“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Sir Isaac Newton, 1676
“ For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. God presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus…
For we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.”
The Apostle Paul, Rom 3:23-28
In my quiet times this term I have been reading through Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, with a particular focus on the doctrine of Justification by Faith. As I came across passages like the one above – simple enough to understand the basic meaning yet full of technical language and concepts that need closer study to fully grasp – I gained a renewed appreciation for Christian books that teach on these topics. I realised just how thankful to God I am for the hard work of those faithful brothers and sisters whom he has gifted to his church, in order that we might gain a clearer picture of the wonders of his grace towards us in Jesus Christ, through the publications that result from their scholarly labours. My understanding is furthered only because of the work of those who have gone before me: they are the ‘giants’ upon whose shoulders I stand to see further. (Actually, to be totally fair, we only understand God’s work because we are all standing on the shoulders of the Holy Spirit – e.g. see 1 Corinthians 2.)
As I read through a number of books, I was particularly struck by the desire of these authors to be clear. They communicate in a way that helped me to clearly understand what they were saying. Some were more engaging than others, to be sure, but their goal is the same: to know God better through a careful consideration of his self-revelation preserved in the Scriptures, in order that we might grow in our love of him and rightly order our lives in the light of this revelation.
As I thought more about this, I wondered: what resources would the average SNAC member have at their disposal in order to gain a fuller understanding of the doctrine of Justification by Faith? In light of that thought, I want to commend to you four books that I have found I keep returning to again and again when it comes to looking at this doctrine, and more generally, the saving work of Jesus on the cross. These are the kind of books that you can read cover to cover, or use as a reference book and flick to the chapter that deals with the topic you are looking at.
1) Knowing God by J.I. Packer. Every Christian should own and read this book. It is a simple explanation of the Bible’s teaching on everything to do with how we know God, who God is, who we are in relation to him and what he has done for us. I first read this book as a high school student, not long after I became a Christian.
2) The Cross of Christ by John Stott. Again, another book that every Christian should own and read! Written on much the same level as Knowing God, this book focuses in on the saving work of Christ, carefully and simply explaining what the big deal with Jesus’ death on the cross really is and what that means for us.
3) Saved by Grace by Anthony Hoekema. While the first two books on this list are more introductory, this one is written for someone who already has a basic grasp on the Bible’s teaching about Jesus’ work on the cross. It uses some big words like soteriology – but is careful to explain what they mean (soteriology = the doctrine of salvation). This book is probably one of my favourites and is an invaluable resource if you really want to understand and explain the Bible’s teaching on this subject.
4) The Cross and Salvation by Bruce Demerest. This is by far the ‘nerdiest’ book I’m commending to you here. It has lots of big words and assumes you know what they mean. It is a bit drier than the others in its style, and it is thorough (in other words – it is information heavy!). Demerest has lengthy sections exploring and evaluating the work of other theologians on this topic throughout history and offering a Scriptural assessment of their conclusions, as well as in depth explorations of the Biblical material itself. This might be one to have on the shelf as a reference more than as a lazy afternoon read (although I did take it as holiday reading one year!).
I often feel like the wonders of our God and his grace towards us in his Son will continue to surprise and challenge me. Just when I think I’ve got it all sorted, I return to a passage like Romans 3 and I realise that I can never hope to know the depths of God’s riches in this life. Keep being surprised by the wonder of God in Christ Jesus, and find some giant shoulders to help see him clearer!