Justification by Faith - A Definition
Several years ago I wrote an article on a “modified reformed view” of justification for a great “views” book on Justification edited by James Beilby and Paul Rhodes. It was a great volume, a terrific conversation about justification from some different perspectives, I really enjoyed it.
In sum, justification is about being in the right before God, but the debate is whether our“rightness” is declarative, transformative, or somewhere in between.
Basically my view is a traditional reformed view with a skip and a hop towards some of the New Perspective on Paul crowd.
In sum, I think justification has five key aspects:
(1) Justification is forensic as it denotes one’s legal status, not one’s moral state. God declares the godless and sinners to be something they are not. They are righteous because God declares it so!
(2) Justification is eschatological in that the verdict of the final judgment has been declared in the present and the verdict is one of acquittal and is assured by the continuing work of Christ and the Spirit.
(3) Justification is covenantal since it confirms the promises of the Abrahamic covenant and legitimates the identity of Jews, Greeks, Barbarians as full and equal members of God’s people.
(4) Justification is effective insofar as moral sanctification cannot be subsumed under justification but neither can they be absolutely separated. Justification and transformation are both rooted in the same reality of union with Christ (i.e., Calvin’s “twofold grace”).
(5) Justification is a Trinitarian because it is “God who justifies” (Rom 8:33). This is seen in the Father handing over the Son to the cross and raising him up for our justification (Rom 4:25). Justification only transpires in the sphere of union with Christ and the only one who can condemn believers it is at this very moment interceding for them before Father (Rom 8:34). The Spirit activates justification by creating and supplying faith and the same Spirit that justified Christ (1 Tim 3:16) also justifies believers (1 Cor 6:11).
That supports my contention that justification is the act whereby God creates a new people, with a new status, in a new covenant, as a foretaste of the new age. By faith we are united to Christ in his condemnation on the cross and we are also united to his justification at his resurrection.
To expand upon that, God’s verdict of condemnation against our sin at the cross is transformed into God’s verdict of righteousness issued in the raising of the Son. We are, then, incorporated into the righteousness of Jesus Christ so that his vindication, and his obedient act that was the basis for it, is counted as ours. Justification also has vertical and horizontal elements in declaring the sinner to be right with God (vertical) and also by bringing Gentiles into the family of Abraham (horizontal). Thus, we when read about justification in Paul’s letters we must remember that Paul is not only answering the question, “what must I do to be saved?” but also answering the question “who are the people of God?” – the two go together.