Here is the Belgic Confession, Article 22:
The Righteousness of FaithWe believe that for us to acquire the true knowledge of this great mystery the Holy Spirit kindles in our hearts a true faith that embraces Jesus Christ, with all his merits, and makes him its own, and no longer looks for anything apart from him.
For it must necessarily follow that either all that is required for our salvation is not in Christ or, if all is in him, then he who has Christ by faith has his salvation entirely.
Therefore, to say that Christ is not enough but that something else is needed as well is a most enormous blasphemy against God — for it then would follow that Jesus Christ is only half a Savior. And therefore we justly say with Paul that we are justified “by faith alone” or by faith “apart from works.” [Romans 3.28]
However, we do not mean, properly speaking, that it is faith itself that justifies us — for faith is only the instrument by which we embrace Christ, our righteousness.
But Jesus Christ is our righteousness in making available to us all his merits and all the holy works he has done for us and in our place. And faith is the instrument that keeps us in communion with him and with all his benefits.
When those benefits are made ours they are more than enough to absolve us of our sins.
So this is traditional Protestantism: faith keeps us in a justified state.
And then this from the famous American theologian of the 1800s, Charles Hodge, when he is writing about baptism:
…the benefits of redemption, the remission of sin, the gift of the Spirit, and the merits of the Redeemer, are not conveyed to the soul once for all. They are reconveyed and reappropriated on every new act of faith…
The benefits of redemption would include justification.
The real question is: Why would anyone argue against this point? Why deny that the ongoing or continual state of being reckoned righteous is by the ongoing or continual faith?
Some people seem to think that justification is no longer “forensic” if it is continued by faith. I use quotation marks here because I don’t think the word is being used right to arrive at this conclusion. But set that aside. The argument proves too much. If ongoing faith cannot be the means of being continually justified, then why should initial faith be any different? We end up without any justification by faith at all.
It is true that I can think of no precedent for faith being required to receive a judicial verdict or status. Certainly God’s condemnation does not have to be received by faith.
In other words, it is just Reformed Theology.
Have you ever known any official verdict pronounced by judge and jury that only applied to the person over whom the verdict was announced if he or she received it by faith?
When God condemns the wicked is that verdict received by faith?
The whole idea of receiving a forensic declaration “by faith”–if that is all we know about the situation–destroys the very idea of a forensic justification.
So how can justification be God’s judicial act and yet be received by faith?
Union with Christ is the only thing that keeps these two together.
God doesn’t pronounce an audible sentence every time a person is converted. Rather, he publicly justified Jesus by raising him from the dead. (1 Tim 3.16; Romans 8.1ff; See more here.)
All people who entrust themselves to God through Jesus–who confess that Jesus is Lord and believe God raised him from the dead–belong to Jesus and share in the verdict pronounced over Jesus.
Jesus got the verdict he deserved after suffering a condemnation he did not deserve so that we might receive a vindication we don’t deserve and escape a condemnation we do deserve.
Jesus is the incarnation of God and, by his resurrection, the incarnation of God’s verdict, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
All who are joined to Jesus (which is by faith alone) have his status as pronounced by his resurrection.
- John Murray on Justification by Union with Christ
- Ridderbos on the justification of the ungodly in union with Christ.
- Peter Leithart, John Calvin, and Westminster on justification as a legal benefit of union with Christ
- Real Union or Legal Fiction? John Williamson Nevin’s Controversy With Charles Hodge Over the Imputation of Adam’s Sin (with a Comparison to Robert L. Dabney)
So justification by faith alone is really true, both at the first conversion and in ongoing faith.