Some of the comments on the previous threads have gotten me thinking about the Law/Gospel Distinction (we’ll abbreviate LGD) and justification in terms of hermeneutics and ontology. Some seem to be saying that if the LGD has to be in the text, then we are basically saved by faith plus hermeneutics. The distinction that is thought to be important here is what is happening in the text versus what is happening in the person’s life when he is justified. Let me state the positive principle here: what you believe about what is happening has a drastic impact on what is actually happening. Can one actually be justified by grace alone through faith alone if that same person believes that he is actually being justified by faithfulness? Let’s ratchet it up a notch. Can one actually be saved by faith in Jesus Christ when that same person believes that he is actually being saved by Jesus Christ plus something else? I am probably going to shock some readers by saying this, but it seems fairly clear to me that a person cannot be justified in Christ if he believes that he is being justified by Christ plus something else. Quite simply, this is because the belief that someone is justified by Christ plus something else is not true faith. It has the wrong notitia (content, or knowledge). We do all believe that notitia is an essential element of faith, don’t we? In addition to this, to continue on to another key aspect of faith, such belief would be assenting to the wrong thing, as well. And, in fact, if one believes that trust is key to faith as well, one would be trusting in the something else, and not in Jesus Christ. So all three aspects of faith get messed up if the notitia is wrong on the point of justification.
Working some more on the right notitia, then, it is of the essence of justifying faith that one believes the right thing about the Word of God when it says, for instance, that faith is opposed to works in justification, or when the Bible defines justifying faith as having nothing to do with law, but rather has everything to do with Gospel. When the Bible defines faith, if one believes that it essentially equals faithfulness, then we have a problem here. The wrong content is being assigned to notitia.
The objections that will immediately come my way will probably sound like this: “You believe in justification by faith in justification.” Or, “You believe in justification by correct doctrine.” Or, “You are a rationalist.” No, currently I am comfortable with the three elements of knowledge, assent, and trust, as long as it is understood that in justification, none of these three elements can be defined in relation to law. “Trust,” especially gets difficult here, because people drive trucks through this word, and this is usually where “faithfulness” gets sneaked in the back door. But in justification, the trust aspect of faith simply means that we entrust our souls to Jesus. We are resting in His righteousness.
So, what is the relationship between hermeneutic and ontology in faith and justification? The content of our faith has a drastic impact on what is happening. And I firmly believe that if the content of our faith denies that the Word distinguishes in the text between law and gospel when it comes to justification (note the careful qualifiers here), then the content, or knowledge, of our faith will not be in Jesus Christ alone, but will rather be in Jesus Christ plus our own faithfulness.