Our want of righteousness.
The totality of the justifying act reveals the totality of sin.
Lately, I’ve been immersing myself in a sea of words on the matter of sola fide, or “faith alone.” It’s only fitting, though, since that subject is my self-proclaimed “hill to die on.” Other theologians might offer the counsel to not make too much out of one particular doctrinal affair. Single-issue theologians are, apparently for some, just as perilous as single-issue voters. Be that as it may, the embrace (or excision) of sola fide has elemental ramifications for one’s religious life. Incidentally, I’d say you can’t harp too much about the sweeping significance of justification sola fide. Or maybe I’m biased. I’ll let you be the judge of that, though.
Consequently, the following excerpt comes from Gerhard O. Forde’s brief treatment of the same topic. In his book, Justification by Faith: A Matter of Death and Life, Forde spends some time navigating the corollaries that follow the declaration of justification sola fide, one of which is just the fact that the pronouncement of imputed righteousness via the death and resurrection of Christ necessarily denotes the want of righteousness in us. He writes:
When God imputes righteousness he makes us sinners at the same time. He makes it quite plain that we do not have righteousness in ourselves and never will. By declaring us righteous unilaterally, unconditionally for Christ’s sake, he at the same time unmasks sin and unfaith. By forgiving sin, sin is revealed and attacked at the root in its totality: our unfaith, rebellion, and blindness, our unwillingness to move out of the legal prison, our refusal of life. God’s justification, you see, is fully as opposed to human righteousness and pretense as it is to human unrighteousness. It cuts both ways, both at the ungodly and the super-godly. The battle is not against sin merely as “moral” fault but against sin as “spiritual” fault, against our supposed “intrinsic righteousness,” pretense and hypocrisy, our supposed movement and progress, our substitution of fiction for truth. The totality of the justifying act reveals the totality of sin. Imputed righteousness makes it plain that all such “piety” is just as sinful, indeed even more sinful, than out-and-out godlessness and denial of grace altogether. Only faith in the flat-out judgment of God is equipped to do battle with human sin. One can only be still and listen to the judge. That is the only salvation from both despair and presumption, immorality and super-morality. In the light of the creative, unconditional divine act it becomes clear not just that we have sinned and fallen short of the law, but precisely that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory (precisely the glory) of God” and all he has created. By speaking unconditionally, the Creator is doing a new thing. (31)
Grace and peace, friends.
Gerhard O. Forde, Justification by Faith: A Matter of Death and Life (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1991).