1. The Problem of the Doctrine of Justification
In the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God condemned and executed us as sinners, yet he also pardoned and raised us to life as new creatures. We now live in a state of transition between our past life as sinners and our future life as new creatures, between our past rebellion against God and our future freedom for God. Our existence in this transition is our justification by God in Christ.
2. The Judgment of God
God’s judgment is God’s assertion of his right. For the sinful wrong of man to be overcome absolutely, God must assert his own right. But in asserting his righteous judgment, God justifies us sinners. God’s faithfulness to himself as a God of love in freedom forms the foundation of God’s right to justify us despite our unfaithfulness. Our faith is our affirmation of God’s faithfulness revealed to us in Christ. In the assertion of his right as our justification, God remains true to himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and as the God who chose to be the God of man from all eternity.
God’s judgment means the end of wrong in our death as sinners and the restoration of right in our new life as elect in Christ. By sinning, we wronged God. We opposed his right. Because of who God is and because of his eternal commitment to us, God asserted his right in the form of gracious righteousness and righteous grace. But this meant God’s overcoming of our sin and of us as sinners. Yet even in his radical no to us as sinners, we may hear God’s even greater yes to us as the creatures and covenantal partners he wills us to be in spite of ourselves. We may hear the affirmation of God’s grace even as it greets us in the form of chastisement. Its purpose is to destroy what’s wrong to restore what’s right. Faith, itself God’s gift, is our hearing of God’s yes hidden in but underlying this no of God.
Pride is our refusal to hear God’s yes and consequently our misunderstanding of God not as gracious but as wrathful. In this case we are the people whom God has already put aside by destroying, yet even so we are the people whom God has chosen freely in love to maintain by pardoning. In all this we are not partially destroyed and partially saved. Each and every person was and is a sinner and as such one destroyed wholly by God; but, at the same time, each and every person is and will be righteous and as such one wholly protected by God. Our justification is our lived transition from a dark past of sin to a future new life in God’s Kingdom of Light.
The judgment of God is both the righteousness of God and the justification of man. It has taken place already in Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ we have died already as sinners and have been raised already to newness of life. And our justification is an unshakably certain work of God because in it God primarily justifies himself. God does this by revealing that he is the living God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and our Creator. He reveals his faithfulness to himself first as loving Father toward his obedient Son and then as Creator by freely restoring our existence as his creatures and as the covenantal partners he created us to be.
3. The Pardon of Man
God’s judgment against us is his pardon of us. This pardon, as the death of the old human against God and the birth of the new human for God, is God’s work alone. Yet it is a work that we can take to heart because this pardon is no secret but is revealed to us by God’s Word. Even now we may live as those moving from a past of destruction toward a future full of light, love, and life. Even now we may live as those at peace with God.
If, on one hand, we cannot minimize the evil arrogance of the past from which we come; then, on the other, we cannot minimize the righteousness toward which we move. If by God’s grace we profoundly know ourselves as sinners, then by God’s grace we know ourselves even more profoundly as forgiven. Our new freedom for God is far more significant than our old illusory freedom from God. We are not wholly sinful one minute and wholly justified the next. Instead the movement of justification is wholly from our wrong past to our right future because this alone corresponds to the right of God established once for all in Christ.
This movement forward consists first in the confession of our sin and in the acknowledgment of God’s forgiveness of us. True repentance includes both.
Our participation in the movement of justification consists secondly in the actuality of God’s forgiveness increasingly impressing itself upon us. Divine forgiveness does not mean that God pretends we never sin. It means that God does not count our sin against us (2 Corinthians 5:19). It means he refuses to allow our sin to determine his relationship with us. This puts an end to the vicious spiral of destructiveness which characterized our past.
In this new situation God also wills that we boldly claim, not only our restored rights as creatures and covenantal partners, but even the right to come to him as his adopted children. God promises this kinship with us. This right is based solely on God’s gracious will to bind himself to us as our Father.
This new movement in which we participate as forgiven sinners and as children of God finally includes hope. Hope is the hidden presence of eternal life in our present as we move from a dark past to our bright future. When we take possession of the future we will no longer be wholly sinful yet wholly righteous but simply righteous. To live in hope is to live even now as a merry pilgrim awaiting with joyful expectation the definitive coming of our Savior Jesus Christ.
4. Justification by Faith Alone
Faith primarily is our affirmation of God’s judgment in Christ as both his righteousness and our justification by his pardon. Faith, then, has nothing to do with self-justification. It is not the human act by which we cooperate with or complete the act of justification accomplished and revealed in Jesus Christ. Indeed faith includes our rejection of any attempt at self-justification as distasteful vanity. It includes our shame for still being such proud sinners. It is our free and joyful dissatisfaction with who we are and all we do without God and, as such, it is our humble obedience to God.
As humble obedience, faith is not the rejection of good works, of the working out of faith in love. It is the rejection of our pride in such works. The only work about which we happily boast is the work which Christ did on behalf of all. Justifying faith, then, is our knowledge of and trust in Jesus Christ alone as the full justification of every human being. It is our acknowledgment that every human being lives by God’s grace alone. Faith finally is our weak analogy of the humble obedience of Jesus Christ our Lord who became a servant. In only the most imperfect comparison to Christ’s humility, our faith rejects any glory or merit in order to focus instead on Christ. But even in this humility our obedience to Jesus Christ will not be passive but quite active or it is not justifying faith.
Copyright © 2019 by Steven Farsaci.All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.