From the ridiculous to the sublime.
But they’re all summed up and vastly surpassed by one paragraph of Stott’s Romans commentary:
“Further it is vital to affirm that there is nothing meritorious about faith, and that, when we say that salvation is ‘by faith, not by works’, we are not substituting one kind of merit (‘faith’) for another (‘works’). Nor is salvation a sort of cooperative enterprise between God and us, in which he contributes the cross and we contribute faith. No, grace is non-contributory, and faith is the opposite of self-regarding. The value of faith is not to be found in itself, but entirely and exclusively in its object, namely Jesus Christ and him crucified. To say ‘justification by faith alone’ is another way of saying ‘justification by Christ alone’. Faith is the eye that looks to him, the hand that receives his free gift, the mouth that drinks the living water. ‘Faith… apprehending nothing else but that precious jewel Christ Jesus.’ (Luther’s Galatians). As Richard Hooker, the late sixteenth-century Anglican divine, wrote: ‘God justifies the believer – not because of the worthiness of his belief, but because of His worthiness Who is believed.’ (John Stott, The Message of Romans, IVP, 1994, p117-118).
Isn’t that brilliant?
He goes on a bit later…
“…The antithesis between grace and law, mercy and merit, faith and works, God’s salvation and self-salvation, is absolute. No compromising mishmash is possible. We are obliged to choose. Emil Brunner illustrated it vividly in terms of the difference between ‘ascent’ and ‘descent’. The really ‘decisive question’, he wrote, ‘is the direction of movement’. Non-Christian systems think of ‘the self-movement of man’ towards God. Luther called speculation ‘climbing up to the majesty on high’. Similarly, mysticism imagines that the human spirit can ‘soar aloft towards God’. So does moralism. So does philosophy. Very similar is the ‘self-confident optimism of all non-Christian religions’. None of these has seen or felt the gulf which yawns between the holy God and sinful, guilty human beings. Only when we have glimpsed this do we grasp the necessity of what the gospel proclaims, namely ‘the self movement of God’, his free initiative of grace, his ‘descent’, his amazing ‘act of condescension’. To stand on the rim of the abyss, to despair utterly of ever crossing over, this is the indispensible ‘antechamber of faith’.” (John Stott, The Message of Romans, IVP, 1994, p118. Brunner quotes from The Mediator)
In the debates on justification – don’t ever lose those two paragraphs!!