Ignorance: Do you think that I am such a fool as to think God can see no further than I? or, that I would come to God in the best of my performances?
Christian: Why, how do you think in this matter?
Ignorance: Why, to be short, I think I must believe in Christ for justification.
Christian: How! Do you think you must believe in Christ, when you do not see your need of him! You neither see your original nor actual infirmities; but have such an opinion of yourself, and of what you do, as plainly renders you to be one that did never see a necessity of Christ’s personal righteousness to justify you before God. How, then, do you say, I believe in Christ?
Ignorance: I believe well enough for all that.
Christian: How do you believe?
Ignorance: I believe that Christ died for sinners, and that I shall be justified before God from the curse, through His gracious acceptance of my obedience to His law. Or thus, Christ makes my duties, that are religious, acceptable to His Father, by virtue of His merits; and so shall I be justified.
Christian: Let me give an answer to this confession of your faith:
- You believe with a fantastical faith; for this faith is nowhere described in the Word.
- You believe with a false faith; because it takes justification from the personal righteousness of Christ, and applies it to your own.
- This faith does not make Christ a justifier of your person, but of your actions; and of your person for your actions’ sake, which is false.
- Therefore, this faith is deceitful, even such as will leave you under wrath, in the day of God Almighty; for true justifying faith puts the soul, as sensible of its condition by the law, upon flying for refuge unto Christ’s righteousness, which righteousness of His is not an act of grace, by which He makes for justification, your obedience accepted with God; but His personal obedience to the law, in doing and suffering for us what that required at our hands; this righteousness, I say, true faith accepts; under the skirt of which, the soul being shrouded, and by it presented as spotless before God, it is accepted, and acquit from condemnation.
Ignorance: What! would you have us trust to what Christ, in His own person, has done without us? This conceit would loosen the reins of our lust, and tolerate us to live as we list; for what matter how we live, if we may be justified by Christ’s personal righteousness from all, when we believe it?
Christian: Ignorance is thy name, and as your name is, so you are; even this your answer demonstrates what I say. You are ignorant of what justifying righteousness is, and as ignorant how to secure your soul, through the faith of it, from the heavy wrath of God. Yea, you also are ignorant of the true effects of saving faith in this righteousness of Christ, which is, to bow and win over the heart to God in Christ, to love His name, His word, ways, and people, and not as you ignorantly imagine.
As Christian continues to press Ignorance with the truth of God’s Word, Ignorance responds with what appears to be a sound answer. Ignorance denies that his confidence is in himself and that he can come to God on the basis of his own works, even in his “best performances.” He claims: “I must believe in Christ for justification.” Christian, however, won’t allow him to get by with using the language of salvation while missing the truth of salvation. Ignorance speaks of believing in Christ, but he doesn’t grasp his need for believing in Christ. He sees value in Christ’s righteousness, but he doesn’t see Christ’s righteousness as his only hope.
Ignorance rightly believes that Christ died on the cross for sinners, but he thinks that his justification rests in his own obedience to God’s Law, made acceptable to the Father through the merits of Christ’s righteousness.
Ignorance’s error is rooted in a false assumption. He has grossly underestimated the vastness and vileness of sin. And he has greatly overvalued his own righteousness in comparison. He believes he is basically a good person. He sees his righteousness as humanly weak, but not filthy (Isaiah 54:6) and wretched (Romans 7:24). He trusts that God will graciously infuse the divine goodness and perfections of Christ with his own sincere efforts of religious devotion and, by virtue of Christ’s merit now fortifying his own, accept him as righteous.
Christian rightly concludes that Ignorance has a “false” and “fantastical” faith.
- What Ignorance believes is not in accord with the revelation of Scripture, but contrived from the logic of religion.
- Though acknowledging Christ for divine assistance, Ignorance believes he will be justified by God’s gracious acceptance of his own obedience to the Law.
- He is coming not as a wretched, condemned sinner looking to Christ to justify his person, but rather as a sincere, devout follower looking to Christ to justify his religious duties.
- Therefore, his faith is deceitful and dangerous because it leaves him under God’s wrath and condemnation, while convincing him that all is well.
God’s Word is clear. We cannot be justified—declared righteous before God—by our own works.
knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified (Galatians 2:16).
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:19–20).
If we are to be justified, it can only be by a gift of God’s grace through the redemption provided for us in Christ. We cannot stand before God in our sinfulness. We cannot reach God through our own meager righteousness. We need the righteousness that is found in Christ alone for all who believe in Him by faith!
But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:21–24).
God does not justify us by our works made acceptable in Christ, but by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin” (Romans 4:5–8).
Our justification rests solely upon the person and work of Christ. God takes the guilt of our sin and places it on (or imputes it to) Christ, so that Christ is treated as we deserve to be treated. We deserve the wrath and condemnation of God; we deserve death. Though Christ was (and still is) perfect and holy, He died for us on the cross, paying our debt and bearing God’s wrath for us that we might live. This is God’s wondrous mercy! But there is more! God takes the perfect righteousness of Christ and places it on (or imputes it to) us, so that we are treated as Christ deserves to be treated—as sons and daughters. Though we are sinners (and continue to struggle with sin even as Christians) we are regarded as perfect and holy. We are clothed in Christ’s righteousness and stand acceptable before God, not because of what we have done, but because of what Christ has done. Because of Christ, we are purified, cleansed, forgiven, accepted, and made right with God. Christ’s perfect life of obedience and sacrificial death on the cross, purchased this for us. He is the only hope for sinners to be rescued from sin and the dire consequences of sin.
Ignorance argues that if God accepts us as righteous solely on the basis of Christ’s obedience, then sin would be given free reign. We would presume upon God, live however we want, and plunge headlong into sin. Paul anticipated this line of reasoning in Romans:
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? (Romans 6:1–2)
Ignorance again has based his conclusion on a false assumption. He thinks that free grace from God would embolden sinners rather than restrain them. But true saving grace not only justifies, it also sanctifies. In Christ we have not only forgiveness of sin, but power to turn away from sin (Romans 1:16–17, 1 Corinthians 1:18).God not only declares us righteous in Christ, He gives us a heart that loves righteousness and desires to pursue righteousness. He takes away our love of sinning and more and more causes us to “love His name, His word, ways, and people.” By God’s grace we can live for Christ and not in sin. We can walk by faith and not walk in ignorance.
A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
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The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2019 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.