A question for Doug Wilson after his conversation with James White

At 14:00, James White asks Doug Wilson about the difference between the conditions of the covenant with Adam and the covenant with Christians and faith versus faithfulness. Wilson answers as follows:

“When I first trust in God, that faith is the instrument of my justification. The ground of justification is the obedience of Jesus Christ throughout the course of his life and his culminating obedience on the cross. That’s the ground of justification. When God gives me faith to trust in Christ, at the moment of my justification, I trust in God, trust in the gospel, trust in Christ with that God given faith. That God given faith is living faith and at that moment, it’s a punctiliar moment where I am justified, the righteousness of Christ is imputed to me and in my justification, I am perfect. God looks at me and sees Jesus Christ and nothing else. So my justification, my status, is that of the perfection of Jesus Christ. That’s what I have. Now, but that faith that believed, that was the instrument to the believing to justification. That faith doesn’t disappear. It doesn’t go away. So I believe in justification by faith alone, but I also believe that that faith remains and trusts God in the realm of sanctification. Now I don’t get justified because of how well I’m doing in my sanctification.”


Thank you for doing that interview with James White. I have long held that you are orthodox on justification, but in light of quotations provided by Brandon Adams and in light of your above answer to James White, some questions have been raised in my mind.

To try to put it simply, do you believe that faith in distinction from the obedience that comes from faith is the sole instrument [edit: or any other means] of justification, even while we are being sanctified, and finally on the last day?

This is important because the way you answered the question above leaves quite a bit of room for the false teaching that constitutive justification (defined as our legal status and right standing before God based on Christ’s righteousness alone) begins by faith alone, but then, the living obedience that comes from faith is a means of justification with faith on the last day.

To be clear, I wholeheartedly agree with you that faith is a free gift of God’s grace, that it is alive, that the same faith that justifies also sanctifies, and that all true believers are sanctified and persevere to the end. I would also say that there is a subsequent vindicatory verdict that depends on our works (Jas 2:24; Matt 25:31-46), but that for the believer, this verdict does not constitute our righteous status before God. I believe I am in the main of the Reformed tradition here (eg, Owen, Bavinck, Buchanan).

But my question is whether your righteous legal status (your right standing before God based on Christ’s righteousness) starts to depend on the means of the obedience that comes from faith after you first believe, and not only faith.

Another way of putting this is to ask whether you sharply distinguish between faith and faithfulness in point of justification from the beginning of your life to the end. Based on your answer above, it seems possible that you do not distinguish between faith and faithfulness, and that when a Christian does acts of faithful love, you believe those acts are simply faith-faithfulness. This would mean that while Christ’s righteousness is initially received by faith, and not the obedience that comes from faith, the verdict based on Christ’s righteousness is announced on the last day by faith along with faithful obedience.

This is practically important because it has to do with the way we teach believers. Do we teach believers that in order to be justified, to have a right standing with God in the future, they must be faithful (and thus perform obedience in keeping with faith) so that they might be constituted righteous on the last day and have a right standing before God?

I think answering this question clearly is vital.

Sincerely in the Lord Jesus,
Tom Hicks

*Update* – I realize you speak of this further at 19:00, but it seems to me that at that point, you’re speaking of the ground of our justification, and the evidence of faith, and not the means by which we have our right standing before God, though I may certainly have misunderstood you. If you could please clarify this further, it would be much appreciated. I apologize if I’ve misunderstood you. I wrote my PhD dissertation on the doctrines of justification in the theologies of Baxter and Keach and so I’m tuned to listen for the nuances of versions of neonomianism. I’m not accusing you of neonomianism, but I think this is an important point to clarify.

Here is that portion:

Wilson: This is the issue. The debate at the beginning of the Reformation and down to the present, the debate between Protestants and Catholics was about imputed righteousness and infused righteousness. Alright? Imputed righteousness and infused righteousness. But the debate between Protestants and Catholics was not over the existence of imputed righteousness or the existence of infused righteousness. Both sides affirmed it. The Roman Catholics said that infused righteousness was part of your justification. Ok? It was included in it. I’m saying, together with all my Protestant fathers and all my Protestant brothers, I’m saying, that justification is an imputation function alone. Alright? So, we believe in Christ by God given faith – God enables us to believe, and He imputes the righteousness of Jesus Christ to me, the righteousness of his whole life and his righteous sacrifice on the cross. That is imputed to me and that is my justification with no remainder, no pieces sticking out anywhere. See, the problem is my justification in order to function has to be perfect. I can’t be content with a decree of “not guilty mostly.” I need a “not guilty.” I need a declaration of righteousness. And if my justification is based in any way upon infused righteousness, i.e., my sanctification, in this life, it’s always imperfect. So, if infused righteousness is part of my justification, that means my justification is imperfect, which means I’m sunk. I’m lost. So my justification, that establishes my status as a child of God has to be perfect. But the next morning when I wake up, I’ve got to obey God or not. I’ve got to read my Bible or not. I’ve got believe what it says or not. I’ve got to conform my life to His Word. But that’s all sanctification. So the Protestants said, yes, the Holy Spirit infuses righteousness. It’s the fruit of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit works love, joy, peace, patience, kindness…. He infuses all sorts of things into me, but that cannot be my plea when I ask God to accept me. Because however much love, joy, peace I’ve got, I could always have more, and I could always have done better.

Me: The whole section above seems to be solely about the ground of our justification and not about the means by which we receive the verdict on the basis of that ground.


White: In the final analysis in the last day, is there any element to where your faithfulness, which was the result of the work of the Spirit, and everything else, but your faithfulness adds to in any way your standing before God?

Wilson: No, I would say it proves my standing before God. It’s fruit.

White: In the judicial? [talking over] sense that God was right in doing these things.

Wilson: Correct. At the last day, my works of faithfulness…. This goes back to your point of the classics Reformed formulation: we’re justified by faith alone, but never by a faith that is alone. So my life that follows after is evidence. It’s the fingerprints of God all over my life that points to what God did, the genuineness of what God did at that moment of my conversion.

Me: This comes closest to gettting at the question I would like answered. White asked whether our works are evidence in the judicial sense. You replied, “correct.” In your answer, however, you seem to go on to say that works are the evidence of faith and of right standing.

But my question is whether you believe those works, which are evidence, are not only evidence but also a means by which we have our right standing with God on the last day.

Could you affirm that the obedience that comes from faith is in no sense a means of our constitutive justification before God on the last day?


Update 12-20-2019, Doug Wilson responded to this post via Twitter.

I tweeted: “I’d be happy to hear him simply say something like ‘not at all. I deny that the obedience that comes from faith is in any sense a means of constitutive justification.'”

Doug Wilson responded on 12-16-2019:

“All, happy to say ‘not at all.’ When we say ‘evidentiary means,’ the question ‘evidence to whom’ arises. At the moment of justification, God already knows it is the real deal because He is the one who did it. He imputed Christ to us.” [emphasis is mine]