Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Justification, is it just forensic?

Pontificator has another thread on justification, and of course N.T. Wright makes another appearance. Over and over again, the issue is whether or not justification is only forensic, or if we are, in effect, transformed by justification in addition to its "forensic" dimension. Interestingly, Dr. Martin Luther but it most succinctly: "So what happens when we are justified? Better yet—what happens at baptism? We Lutherans retain and defend the ancient doctrine of baptismal regeneration."

That's right, justification is not "merely" forensic. It also means rebirth, since we believe we are reborn in Baptism. Along with our justification comes the Holy Ghost and a change of the person. Does this make justification "intrinsic" and therefore the Lutheran distinction between justification and sanctification becomes moot? Let's see:

Augsberg Confession IV:

"Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for 2] Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. 3] This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4. "

So, it seems we are justified when we believe we are justified before God for Christ's sake, and not because of our own efforts. That sounds extrinsic to me--we are received in favor because of something outside us. So, how can we receive this gift through faith?

Epitome II--Free Will

"With this Word the Holy Ghost is present, and opens hearts, so that they, as Lydia in Acts 16, 14, are attentive to it, and are thus converted alone through the grace and power of the Holy Ghost, whose 6] work alone the conversion of man is. For without His grace, and if He do not grant the increase, our willing and running, our planting, sowing, and watering, all are nothing, as Christ says John 15, 5: Without Me ye can do nothing. With these brief words He denies to the free will its powers, and ascribes everything to God's grace, in order that no one may boast before God. 1 Cor. 1, 29; 2 Cor. 12, 5; Jer. 9, 23."

So, the Holy Ghost opens hearts through the preached word of salvation in Jesus Christ. That sounds intrinsic.

We hear the word, we believe the word, we are justified, all by the free gift of God through the Holy Spirit. A baby is justified in his Baptism apart from any works he has done. Sometimes justification is mentioned as an occurrence in the past, as in 1 Cor 6:11. This makes no sense if we are also justified only when we cooperate with the Hoy Ghost. Nor does it mean that the Scriptures only speak of justification in the past tense, as we see in Romans 2:13 we may speak of justification as a future event too. In my opinion, this makes a lot of these types of discussions academic. If we can point to our Baptism as when we were justified, doesn't that necessitate a distinction between justification and sanctification? And if justification is a future event, doesn't that necessitate some change in the person from when he was not justified to when he is?

As I pointed out in my post about N.T. Wright, we really do mean that when we hear the Gospel and believe that we are justified by faith. We are reborn, as Dr. Luther says above. That is a change, a really big change.

1 comment:

Weekend Fisher said...

I've been meaning to mention that I really enjoy your writing. Found you through the Carnival over at Aardvark Alley.

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