J.V. Fesko answers the all-important question, “What is Justification by Faith Alone?” The author begins, “All people must at some point in their existence stand in the presence of God and be judged. There are two possible outcomes, either a guilty or not-guilty verdict. Or, in biblical terms, God will either condemn or justify the person who stands before him. In order for God to justify a person, he requires absolute perfect righteousness, that is, obedience to his law.” It is within this framework that Fesko unpacks the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
Fesko walks readers through a primer on redemptive history. God promises to reverse the terrible consequences of the fall in Genesis 3:15. Additionally, God promises to make Abraham a great nation, to make his name great, and a blessing. Paul calls this promise the gospel: “And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed'” (Gal. 3:8).
Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). God therefore views Abraham not as a guilty sinner, but as one who is justified; positionally righteous in his sight. Abraham places his faith in another, what Luther calls an “alien righteousness.”
Fesko includes a terrific summary of the covenant that God makes with Abraham. In his discussion of Gen. 15:9-12, he writes: “Significantly, God promises to Abraham that if the patriarch or God himself violates the terms of this covenant agreement, then God alone will bear the penalty for transgressing the covenant. Seeing that God cannot die, we also see the certainty that God will keep his promise … It is God who is active, who makes the covenant promise, who justifies Abraham by imputing righteousness to him by faith, and who swears an immutable and unchanging covenant oath to bear any penalties for the covenant’s violation.”Fesko rightly argues that justification is by faith alone in the Old and New Testament (Rom. 4:1-5).
The author continues to summarize how Christ fulfilled the law, paid the penalty of the law, and was raised for our justification. It becomes clear that each part of Christ’s work is essential, namely, his life, death, and resurrection.
Overall, Fesko succeeds in answering the question, “What is justification by faith alone?” His exposition is clear, bold, and biblical. He responds graciously to the typical arguments that are leveled against the doctrine. And he reminds us of the utter importance of justification. Indeed, Luther declared, “Justification is the article upon which the church stands or falls.” His words ring true in our culture where the doctrine of justification by faith is once again under attack.