Monday, September 25, 2006

Justification: Legal pardon

The Reformation is primarily based on the doctrine of justification. At the time of the Reformation corruption was rife in the Roman Catholic Institution. Indulgences were sold to people making them believe that thereby they could be saved or at least less time would be spent in purgatory. Indulgences had even been sold to the families of those who had died with the understanding that the dead would then be released from purgatory. One of the sayings at this time concerning indulgences for the dead was “as soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” However, the sale of indulgences was a method by Rome and her alliances to reap great financial benefit to their own riches. It was against the corruption regarding indulgences and its related theological presuppositions that Luther posted his 95-theses against the door of Wittenburg, on October 31, 1517.
However, Luther made a greater discovery some time before the great October day. Luther was a sincere, passionate and deeply religious monk. At the time Luther understood his own sinfulness and good works and penance just did not seem to satisfy him. Luther sought to obey his monastic vows completely and was a good monk; very much opposite to the corruption of the day. To assuage Luther deep felt sinfulness, his superiors suggested many things: the reading of the teachers of mysticism, self-punishment according to monastic rules, etc. Nothing satisfied him.
Finally his superior suggested a position as a lecturer at the new University of Wittenburg. By 1512 he received his doctorate in theology. While preparing lectures on the Bible, Luther started seeing new meanings to what he was used to.
"The great discovery probably came in 1515, when Luther began lecturing on the Epistle to the Romans. He later declared that it was in the first chapter of that epistle that he found the solution to his difficulties. That solution did not come easily. It was not simply a matter of opening the Bible one day and reading that 'the just shall live by faith.' As he tells the story, the great discovery followed a long struggle and bitter anguish, for Romans 1:17 begins by declaring that, in the gospel, 'the righteousness of God is revealed.'  According to this text, the gospel is the revelation of the righteousness—the justice—of God. But it was precisely the justice of God that Luther found unbearable. How could such a message be gospel, good news? For Luther, good news would have been that God is not just, meaning that God does not judge sinners. But, in Romans 1:17, the good news and the justice of God are indissolubly linked. Luther hated the very phrase 'the justice of God,' and spent day and night seeking to understand the relationship between the two parts of that single verse, which, after declaring that in the gospel, 'the justice of God is revealed,' affirms that 'the righteous shall live by faith.'
"The answer was surprising. Luther came to the conclusion that the 'justice of God' does not refer, as he had been taught, to the punishment of sinners. It means rather that the 'justice' or 'righteousness' of the righteous is not their own, but God’s. The 'righteousness of God' is that which is given to those who live by faith. It is given, not because they are righteous, not because they fulfil the demands of divine justice, but simply because wishes to give it. Thus, Luther’s doctrine of 'justification by faith' does not mean that what God demands of us is faith, as if this were something we have to do or achieve, and which God then rewards. It means rather that both faith and justification are the work of God, a free gift to sinners. As a result of this discovery, Luther tells us, 'I felt that I had been born anew and that the gates of heaven had been opened. The whole of  Scripture gained a new meaning. And from that point the phrase 'the justice of God' no longer filled me with hatred, but rather became unspeakably sweet by virtue of a great love.'" [1]
Justification is related to our spiritual relation to God, our judicial position. It does not speak of our spiritual condition or our actual state. It is the restoration of our relation to God. Justification is a legal declaration by God. It includes the removal of sin by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ (Rom 8:33-35; 3:20, 26, 28; 5:1; 10:4, 10; Gal 2:16; 3:24).
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor 5:21)
Justification does not mean that God makes us righteous. It is a declaration of righteousness.
But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness (Rom 4:5)
Justification, in effect, declares us free from the penalty of sin.
THEREFORE there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom 8:1)
Justification does not merely declare us forgiven for our sins, putting us in a neutral state before God, but actually declares us to be righteous. A beautiful picture is provided for us in Isa 61:10:
I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness.
Justification was the heart of the dispute between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. It is at this point that the Roman Catholic Institution misunderstands justification. To the Catholic system, justification is the sanctifying and renewal of the inner man. Protestantism has always regarded justification to be a declaration of righteousness not based on the actual condition of righteousness or holiness, but on the basis of the perfect righteousness of Christ.
THEREFORE, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 5:1)
Justification for the Romans has always been attained by God’s grace (through various sacraments—7 in all), plus good deeds. This justification was given to us at the first sacrament, baptism. However, Scripture affirms that we cannot attain justification by doing things; the works of the law.
because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. (Rom 3:20)
Unlike Roman Catholicismthe doctrine of justification gives hope to unbelievers who know they cannot make themselves right with God. Also, we have confidence that God will never make us pay the penalty for sins that have been paid by Christ Himself.
For a more indepth look at our subject here visit Phil Johnson's post End of a long series.
Just thinking...
End Notes
1. Gonzalez, Justo L., The Story of Christianity, Complete in One Volume, The Early Church to the Present Day, VOLUME TWO, The Reformation to the Present Day, Prince Press, Peabody, Massachusetts, First Printing – December 1999, pp19-20.

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