Initial Justification Sola Fide And Final Salvation Through Faithfulness Is Federal Vision Theology

“[T]his double justification doctrine (initial justification by faith alone, followed by a second justification according to works in the eschatological judgment) is re-emerging as a “consensus position” among today’s leading evangelical and Reformed biblical theologians.

Rich Lusk, “The Reformed Doctrine of Justification by Works: Historical Survey and Emerging Consensus” in P. Andrew Sandlin and John Barach, eds., Obedient Faith: A Festschrift for Norman Shepherd (Mount Hermon, California: Kerygma Press, 2012). (HT: Timothy Kaufmann)

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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8 comments

  1. I pray this is just another example of the proud posturing that Rich Lusk is known for. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. James 4:6

  2. The father always hears the Son, Jesus said, and Jesus always asked according to the father’s will. Peter’s faith did not fail because, Jesus said, He had prayed for him. Likewise Jesus prayed for the keeping of His then present disciples, and also for all those who would believe on Him through their word. It is impossible that the Father shall fail to fulfill the Son’s prayer, and thus all those souls for whom the Son did, and does yet pray the Father to keep, shall indubitably persevere and be glorified, as He asked. So what’s all this doubt-raising final justification nonsense about?!

  3. If a person finds that the pastor and elders of their Reformed or Presbyterian church have adopted this “consensus position” of initial justification by faith and final salvation on the basis of obedient faithfulness, and they refuse to listen to your objections, that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, what does one do? What if it is the only confessional church for hundreds of miles around, and you have limitations that make moving impossible. Do you find a remote congregation and establish a long distance relationship? It would seem impossible to share in the Lord’s Supper and worship with an assembly that rejects the perfect righteousness of Christ, imputed to us, as our only basis for a right standing before God. I think that would be tantamount to a rejection of Christ Himself. To trust in our imperfect works of the law for acceptance with God is to be alienated from Christ, as Paul tells us in Galatians.

    • Hi Angela,

      1. I doubt that the two-stage scheme is the “consensus position,” and I know that you doubt it too but some readers might infer that it really is the consensus. God’s Word as we confess it is the only consensus that matters.

      2. You ask a very serious question, how to respond or what to do should one’s minister teach some version of the “two-stage” soteriology and one’s session or consistory permit such teaching. Generally, the first response should be to seek reformation according to the Word of God as confessed by the churches. Even if there is no formal confession, the Word is still the Word, the gospel is still the gospel, and it is best to approach the minister and elders humbly to ask some questions:

      A. Did the minister mean to teach a two-stage soteriology? Perhaps there was a misunderstanding? Perhaps the minister misspoke? It’s always best to make sure that we are understanding each other before we proceed.

      B. Why do the minister and elders think that it is right to teach a two-stage system? What drives them to think that way? Are there particular passages that push them in this direction? It’s always good to sit down with an open Bible and work through key passages together to see if we can perhaps come a mutual understanding?

      C. What books and articles influenced them to come to this conclusion?

      D. What is their understanding of the confession of the church? Perhaps they’ve not reflected on what we confess and on how what they are teaching relates to the confession? Some might be surprised how often such a discrepancy arises.

      E. What is their understanding of the history of the church? Perhaps they’ve been led to believe that the two-stage approach is the historic Reformed position?

      F. After such discussions, if there is no happy outcome, then, in Reformed churches, there is a process to follow. One lodges a formal complaint with the consistory/session documenting the error and pointing to discrepancy between what Scripture and confession say and what the session is saying. If they repent, then all is done. If they persist, and reject the complaint, then we proceed to the next step.

      G. In a Reformed or Presbyterian church there is a broader (Reformed) or higher (Presbyterian) assembly to which a member or another minister or elder may appeal the decision of the consistory/session. This body is called the classis or presbytery. In the appeal, one lays out briefly the material issues and process to date and asks the body to judge the doctrine and issue steps for correction (repentance, apology, whatever is appropriate).

      H. If this step fails, then the process turns to the next assembly, Synod or General Assembly. Now the complaint would be against the previous body.

      This seems tortuous because it is but it is so deliberately. It’s Matthew 18 writ large. It’s meant to protect the liberties of both the accuser and the accused. One should not give up, however. I have seen cases brought by laity which led an entire Synod to renounce serious error (as it happens, a version of the two-stage soteriology). In that case Synod remonstrated with classis and the consistory to desist from teaching and to repent of it.

      If all that fails, then we have other problems.

      This might help:

      https://heidelblog.net/2017/01/confessional-pr-congregations-disappoint-not-exist/

  4. Thank you Dr. Clark, for your encouragement and detailed information on how we may, “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” Jude 3 Christ’s Church is worth it, whatever it takes.

  5. Dr. Clark,

    If you haven’t already done so, might you comment on the following quote from van Mastricht, which I found here?

    “From this come three periods of justification that should be diligently observed here, namely 1: The period of establishment, by which man is first justified: in this occasion not only is efficacy of works excluded for acquiring justification, but so is the very presence of these works in so far as God justifies the sinner and the wicked. 2: The period of continuation: in this occasion, although no efficacy of good works is granted for justification, the presence of these same works, nevertheless, is required. And it is probably in this sense that James denies that we are justified by faith along but he requires works in addition. And lastly 3: The period of consummation in which the right unto eternal life, granted under the first period and continued under the second, is advanced even to the possession of eternal life: in this occasion not only is the presence of good works required, but also, in a certain sense, their efficacy, in so far as God, whose law we attain just now through the merit alone of Christ, does not want to grant possession of eternal life, unless [it is] beyond faith with good works previously performed. We received once before the right unto eternal life through the merit of Christ alone. But God does not want to grant possession of eternal life, unless there are, next to faith, also good works which precede this possession.”

    Notice that van Mastricht’s first “period” excludes both the presence and the efficacy of works, but in his third “period,” not only the presence of works but also their efficacy is required. Whatever he means precisely by “efficacy,” he is explicitly saying here more than simply that “it is the case that believers will do good works” (which is covered by the “presence” of works) No?

  6. David, I think this comes right back to what we have already discussed. As you note, in step one works are excluded from acquiring justification. Step two, good works are required, yet no efficacy is granted to them. Step three, eternal life is granted under the first and second steps and we advance to eternal life. Good works are a necessary part of regeneration. We are not saved without them. If the Holy Spirit is at work in us, we must do good works because good works are the result of regeneration. They are NOT the CAUSE of justification and salvation. One might think of heat produced by a fire. Light is a necessary part of the fire, but light has no efficacy to produce heat.

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