The disastrous mixing of the righteousness of Christ and the regeneration and inner renewal of the believer so often starts in the revivallist’s tent. That which takes place in the believer (faith) is accorded a place alongside of that which took place for the believer (the doing and dying of Jesus Christ).
Faith is given the same rank as that which took place in Palestine. Faith is given a specific weight of its own. Faith is accorded a place in the true, saving content of the gospel. Faith cooperates in the achievement of salvation. Instead of the gospel controlling faith, faith controls the gospel.
The content of the gospel is dictated by faith instead of the content of faith being dictated by the gospel. Instead of God rewriting man’s history in Jesus Christ, man now rewrites the history of God in his existential saving appropriation. Faith cooperates in the resurrection!
Faith takes its value from its Object. There is nothing in faith itself which can commend it to God. Only Christ can save. In Luther and Calvin’s day some taught that faith may be said to justify because it is “fashioned by love.” However, this view was rejected: They should be interpreted, so they say, as referring to “faith fashioned by love,” that is, they do not attribute justification to
faith except on account of love. Indeed, they do not attribute justification to faith at all, but only to love, because they CANNOT IMAGINE THAT FAITH CAN EXIST WITH SIN.
Where does this end but with the abolition of the promise and a return to the law? If faith receives the forgiveness of sins on account of love, the forgiveness of sins will always be unsure, for we never love as much as we should. In fact, we do not love at all unless our hearts are sure that the forgiveness of sins has been granted to us.
If our opponents require us to trust in our own love for the forgiveness of sins and justification, they completely abolish the Gospel of the free forgiveness of sins. For men can neither render nor understand this love unless they believe that the forgiveness of sins is received freely.—Augsburg Confession IV.109-110.
The Lutherans also rejected the notion that faith indeed has the most prominent role in justification, but that also renewal and love belong to our righteousness before God, not indeed as if it were the primary cause of our righteousness, but that nevertheless our righteousness before God is incomplete and imperfect without such love and renewal.—Formula of Concord III.20.
Let us consider, for example, the honored “testimony meeting” within revivalism. More often than not, the focus of these testimonies is “what God is doing in my life.” So often our rationale is that this will “encourage faith.” But where does the Bible say this? Does not the Bible say that faith comes by hearing and hearing the message of Christ? (Rom. 10:17). If that which creates and sustains faith is objective to faith, why do we turn our eyes and the eyes of other
Christians to something subjective?
If forgiveness is outside the believer and the ground of acceptance is outside the believer, the focus of faith is also outside the believer. God saves us and turns us inside out. The testimony of the Bible, which the Reformers rediscovered, is that the power of God lies in the gospel.
We conclude this look at some aspects of justification in the Lutheran confessions and John Calvin by taking up an accusation that such a perspective denies the subjective element in Christian existence. This accusation is puzzling. As one reads the writers of the Bible and the works of the Reformers, it is plain that one is reading the writings of men who were excited to such a degree that words almost failed them! These men knew what it was to have a wonderful experience. They never ceased to speak and write about it.
The clash between the approach of the Reformers and so much of experimental theology is not a clash over subjective versus nonsubjective. Rather, the clash is over vastly different subjective contents. The Reformers were excited (subjective!) about the gospel which lay outside of them (Col. 3:1-3).
To honor the subjective element does not mean to be preoccupied with the subjective. Likewise, to focus on the objective does not mean to dishonor the subjective. Indeed, the subjective is God-honoring when its focus is on the objective. We will go so far as to say that those
who do not focus on the objective do not know what a real and marvelous subjective experience is! For when the subjective preoccupation of man is with the objective action of God in Christ,
the subjective dimension of human existence fulfills its creation by God.”