The Doctrine of Justification

In the theological area of Soteriology,[1] there are several sub-topics that branch off the main trunk of salvation that coalesce to form the doctrine of salvation. One such topic, branch, or doctrine is the doctrine of justification. However, to discuss justification as a sub-topic of salvation, is to discuss the doctrines of grace and faith as well. Without the gift of grace and the instrument of faith there can be no justification. As individuals, there is nothing one can do, in and of himself, to become justified (or righteous) in the sight of God, other than by grace through faith.

At first glance, presuppositions[2] of justification seem to involve elements of something one must do to prove, defend, or justify one’s actions or behavior. One justifies, or rationalizes, his behaviors first in thought, then through an argument defending or justifying what the thoughts and motives were behind his actions. A drug addict may justify his action based on his thinking that he needs a certain substance to keep his sense of “normal,” thus the drug addict states, “I stole the money to make myself feel normal.” From this, the addict proves to himself the reasoning behind his illegal act as justifiable; however, in the court of law the addict must be able to justify his acts to the judge, whom upholds the moral standards, which will be extremely difficult to do given the addict’s display of moral reasoning, and the fact that none are righteous.[3] The judge is to pass judgment on the matter, either justifying or condemning the addict based on the addict’s ability to justify (prove) himself. In an eternal sense, one must justify his earthly actions and behaviors to a much higher judge of moral standards, God.

To understand and correct one’s presuppositions of the word justification, one must define justification. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary has many definitions for justification, along with other forms of the word, “justifiable-of being justified: excusable, justify-to prove or show to be just, right, or reasonable—to show to have had a sufficient legal reason.”[4] From these definitions alone, one can see how a presupposition is formed towards justification as something that is earned. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary goes on to define justification as, “the act, process, or state of being justified by God, the act or an instance of justifying: vindication, something that justifies.”[5] Here, again, one can see how justification gains the presupposition of something that must be done. Another word that will be used interchangeably during this discourse (with the various forms of justification) is righteous or righteousness. Righteous is like justification in that righteous can mean, “righteous-acting in accord with divine or moral law: free from guilt or sin: morally right or justifiable, a righteous decision.”[6] Another definition offered by Dr. John Dagg defines justification as, “the act of a judge acquitting one who is charged with crime.”[7] By knowing the definitions of justification and righteousness, it is easy to see how a worldly presupposition can distort or give a false impression to the biblical meaning and use of certain words.

Now, questions begin to arise. How can man be justified, righteous, or acquitted of the charge of being a sinner and living an immoral life before a great and powerful moral judge that is the God of the Bible?  Especially when Paul declares, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”[8] To answer questions regarding justification’s meaning and ways to obtain righteous/justified standing before God, the Christian must turn to the Bible. A biblical evaluation of justification begins to produce fruit almost immediately, and shows just how prevalent the topic of justification is throughout God’s Word.

The first allusion to justification appears in the third chapter of Genesis. In verse six, Adam and Eve ate of the tree that God had forbidden them to eat from; consequently, “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew they were naked; so, they sewed fig leaves together and made loin cloths for themselves.”[9] At this point Adam and Eve knew they had messed up and took matters in their own hands to try and make right or justify their mistake by making their own clothes out of leaves.

Fast forward to Genesis 3:21, “The Lord God Made clothing out of skins for Adam and his wife, and He clothed them.”[10] After God describes the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin, He clothes them with His justification/righteousness. Adam and Eve tried in their own power to get right, for they tried to clothe themselves in leaves which do not last long before they dry out and disintegrate. However, God saw fit to clothe them in the leather of His grace and righteousness which outlasts any attempt by man to justify himself before God.

Another Old Testament allusion to justification is found in Job 32:2, Elihu becomes angry with Job because, “…he [Job] had justified himself rather than God.”[11] Again, someone tries to justify himself? The Moody Bible Commentary explains Job’s reason for his self-justification, “…the main problem was that Job was proud and righteous in his own eyes.”[12] One can see from the earlier stories that one cannot obtain righteousness on one’s own strength. Luckily for Job, he realized his mistake and repented and turned to God for His justification.

So far, one should see that justification in God’s sight, is impossible in and of one’s own self. Now, a look at God’s justification. In Genesis 15:6, one can see the exchange between God and Abram’s righteousness or justification, “Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness.”[13] In this verse, because of Abram’s faith, God imputes, credits, attributes, or gives righteousness/justification onto Abram, for no other reason than by God’s grace through Abram’s faith. Abram put his belief and trust in God, so God counted him as righteous.[14] Francis Schaffer puts it like this, “No faith in God is really valid unless it involves faith in a specific revelation or promise of God.”[15] Abram put his faith in God’s specific promise to bless him with a child and many descendants, and that God could and would fulfill His promise.[16] God Has given us the promise of salvation and justification in Jesus Christ. Do you believe God’s promise?
An example of a type of Abram’s justification can be seen in Luke 18:9-14:

He told this parable to some who trusted in themselves, as though they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed these things about himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men: extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I tithe of all that I earn.’ But the tax collector, standing at a distance, would not even lift his eyes to heaven, but struck his chest, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.[17]

 

In this passage of scripture, the humble and repentant who believe God will be justified more readily than the self-righteous and highly religious. The righteousness one sees in one’s self separates him from God and other believers leading to a prideful fall. Paul Enns reiterates Martin Luther, “Only God’s grace is the foundation and basis for man’s salvation and justification.”[18]

This leads to the famous Pauline chapters of justification in Romans chapters three through five. In chapter three, Paul explains the human condition of unrighteousness, “As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God.’”[19] Then, Paul (Romans 3:21-26) details from where, and how, righteousness and justification is given to the unrighteous,

But now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, this righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and upon all who believe, for there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth to be a propitiation through faith, in His blood, for a demonstration of His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to prove His righteousness at this present time so that He might be just and be the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.[20]

 

Paul tells us that God’s righteousness is shown to us through the Law, but no one can keep to His Law. If one could keep the Law, then one’s work would make him justified before God. Since no one can keep the Law in his own effort, God (by His grace) gave man Jesus as an everlasting atonement, for those who believe.[21] Before the cross, there was the sacrifice. After the cross, there is Jesus. Before the cross, was the mercy seat covered with blood. After the cross, Jesus is the covering.

Through God’s free gift of grace believers are redeemed and justified, “He has justified us ‘freely by his grace through the redemption’ that is available to us because of Christ’s death on the cross.”[22] There are countless biblical references to back up the doctrine of justification, too many to fully explore in this discourse.[23]

Looking at the formulation history of the doctrine of justification, confirms or sets the foundation that one should at the very least see that grace and faith set free one’s justification before God. Justification was not much of an issue until the early fifth century during the patristic period of the early church[24]. During this time, a great debate began between Pelagius and Augustine of Hippo concerning grace and justification. Pelagius founded Pelagianism which, “…believes we have the natural ability to obey God sufficiently,”[25]also per the Pelagian view, “Justification supposes a person’s abilities are elevated and God’s expectations are lowered.”[26] This view lessens the power of God’s grace and places emphasis on man’s ability to justify himself before God.[27]

Augustine held the view that man’s broken, fallen, and sinful state prevented humans from entering a relationship with God or to be saved, or justified emphasizing grace as God’s unmerited favor and the only means of salvation and justification.[28] In 529, at the Second Council of Orange, Pelagianism was found as heresy and condemned.[29]

In the Middle Ages to the Renaissance (c. 500-1500), came about philosophical movements like Humanism, Scholasticism, and Realism. Theology began to be systemized. The mind and heart partnered together in reason and faith. The Middle Ages and Renaissance saw theology become an academic endeavor producing minds such as Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), Duns Scotus (1265-1308), and Erasmus of Rotterdam (1469-1536).

In the early 14th Century, one movement known as “the modern way,” formerly known as nominalism, became a major mode of thought in many universities. This movement adopted a doctrine of justification which many labeled as “Pelagian.”[30] Again, a dispute began between proponents of the teachings of Pelagius and those of Augustine. Thomas Bradwardine began the attack against “the modern way” in his book entitled, The Case of God against Pelagius, which returns to the Augustinian view of justification.[31] Later, Gregory of Rimini would become involved in the debate between “the modern way” and what became known as the “modern Augustinian School.” Rimini stood on the side of the Augustinian way, but held nominalist views similar to that of “the modern way” thinkers like Robert Holcot, Gabriel Biel, and William Ockham.[32] The “modern way” held that resources for salvation are found within human nature; the ability to resist sin and turn to righteousness is within humanity. Meaning that by doing their best humans can obtain justification. In Rimini’s view, salvation is completely a work by God.[33] These earlier debates would later become hot topics leading to the Reformation.

The Reformation and Post Reformation Period (c. 1500-1750). The Reformation was, a period in western Europe, centered around Reformers Martin Luther, John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli, and others who were concerned about the moral, theological, and institutional state of the church.[34] Martin Luther (1483-1546) spearheaded the Reformation with his battle cry “justification by faith alone.” Luther’s study of Romans led him to the truth of justification from God as a gift (grace) through faith setting Luther free of his own struggle with sin and guilt. Luther finally understood Romans 1:17, “The Just shall live by faith.” This truth also led to his outrage against the church for its sale of indulgences and the emphasis the church placed on justification by works, or buying one’s way into heaven.

John Calvin (1509-1564) a French Pastor living in Geneva, Switzerland was the first theologian to treat justification and sanctification as two different aspects of salvation. Justification—declared already righteous and sanctification—simultaneously being made righteous.[35] Calvin and Luther agreed on justification by faith, and Calvin emphasized the legal act of God’s grace declaring a sinner righteous; furthermore, Calvin taught that good works demonstrated the reality of one’s justification.[36]

The Counter Reformation, or Catholic Reformation, began at the Council of Trent in 1545. The council rejected the doctrine of justification by faith alone and excommunicated those who held the view of justification by faith.[37] The Counter Reformers refuted the Reformation view of justification and defended their view that justification is based on the inner righteousness and outer works of the individual rather than as a gift from God.[38]

Modern Theology came about in the 17th Century to present day with over lapping doctrinal views. 1) Covenant Theology consists of the covenant of grace based on the covenant of redemption made by God delegated to the willing Son who gave salvation through His atoning death. The covenant grace is the application of the covenant of redemption, and restricted to the elect.[39] 2) Lutheran Theology’s belief of justification is found in the Confession of 1530, “to absolve a guilty man and pronounce him righteous, and to do so on account of someone else’s righteousness, namely Christ’s.”[40] 3) Reformed Theology founded by John Calvin and doctrinal standards formed in the Westminster Confession of Faith led to the famous Five Points of Calvinism. T.U.L.I.P—1) Total depravity of man; 2) Unconditional election of salvation; 3) Limited atonement (elect only); 4) Irresistible grace; 5) Perseverance of the saints.[41]

Other modern theologies to mention are Liberal Theology, a theology that believes knowing God depends on the person’s mind or reasoning, and the person’s feelings/experience, and low view of the Bible’s infallibility.[42] Neo-orthodox Theology—the name means “new orthodox,” and although it is new, it is not orthodox.[43] This theology teaches that for man to fellowship with God requires a “leap of faith’ and that the stories of the Bible are myths and it does not matter if they took place or not.[44] The bible is only a witness to revelation.[45]

Through the evaluation of historical theology, one can witness theological formulas or models for doctrine begin and develop. These models vary and are as numerous as church denominations—Lutheran, Calvinism, Arminianism, Anabaptists, Liberal, or Covenant to name a few. To choose a side is most difficult for this writer. Perhaps a Compatibilist’s view as described by Daniel Akin,[46] or if a theology existed where one could take parts he believed from each school of thought to create a personal theology much like the personal relationship one builds with Jesus Christ. To be true, there are parts of Lutheran Theology, Calvinism, and Arminianism that appeal to this writer’s reason and faith. Perhaps this writer should continue to build his doctrine and change as the Holy Spirit sees fit to teach and guide him. It is premature to determine, nay, prideful to say, “Yes, this is my camp, or this is the theological formulation I stand behind.” One can learn, build, and develop a personal theology and doctrine of life from all the models presented in this course.

Through the study of the doctrine of justification, this writer has developed a peace and better understanding of God’s grace, mercy, and justification. Many of the major theologians resonate profoundly with this writer regarding their struggle with sin, guilt, and shame. This writer has recently dealt with self-righteousness and being righteous in his own eyes, but by God’s grace he has been shown the error of his ways and restored to true righteousness through a humble God centered, Christ delivered faith and atonement. This doctrine of justification is only the beginning of the journey known as the Christian Life. When a sinner comes to realize their need for a savior and calls on Jesus, he will be saved and at the same moment declared righteous/justified before God. Justification then begins the life of sanctification, leading to glorification. Justification is only a fraction of the total salvation experience.

In today’s communities, culture, and even churches hold the idea, “If I am a good person and treat others right, surely God will let me in to heaven.” This is just simply not the case. Justification is decided by a moral judge, God. As humans, we are totally depraved because of the curse of sin, and can do nothing of our own accord to be considered righteous. Our works earn us death. Only through one’s faith can we be save and justified before God. Francis Schaffer best summarizes the doctrine of justification,

“We must be so careful never to let faith become a work. Faith has no value in and of itself. Faith is the act whereby you raise your empty hands, believe God’s promise, accept the finished work of Jesus Christ on your behalf, whereupon God declares you justified.”[47]

Notes

 

[1] Soteriology is the study of the doctrine of salvation.
[2] A presupposition is an assumption about an object or idea, or what one previously thought he knew about an object or idea.
[3] See Romans Chapters 1-3
[4] Merriam-Webster INC., Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003).
[5] Ibid.
[6]Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary
[7] Dagg, John L. D.D. Manual of Theology. Harrison, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 2009. 265.
[8] The Holman Illustrated Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2006. Romans 3:23
[9] Ibid., Genesis 3:7
[10] Ibid., Genesis 3:21
[11] Ibid., Job 32:2
[12] The Moody Bible Institute. The Moody Bible Commentary. Edited by Michael Rydelnik, & Michael Vanlaningham. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2016. 730.
[13] Military Bible Association. The Holy Bible: Modern English Version. Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2014. Genesis 15:6
[14] Dagg, Manual of Theology,  267
[15] Schaffer, Francis A. The Finished Work of Christ: The Truth of Romans 1-8. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998. 89
[16] Ibid., 90
[17] The Holy Bible: Modern English Version, Luke 18:9-14.
[18] Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, 485.
[19] The Holy Bible: Modern English Version, Romans 3:10-11.
[20] Ibid., Romans 3:21-26
[21] Luther, Martin. Commentary on Romans. Translated by J. Theodore Mueller. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1954. 78.
[22] Schaffer, The Finished Work of Christ, 78.
[23] Other verses pertaining to justification:  Isa. 53:11; Isa. 61:10; John 5:24; Acts 13:39; Romans 1-8; Romans 10:9-13; Gal. 2:16; Gal 3:8, Titus 3:7; Hebrews 11
[24] McGrath, Alister E. Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1998. 35. The patristic period c, 100-451A.D.
[25] Keathley, Kenneth. “The Work of God: Salvation.” In A Theology for the Church, Revised Edition, by Daniel L. Akin, Bruce Riley Ashford, & Kenneth Keathley, edited by Daniel L. Akin, 543-600. Nashville, Tennessee: B & H Publishing Group, 2014. 588.
[26] Ibid., 587
[27] McGrath, Historical Theology, 35.
[28] McGrath, Historical Theology, 35-36.
[29] Keathley, “The Work of God: Salvation.” In A Theology for the Church, 587.
[30] McGrath, Historical Theology, 106.
[31] McGrath, Historical Theology, 107.
[32] Ibid., 106-107
[33] Ibid., 107. This thought that the resources needed for salvation lied within humanity, at the time, were propagated by writers like Gabriel Biel.
[34]McGrath, Historical Theology, 156. The Reformation Period began around 1517 ending around 1545.
[35] Keathley, “The Work of God: Salvation” in A Theology for the Church, 554.
[36] Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, 485.
[37] Keathley, “The Work of God: Salvation” in A Theology for the Church, 554
[38] McGrath, Historical Theology, 195
[39] Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, 495.
[40] Ibid.
[41] Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, 496-497
[42] Ibid., “Liberal Theology,”497-498.
[43] Ibid., “Neo-orthodox Theology,” 498-499.
[44] Ibid.
[45] Ibid.
[46] Akin, Daniel. “Salvation: An Overview Part 1.” danielakin.com. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. n.d. http://www.danielakin.com/lesson-11-salvation-an-overview/ (accessed August 28, 2016).
[47] Francis Schaffer, The Finished Work of Christ, 104.

 

Bibliography

Akin, Daniel. “Salvation Part 2: Election, Predestination, and Security.” danielakin.com. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. n.d. http://www.danielakin.com/lesson-12-salvation-election-predestination-and-security/ (accessed August 28, 2016).

—. “Salvation: An Overview Part 1.” danielakin.com. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. n.d. http://www.danielakin.com/lesson-11-salvation-an-overview/ (accessed August 28, 2016).

—. “Salvation: Sanctification.” danielakin.com. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. n.d. http://www.danielakin.com/lesson-14-salvation-sanctification/ (accessed August 28, 2016).

—. “Salvation: The Key Concepts of Salvation.” danielakin.com. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. n.d. http://www.danielakin.com/lesson-13-salvation-the-key-concepts-of-salvation/ (accessed August 28, 2016).

—. “Twelve Great Truths about the Doctrine of Justification: Romans 3:21-31.” danielakin.com. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. n.d. http://www.danielakin.com/twelve-great-truths-about-the-doctrine-of-justification/ (accessed August 28, 2016).

 

Dagg, John L. D.D. Manual of Theology. Harrison, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 2009.

 

Enns, Paul. The Moody Handbook of Theology. Revised and Expanded. Edited by Jim Vincent, & Allan Sholes. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014.

 

Gerstner, Hohn H. Jonathan Edwards, Evangelist. Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1995.

 

Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity, Volume II: The Reformation to Present Day. Vol. II. II vols. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1985.

 

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary Complete and Unabridged in Six Volumes. Vol. VI: Acts to Revelation. VI vols. Hendrickson’s Publishing, 2006.

 

Keathley, Kenneth. “The Work of God: Salvation.” In A Theology for the Church, Revised Edition, by Daniel L. Akin, Bruce Riley Ashford, & Kenneth Keathley, edited by Daniel L. Akin, 543-600. Nashville, Tennessee: B & H Publishing Group, 2014.

 

Luther, Martin. Commentary on Romans. Translated by J. Theodore Mueller. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1954.

McGrath, Alister E. Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1998.

 

Merriam-Webster, INC. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. 11th. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, INC., 2003.

 

Military Bible Association. The Holy Bible: Modern English Version. Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2014.

 

Schaffer, Francis A. The Finished Work of Christ: The Truth of Romans 1-8. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998.

 

The Holman Illustrated Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2006.

 

The Moody Bible Institute. The Moody Bible Commentary. Edited by Michael Rydelnik, & Michael Vanlaningham. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2016.

 

 

 

 

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