Monday, April 03, 2006

In my recent mulling over justification, I think I have made what would be called a word-study fallacy. I most probably would have paid too much attention on the word with regards to its common technical meaning without taking into account its exclusive usage and meaning in the Christian context.

It is most important to take justification in the Christian context because of its exceptional position among the Christian doctrines and dogma.

I spent the morning reading a book courtesy of a very good friend: The Justification Reader by Thomas C. Oden.

Oden values justification as the heart of the gospel. The first thing that came to my mind: the heart of the gospel? I know it is an important aspect of salvation but does it take so central a position?

I will reserve my opinion, a humble one at that, to the very end when I finish reading it, hopefully. I am however, beginning to realise that he would most probably be absolutely right in saying so.

Quoting here are what I have noted after reading merely a portion of the book’s introduction. A total of 4 pages in notes!

Until the believer has rightly understood what Scripture teaches on this “uprighting” or “justifying” act of God, one is likely to remain confused by much else that the New Testament teaches. We can come to God only by grace and only through trusting wholly in what God has already accomplished on the cross. No Christian teaching is more crucial to peace conscience than justification. The central blessing of Christian living hinges upon the proper understanding of the free grace of the sovereign God.

What is the effect of justification? Its effect is that we will be the ones whose sins the Lord does not count against. We are not trapped in the deceit that comes from defensive self-justification. Justification has its nature in pardon, sole condition in faith, sole ground in the righteousness of God, and its fruits in good works.

The Augsburg Confession has it that, “we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God by our own merits, works, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, when we believe Christ suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven, and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness, as Paul says in Roman 3:21-26 and 4:5” (emphasis mine).

Luther regarded justification as “ruler and judge over all other Christian doctrines … Nothing in this article can be given up or compromised … on this article rests all that we teach … therefore we must be quite certain and have no doubts about it. Otherwise all is lost”.

Justification is therefore central to the Christian teaching of salvation. So pivotal that if unbalanced teaching in anyway, reverberations are felt in the whole edifice of faith. It is the touchstone for testing at all times whether a particular interpretation of our relation to God can claim the name ‘Christian’. But much wrestling is needed to grasp these implications.

It also refreshing that Luther noted that every time another insist that we are sinners, we are called to remember what Christ has done for us on the cross, and that we will not terrified but comforted immeasurably! Justification brings us into a state of most blessed peace and favour with God and secures every other blessing needful for time and eternity. With this, being justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort.

To what problem is justification an answer? Justification answers the problem of sin. We cannot forgive ourselves, can we? None of our efforts at restitution, however sincere and serious, can ever be fully adequate to the sufferings we have caused. No payment will suffice for a damage that has ongoing and unpredictable consequences to others or even onto the next generation.

Only God’s gift of forgiveness is able to overcome our sin. We have all caused harm that can never be made up for by human hands or works.

That is why we stand in such dire need of justification by grace.

Picture by Rodolfo Clix

Thomas C. Oden, The Justification Reader, Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans (2002)

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3 comment(s)

  1. While I agree with your post in general, I disagree as to the importance of a believer actually articulating a doctrine of justification.

    What I mean is this: How someone understands justification does not determine how they are justified. Someone is justified by imparted righteousness from Christ because of faith (and I will even throw works in there as well). Actually understanding how the righteousness or justification is imparted - forensically or otherwise - is not necessarily important. Theologians have been arguing the issues for ages, I don't expect the "every day" believer to necessarily try to.

    Of course, I don't mean to imply that the "every day" believer shouldn't have an understanding of the doctrine of justification, I just think it is secondary to having faith that we are justified. Maybe I misunderstood and that isn't what you are saying at all though. ;) Great post!

    Thanks for checking out my blog and for your gracious compliments! :)


  2. You brought up something interesting here - one more thing I can mull over ;)

    Generally, yes, I do agree that how a person understand justification does not determine how they are justified, since it is God who does the justification.

    But even if a believer could not, as you say articulate the doctrine itself, one should have a clear understanding and more importantly assurance about justification: the fact that we are only rendered righteous by faith and through the work of the cross (but this of course depends on which leaning one is on :)

    Having faith that we are justified vs. understanding the doctrine of justification. Hmmm... I suppose it is a position a believer would have to choose to take: it is not wrong to take it as it is, i.e. the Word of God assures that we are justified, therefore we are; or believers who takes it a level deeper to drill it down to a better understanding of the doctrine or any doctrines for that matter. I guess I am striving towards having a reason for my belief.

    Neway, thanks for checking blog and your gracious compliments as well.

    God bless!

  3. I think I can get on board with that. :)