Culturally Incarnating the Gospel


The manuscript for Ray Ortlund’s TGC workshop is available online: Justification versus Self-Justification.

The opening line explains the purpose of the paper: “to clarify the social dynamics of grace-justification as opposed to the social dynamics of self-justification, so that we can enlarge our understanding of what it means to be faithful to the gospel.”

He elaborates:

What I am saying today, on the basis of Galatians, is that the gospel, and justification in particular, calls for more than doctrinal subscription; it also calls for cultural incarnation.

I am not saying it is easy to follow through at both levels. It is impossible without Christ himself, as I will assert in my conclusion. But I am saying we would be unfaithful to settle for doctrinal correctness without also establishing a culture of grace in our churches and denominations and movements.

In other words, if justification by faith alone is the doctrine on which the church stands or falls, what does it look like to stand rather than fall? Is it possible to fall, while we think we are standing?

The book of Galatians shows it is possible. A believer or a church can trumpet the doctrine of grace-justification while, at the same time, be crippled with the dysfunctions of self-justification. In Galatians, Paul is pressing the gospel forward at both levels—the doctrine and the culture. He could not be satisfied if the Galatians’ only response to his letter would be to reassert justification by faith alone as a doctrine; it is clear from this letter that he also expects them to establish a culture consistent with that doctrine. That, in Paul’s view, is faithfulness to Christ.

Ortlund assumes three things in this talk:

  1. The classical Protestant doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, apart from all our works, is the truth.
  2. Self-justification is the deepest impulse in the fallen human heart.
  3. Gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture.

He then goes to some passages in the book of Galatians, showing how Paul guides us away from self-justification and toward grace-justification.

  1. Galatians 1:10
  2. Galatians 2:11-14:
  3. Galatians 4:17;  Galatians 5:15
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