This post has been a long time coming, once you read it you will see that much of the work I have done on salvation over the past year has been building up to this one. My apologies ahead of time for the length, but I want to do it justice and I don’t want to break it up into a series.
CARM defines the Biblical term Justification as follows:
“To be justified is to declared legally righteous. It is a divine act where God declares the sinner to be innocent of his sins.”
I agree with this definition but it is important to define our terms Biblically. This is even more important with the word Justification as it is not only central to the Gospel, but to the Biblical narrative as a whole. Because of it’s importance I am going to overkill defining this word.
|Biblically Defining Justification|
“For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness.” Romans 4:2-9 ESV
This is one of the clearest passages in scripture on Justification. Paul opens up making it painfully obvious that Abraham was not justified by works but rather credited by his belief. This belief is counted to Abraham as righteousness. I would understand it as a form of currency exchange, in this case belief being of a higher value than works as simply believing counts for the whole sinless life of Christ on your behalf.
Notice that it says “to the one who works, his wages are are not counted as a gift but as his due”. This is just common sense. When you receive your paycheck from the boss is it a gift or does he owe it to you? Your boss isn’t doing you any favors, he is paying you what is owed. Rather we are directed to receive what is not earned for the text juxtaposes the next statement over the prior in that “to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness”. This is an either or dichotomy, you can’t have both here at the same time as Paul makes this distinction between the two very clear.
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Cor 6:9-11 ESV
Above we see the same dichotomy mentioned in Romans played out in Paul’s teaching to the addresses. In one category he is speaking of what they had earned with all their works, specifically death and hell. But because of belief in Christ they are “sanctified” and “justified” in the past tense. This verse is why I prefer not to use the word sanctification in the sense of an on-going process. I am not denying new obedience, I am just downgrading it soteriologically speaking that’s all. I would argue that in verse 11 sanctification is how God sees us in light of Justification, that is, we are set apart in Christ.
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Cor 5:21 ESV
“8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” Philippians 3:8-12 ESV
Above we see that our righteousness is received in faith, the same language found in Romans 4. But this time Paul reiterates that we do NOT have the righteousness that is of our own from the law, but rather have that which comes through faith. The same dichotomy, the same juxtaposition. Again, one cannot see earning righteousness and receiving it as two concurrent things as they are very clearly set against each other in the Bible.
|Not By the Law|
As if the above were not sufficient we have numerous passages in the Bible clarifying that Justification is not of the Law.
“You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” Galatians 5:4 ESV
“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” Romans 3:20 ESV
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV
“For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” Romans 3:28 ESV
“I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” Galatians 2:21 ESV
“yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” Galatians 2:16 ESV
“and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” Philippians 3:9 ESV
“And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” Romans 4:5 ESV
|But by Faith|
Below we see it is also clarified that justification is received by Faith in Christ. With such a large council of scripture to this effect I don’t see how anything could be more obvious.
“Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” John 5:45-47 ESV
“But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” Romans 4:23-25 ESV
“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6:11-12 ESV
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:1 ESV
“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,but the righteous shall live by his faith.” Habakkuk 2:8 ESV
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” John 1:12 ESV
The gift of Faith from God is delivered to man in around and under earthly means. It is important to understand this not only theologically but practically as well. For example, I know I am born again because I am baptized. This is an objective undeniable event with a date on it. If I were to look to the burning in the bossom while the music is playing and the smoke and laser show is going on at Church instead the ultimate measure of Justification then becomes myself and my own heart (Jer 17:9-10).
If I instead look to the Biblical means by which God by his Grace gives Faith unto Justification then there is no reliance upon myself, but rather on God.
The Bible teaches that Faith is a Gift and that you are Justified through it.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” Ephesians 2:8 ESV
The logical question is since Grace is defined as an unmerited disposition of God toward man how does one receive Faith as a promise of this Grace? Since Faith is the saving substance given by Grace then it follows logically that any passage teaching means of God’s saving act upon the believer is God giving that believer faith. This is God’s act of Justification performed on the believer.
We see this work of God in Baptism:
Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I Peter 3:21 ESV
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” Ephesians 5:25-27 ESV
In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. Colossians 2:11-12 ESV
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:4-7 ESV
Above we see that God’s act in baptism saves you and gives you faith. Understood through systematic soteriological texts such as (Eph 2:8) this is the act of God giving faith to the recipient. This is why we say Sola Fide (Faith Alone).
We see this work of God in Sacrament of the Altar:
“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Matthew 26:26-28 ESV
Don’t miss above that the forgiveness of sins is received in the true Body and Blood of Christ. This is the same Gift of faith received in Baptism. By different means God accomplishes the same act of giving faith for it is by faith alone that one is forgiven of sins and counted as righteous.
26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.…. 31
Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst…
47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.
51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.
54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.
56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.
57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.
58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” John 6:26-65 ESV
I have condensed the above passage for brevity, if you want to read the whole thing click HERE.
Again, the text promises that those who eat and drink the flesh and blood of Christ will abide in him and have eternal life. This is the forgiveness of sins given in Faith, for it is our Faith that God counts as righteousness.
We see this work of God in the Preaching of the Word:
“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? ; And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” ; But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” ; So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Romans 10:14-17 ESV
Above we see that it is by the preaching of the Word of God in which the Holy Spirit has promised to give faith to the hearer. Ultimately this is Holy Absolution, the forgiveness of sins given to you by the Preaching of Christs church. We see in scripture that this is the binding and loosing of sins that Christ gives;
“And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. ; And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. ; I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matt 16:17-19 ESV
To the Church:
“Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. ; Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. ; For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matt 18:18-20 ESV
And to the Apostles:
“Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” ; And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. ; If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” John 20:21-23 ESV
Protestants I am familiar with all but ignore these keys in a theological sense. Rome confers them only upon Peter. Biblically all three passages are true, thus the keys apply to all three. I challenge the reader to accept this without abrogating those they dislike with those they privilege.
In the preaching of God’s Word the Gospel of Jesus Christ is declared. Faith is given and by this sins are forgiven thus these dead bones come to life (Ezk 37:1-14). This absolution is the binding and loosing of sins. How does the church bind sins to people rather than loose them? The answer is by not preaching the gospel, and unfortunately this is a strong trend in many Churches today. Pastors will preach instead that the Bible is an allegory of your life rather than proclaiming the gospel to sinners. In doing this they are withholding the Gospel and binding hearers in their sins.
|Justified….. Over and Over Again|
This last point was very clarifying for me. Coming from an mainline American Protestant understanding I thought of Justification as a one time event. You often hear Evangelicals speak like this;
“Back before I was saved…..”
“When I got saved back in….”
This is because in most evangelical circles salvation is seen theologically as a goal post in ones life, where before they were damned and now they are not.
I am not rebuking that as heresy, in fact there is a degree of truth to it. At one time I was damned in trespasses and sins but now I am baptized. I once was lost but now I am found. I am continually Justified by Grace through Faith in Christ. This is how I am kept in Christ, by being Justified over and over every Sunday morning in Word and Sacrament.
Do we see this demonstrated in scripture? We do, for starters we see that Paul stresses Word and sacrament to believers (Tit 3:4-7)(1Cor 10:15-17)(Rom 10:17). Even Baptism is something that stays with you and is fed by Biblical teaching (Eph 5:25-27)(Matt 29:19-20). However, the most polemic example is with Abraham. I have listened to Theologians such as Dr. James White attempt to dance with these passages and have to confess I have not seen any honestly approach the text, you be the judge.
The first place we see Abraham receive Faith from the Word of God is in Genesis Chapter 12 where he is called from the land of Ur.
“Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord , who had appeared to him.” Genesis 12:1-7 ESV
Above we see that God commands Abraham to leave and gives him heavenly promises of blessings associated with the command. Though it is implied in the text we know that Abraham demonstrates Faith in this act by cross referencing it with Hebrews 11.
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” Hebrews 11:8-10 ESV
The problem with the Evangelical motif is that when Paul speaks of Abraham’s faith counting as righteousness the referent is Genesis 15.
“And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord , and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Genesis 15:5-6 ESV
“1 What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? ; 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. ; 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Romans 4:1-3 ESV
Here is the thing, in the Chronology of historic narrative Genesis 15 happened after Genesis 12. Therefore Abraham already had faith in God at least once before he was given faith again. Since it is through faith that one is justified, the scriptures teach at least one clear pattern of someone being justified twice. A Roman Catholic might say that Abraham committed a mortal sin in between these events necessitating a repeat of Justification.
Though I would disagree with the Roman Catholic on distinctions between mortal and venial sins I would have to concede that they are more consistent with the text with regards to one being Justified more than once. The goal post only view of salvation is a two dimensional soteriological structure not compatible with the Word when subjected to scrutiny.
I would argue that though Abraham was a faithful believer he was also a fallen man in the flesh. And because of this God continually preserves him by the giving of faith through means. Each time this happens Abraham is justified over and over. Not in a incremental application of Favor Dei Grace but rather 100% of the righteousness of Christ imputed each time.
At the end of the day this changes one’s perspective on Church too. The view of many is that church is primarily something we do for God, an act of worship and good christian discipline. But with a proper understanding of Justification one goes to Church to receive Faith.
Words cannot express the comfort and peace in this. No matter how weak or unsure one may be it is not within ourselves that we are to look but rather to God. Salvation is received from outside of your person not within. The promise of Justification is something spiritual delivered by something physical. The objective undeniable Grace of God delivered by means creating faith within by which one is justified in Christ.
Thanks for reading,
May the peace of Christ which passes all understanding be with you
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