Some of the practical implications of the Protestant Reformation are lost on many Christians today. What was Luther so upset about in 1517? Why would men give their lives to try to “reform” the established church? Even more in question, what does this have to do with us today? The fruits of the Reformation, in God’s providence, are the very life-blood for those who love the gospel of free grace.
One of the biggest benefits of the Reformation was its recovery of the doctrine of the believer’s assurance. When the light of the gospel shines forth, those in Christ are able to have assurance that God is indeed for them. Nowhere is this expressed more than in prayer. The following is an article adapted from an earlier post that talks about what justification by faith alone (called the “material cause” of the Reformation) has to do with our prayer lives. What do the victories of the 16th century have to do with our coming before the Father, even today?
Everything. Justification has everything to do with prayer. True enough, prayer is not part of our justification. That would be putting something that we do as the basis for our acceptance before God. That is heresy, blasphemy. The Christian life is, however, a life of prayer. We are to do two things, mainly: read the Bible and pray. In fact, the combination of those two things (Scripture meditation) is the fountain of all Christian maturity. Prayer deepens our dependence on God. Praying conforms our wills and desires to the wills and desires of God. We are dynamic. God, while not static, is immutable. He does not change. That is precisely why we pray. It is a frivolous thought to think that we change the mind of God, the God through whom all things have their source, the very God who knows and acts the future of the entire cosmos to the praise of His glorious grace.
But what does prayer have to do with the doctrine of justification? First off, what is justification? John Calvin put it like this saying; it is “the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as righteous men. And we say that it consists in the remission of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.” Justification is at the heart of the gospel. It is this doctrine that completely separates the gospel from every other system of thought. It is human to want to find at least a part of the solution in us. This comes up in the forms of blatant Islamic work-righteousness or as pious language-laden Roman Catholicism. Both are idolatrous. Why? Because they point us inward. But see that is where the problem resides. The gospel tells us that the problem we have in inside of ourselves and that the solution is completely outside of us. It is objective in every sense of the word. So one is justified, not by being good enough, but by trusting in the obedience of Christ. You can never be good enough in the sight of a holy God, not even with the Holy Spirit’s help. We need the righteousness of another. We need the law’s positive demands to be met in full. The standard is nothing less than God- that being absolute perfection, a love of God that entails the entirety of one’s heart, soul, mind and strength. The gospel is not “love God and neighbor”, but look to Christ who has loved God and neighbor perfectly on your behalf. Christianity is fundamentally built on the words, “It is finished.” Paul gives us the good news like this in Romans 3:21-25:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—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, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
Again, what does this have to do with prayer? Again, everything. Christ is Himself our righteousness. By his passive obedience, our sins and guilt have been atoned for as if He were us. By his active obedience, we are seen as positively just, as if we had obeyed God perfectly forever. Christ is, therefore, our mediator. What does a mediator do? He stands between two alienated parties. Our great problem is that God stood over us in judgment because of our rebellion. Alienation is not a strong enough word. But Christ has bridged the impassible gulf between the holiness of God and our lack of holiness. We are adopted as sons “in Christ.” God’s love for us is not unconditional. To say so would be to make God into nothing more than a sad, old grandpa. He requires nothing and simply wishes to help us out if he can. This is the Holy One of Israel though, full of justice and grace. The price of our redemption was not unconditional. Jesus met the condition on our behalf! He is our mediator, the Great High Priest who stood in between a holy God and sinful man.
Look at Hebrews 7. It says:
The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:23-25 ESV)
The Old Testament sacrificial system was never meant to save. Paul tells us in the book of Galatians that the law was given to point to something else, or rather someone else. The high priests had to continue to atone for the sins of the people. But the blood of bulls and goats never atoned for sin. They instead pointed to a better, permanent sacrifice. In the New Testament, we see Christ Himself is both our High Priest and the Lamb who was slain. In the gospel, Christ offered Himself for us. In our place he stood condemned as a rebel, bearing the full wrath of God due us. Having exhausted the cup Jesus died. But Christ rose again on the third day for our justification, being vindicated by the Father thus proving the atonement was accomplished. Jesus ascended and even now sits at the right hand of God the Father.
It is at the right hand of God that Jesus “makes intercession” for us. Here we see where justification and prayer meet. Jesus only prays for us because He has purchased us. This is why it is utterly blasphemous to pray to Mary or saints. Intercession is directly tied to mediation. Christ is able to make intercession for us because He Himself has redeemed us. We draw near to the throne of God as sons, not as fearful slaves. No, we may approach the God of the universe with confidence because we stand righteous before Him. And this because of Christ. You cannot earn your way into the family. To come to God by any other way than the wicked gate (Christ) is to attempt to dodge the gospel. There is but one way to God.
Believer, this is great motivation for prayer. The all-satisfying, self-sufficient God who is the very definition of beauty and perfection sees you as completely righteous in His sight. You, who sin so much are seen as clean because of Christ. It is with this confidence we draw near. Not because we have a right to be confident in ourselves. But rather because we have the security of Jesus’ blood-stained wedding garment, given only by the grace of God through faith in the finished work of Christ. This is why when we pray we do so “in Jesus’ name.” The only hope we have is Jesus. And in Jesus we have a sure hope of God’s favor and pleasure in us. “Before the throne of God above I have a strong and perfect plea. A great high priest whose name is love, who ever lives and pleads for me.” Amen. All we have is Christ.
Colton Corter is a student at SBTS and member at Third Avenue Baptist Church. You can follow him on Twitter @coltonMcorter.