Wilhelm Niesel

Theology Thursdays: The justification of works

While reading Michael Horton's Covenant and Salvation, I stumbled upon this provocative thought from Wihelm Niesel:

“If we enjoy union with Christ, not only we ourselves but even our works too are just in God s sight. This doctrine of the justification of works (which was developed in the Reformed Church) is of the greatest consequence for ethics. It makes clear that the man who belongs to Christ need not be the prey of continual remorse. On the contrary he can go about his daily work confidently and joyfully.” (1)

In themselves, our best works are woefully stained with sin. We try our hardest to obey, and are immediately reminded of our need for justification! In this way, Horton comments, “even the third (normative) use of the law is supposed to lead us back to Christ.” Assurance rests in the promise that our whole lives, including our imperfect acts of obedience, are received through the satisfying blood of Jesus. Scented with the holy fragrance of his substitutionary death and imputed righteousness, our weak offerings are able to rise to the Father with a pleasing aroma. Or, to put it in Petrine language, we can “offer sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 2:5). Thank God for the treasures of union.

1. Wihelm Niesel, Reformed Symbolics: A Comparison of Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Protestantism, trans. David Lewis (Edinburgh and London: Oliver & Boyd, 1962), 217, 220-21.