisee unjustified because the Pharisee is supposedly perfectly obedient but lacks the alleged ‘faith’ of the Publican.

Instead, Jesus is squarely differentiating the two based upon repentance from sin. This differentiation is resisted by the Cheap Grace Gospel because it means Jesus taught justification by repentance from sin and obedience. Cheap Grace Gospel adherents say such a repentance requirement is works-righteousness. Hence, they adamantly twist Jesus’ doctrine to conform to faith-alone doctrine.

However, the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee proves justification initiates by repentance from sin. It is not by faith alone. Nor can an incomplete obedience ever justify.

Exaggerated Atonement Principle Cancels Jesus’ Point.

The famous Charles Finney points out how some exaggerate the atonement to wipe out Jesus’ justification doctrine. Finney explains below that Jesus’ atonement only provides the blood that can wash clean another. Nothing else about the animal’s life (or Jesus’ life) who died as a sacrifice is imputed. The penitent under the Law was not ever excused by sacrifices from repentance or from obeying God. These personal behaviors (repentance & obedience) are the means of initial justification and remaining just and having (eternal) life. Finney says anyone who suggests atonement wipes out the need for justifying behavior has made a ludicrous error.

Therefore, Charles Finney—the famous attorney turned evangelist—explains below that personal justification is never by atonement. To ever think so demonstrates a fundamental misreading of the nature of atonement. Finney is right: atonement never imputes justification to an unrepentant sinner, just as we proved in the prior chapter.15 Instead, atone ment is only applied upon personal justification. Charles G. Finney wrote this in his sermon Justification by Faith (1837):

Under the gospel, sinners are not justified by having the obedience of Jesus Christ set down to their account, as if he had obeyed the law for them, or in their stead. It is not an uncommon mistake to suppose that when sinners are justified under the gospel they are accounted righteous in the eye of the law, by having the obedience or righteousness of Christ imputed to them....[T]his idea is absurd and impossible, for this reason, that Jesus Christ was bound to obey the law for himself, and could no more perform works of supererogation, or obey on our account, than any body else. Was it not his duty to love the Lord his God, with all his heart and soul and mind and strength, and to love his neighbor as himself? Certainly; and if he had not done so, it would have been sin. The only work of supererogation he could perform was to submit to sufferings that were not deserved. This is called his obedience unto death, and this is set down to our account. But if his obedience of the law is set down to our account, why are we called on to repent and obey the law ourselves? Does God exact double service, yes, triple service, first to have the law obeyed by the surety for us, then that he must suffer the penalty for us, and then that we must repent and obey ourselves? No such thing is demanded. It is not required that the obedience of another should be imputed to us. All we owe is perpetual obedience to the law of benevolence. And for this there can be no substitute. If we fail of this we must endure the penalty....16

Thus, Finney explains that Christ’s righteousness is only a cleanser of sin; it never imputes the very righteousness which is a condition to invoke its application. Jesus obeyed unto death to provide atonement for sin, not to satisfy your personal condition to even ask for atonement (i.e., justification by repentance). To say otherwise is to overthrow the principle of atonement.

One who claims atonement gives you justification has wrongly negated Jesus’ requirement for justification that you have personal repentance and obedience. If atonement could provide the very same justification necessary to invoke atonement, then you have eviscerated atonement’s condition. You thereby will give a false assurance to someone still without atonement that they are justified when they certainly are not justified. Finney astutely proves it could not be otherwise, for then ‘why does Jesus teach justification instead is by repentance-from-sin in the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee’? If atonement satisfies that principle of justification, Finney says God would be requiring supposedly what Jesus already provides by means of atonement.

Hence, it must be that justification depends on your personal repentance-from-sin, and on no substitute for you. Atonement then applies to wash past sins from your account. Atonement does not satisfy the very condition that Jesus says is necessary to invoke it — personal justification. Thus, Jesus says justification is not by faith but by repentance from sin.




15. See supra at page 2 et seq.

16. (last accessed 8-18-2007).