Reflections on Justification, Part 3

I’ve ruminated on Justification in two previous posts: here and here.

I took the scenic route in the last post, veering away from the topic of justification, going through my own development and growth.  I looked especially at eschatology: the study of the last things.  I discussed the now/not-yet tension we live in, and how understanding this has been tremendously helpful as I try to make sense of the New Testament.  Now, I’ll try to apply this to justification, mostly rehashing what Wright says in his book.

Justification has usually been understood in Protestantism as more or less synonymous with salvation.  It’s something which takes place when you place your faith in Christ’s death and resurrection.  At this time, God declares us innocent from the charges of sin which have been made against us on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice for us.  I’m not familiar with any “not-yet”  aspect of justification in traditional Protestant thought.

What Wright argues is that justification has two parts: one part happens in the present, more or less as I’ve described in the last paragraph.  (He takes issue with some of the specifics, mainly the Reformed notion of “imputation,” but leaves most of it intact)  However, this is not the complete picture.  Paul also speaks of a final justification in Romans 2, where those “by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he [God] will give eternal life” This “not-yet” justification will take place on the last day, and looks quite a bit like justification according to works.  How does this fit in with the justification by faith Paul discusses later in Romans?

As mentioned previously, justification occurs in two parts.  The first justification is by faith; this takes place in the present.  This justification takes place when we trust in Christ for our ultimate vindication.  When this happens, the Holy Spirit comes into our lives and empowers us to live lives in anticipation of the last day.  He empowers us to persist in doing good, to seek glory, honor, and immortality, and to not do the evil things which incur judgment.  Our justification by faith in the present anticipates the judgment on the final day; it is the “assurance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen” as the letter to the Hebrews states.

I haven’t worked out the details.  I’m not sure how the Holy Spirit’s work within us interacts with the work of Jesus on the cross (I’m thinking the latter enables the former). I’m not sure how this outline of justification affects the perseverance of the saints (can we, or can we not lose our salvation?).  I do, however, think that Wright offers a compelling view of justification.  It’s deeply rooted in scripture, and has helped me make much more sense of both my experience and the scriptures.  If you’re still curious, there’s plenty on his website to read, or you can just read the book.  It’s quite good :-)

~alex

4 thoughts on “Reflections on Justification, Part 3

  1. Alex,

    You had to know this was coming from me ;)

    I am REALLY interested in what you’ve had to say so far. I will admit that your prose is a bit dense for me and thus takes a while to get through (this is code for “you are smarter than me, so it takes me forever to read what you write”). The following are a few passages from the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the topic of grace, salvation, and justification. The CCC in its entirety is avaliable on the Vatican’s website, but I took some of the stuff from the “In Brief” lines at the end of each section:

    658 Christ, “the first-born from the dead” (Col 1:18), is the principle of our own resurrection, even now by the justification of our souls (cf. Rom 6:4), and one day by the new life he will impart to our bodies (cf.: Rom 8:11).

    2017 The grace of the Holy Spirit confers upon us the righteousness of God. Uniting us by faith and Baptism to the Passion and Resurrection of Christ, the Spirit makes us sharers in his life.
    2018 Like conversion, justification has two aspects. Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, and so accepts forgiveness and righteousness from on high.
    2019 Justification includes the remission of sins, sanctification, and the renewal of the inner man.
    2020 Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ. It is granted us through Baptism. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who justifies us. It has for its goal the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life. It is the most excellent work of God’s mercy.
    2021 Grace is the help God gives us to respond to our vocation of becoming his adopted sons. It introduces us into the intimacy of the Trinitarian life.
    2022 The divine initiative in the work of grace precedes, prepares, and elicits the free response of man. Grace responds to the deepest yearnings of human freedom, calls freedom to cooperate with it, and perfects freedom.
    2027 No one can merit the initial grace which is at the origin of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit, we can merit for ourselves and for others all the graces needed to attain eternal life, as well as necessary temporal goods
    2029 “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24).

    Here’s the link to the section I took most of this from: http://www.vatican.va/archive/catechism/p3s1c3a2.htm

    I thought it might interest you. Keep writing :) know of my prayers!!

    1. Thanks for the comment! I’m not surprised at all by the catechism quotes, though I now wonder why I didn’t look at it to start. The whole time I was wondering, “what exactly is the Catholic perspective of this?” I’d like to get a print copy at some point, even if my baptist family would object ;-) I actually bought a Catholic bible recently because I wanted to read through the deuterocanonical books. What I didn’t realize is that it had a pink bookmark and was a bit more feminine than I thought it was going to be ;-) Still a good purchase.

      Regarding the dense prose: suggestions are welcome! Some “density” is inevitable because of how theology is. However, I’d like for my writing style to not play into the trap of “sounding smart.” It should help reveal rather than conceal whatever the subject is.

      On a side note, I visited a Lutheran church the other day. I’ve been on a quest to visit some of the liturgical churches. I’m hoping to visit an Eastern Orthodox church next. It’s been fun so far, especially because I don’t get to experience a developed liturgy on a regular basis.

      Brianna and I ran into Ryan the other day. He was sitting with lots of people and doing quite well.

      Thanks for the prayers, I’ll be praying for you also.

      ~alex

      1. Haha! I actually don’t have my print copy with me at college, and I’ve been sorely feeling its absence. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a girly Catholic bible, so that’s a first for me too…well done ;)

        No, I don’t think it’s something about your prose that needs to be fixed… you have always been/will always be a very advanced and intelligent writer, and it’s because that’s how you think. No apologies or changes needed, in my opinion.

        Good for you for visiting some liturgical churches! It is so different, isn’t it? I felt the same way when I first started attending non-liturgical services. The Lutheral and Catholic similarities are striking, but you’ll see it even more in Eastern Orthodox. I felt almost as if I were at the same Mass, which was so interesting to me- if I’m not mistaken, EO services may actually count for Sunday Mass obligations in the Catholic Church, providing that a Mass of one’s particular “denomination” (Roman Catholic for me) is not avaliable. I wish I knew more about the different rites of Catholic services, because I think you’d be really interested by that. Ryan knows a lot more than I do about that kind of stuff…I’m going to talk to him and share whatever interesting stuff I learn :)

        I am glad you got a chance to see him. Thanks for keeping me updated, and thanks for the prayers!

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