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Justification

(6 posts)

Adoption versus Justification

Tuesday··2008·06·17
The doctrine of justification is surely a wonderful thing, but adoption is better still. Joel Beeke explains the distinction between the two: “Undoubtedly the new testament never separates justification and adoption, but neither does it confuse them. In human terms it is quite possible to imagine a man being justified without the remotest thought of his being adopted. The fact that a judge pronounces the verdict ‘not guilty’ does not commit him to take the accused to his home and allow him the privileges of his son!” Though both justification and adoption are forensic concepts—the former derived from the realm of criminal law and the latter from family law—their practical outworkings differ substantially. Justification in abstraction from adoption leaves us with a rather bare, legal concept—though of course, the privilege of having our sins forgiven and being made acceptable to God must never be underestimated. But adoption enlarges our understanding of what it means to be acceptable to God. We are acceptable not just as moral agents, but as the image bearers of our Father who are being subjectively conformed to Christ. We are acceptable as sons of God who have the privilege of calling God our Father and bear the responsibility of serving Him as His children. —Joel R. Beeke, Heirs with Christ: The Puritans on Adoption (Reformation Heritage, 2008), 32–33.

Justification by Imputation

Tuesday··2008·09·30
Illustrating the necessity of a substitutionary atonement, R. C. Sproul draws three circles. The first circle represents the character of man. The second represents the character of God. The third represents Christ. Imagine a circle representing Jesus’ character. He lived as a man on earth for decades, subject to the Law of God and subject to all of the temptations known to man. (Heb. 4:15). But we do not see any blemishes in His circle. Not one. This is why . . . John the baptist cried, “Behold! The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29b). The Passover lambs of the Old Testament were to be lambs without blemish, as physically perfect as possible. But the ultimate lamb, the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of His People, was to be perfect in every way. In calling Jesus the Lamb of God, John was affirming that Jesus was untouched by sin. Jesus Himself made this claim. He asked the Pharisees, “‘Which of you convicts me of sin?’” . . . How would you react if somebody said to you: “I am perfect. If you don’t agree with me, prove that I’m not.” That’s what Jesus said. He claimed to have no shadow of turning, no blemish, nom sin. He said that his meat and drink were to do the will of the Father. He was a man Whose passion in life was obedience to the Law of God. We have one unjust party (man) and two just parties. We have a just God, and a just Mediator, Who is altogether holy. The Mediator is the One who came to satisfy the requirements of a just God on behalf of the unjust race of man. He is the One who makes the unjust party just. He is the only One Who could do so. As Protestants, the term we use for this process of making something that is unjust to be something that is just is forensic justification. The term forensics is used in the context of police investigative work or to describe high school debate matches. It has to do with authoritative formal acts of declaration. So forensic justification occurs when a person is declared to be just at the tribunal of God. This justification takes place ultimately when the supreme Judge of heaven and earth says, “You are just.” The grounds for such a declaration are in the concept of imputation. . . . we are talking about imputation when we say that Jesus bore our sins, that He took the sins of the world on Himself. The language there is one of a quantitative act of transfer whereby the weight of guilt is taken from man and given to Christ. . . . In theological language, we say that God imputed those sins to Jesus. If all that happened was a single transfer of our sins to Jesus, we would not be justified. If Jesus took all the sins I’ve ever committed on His back and took the punishment for me, that would not get me into the kingdom of God. It would be good enough to keep me out of hell, but I would still not be just. I would be innocent, if you will, but still not just in the positive sense. I would have no righteousness . . . Thankfully, however, there is not just one transfer, there are two. Not only is the sin of man imputed to Christ, but the righteousness of Christ is transferred to us, to our account. As a result, in God’s sight the human circle is now both clean of all blemishes and adorned with glorious righteousness. Because of that, when God declares me just, He is not lying. —R. C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross (Reformation Trust, 2007), 91–95.

Lutheranism versus Calvinism

Tuesday··2011·03·15
Yesterday I happened upon the following excerpt from Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics. As a Lutheran-turned-Calvinist, I found it particularly interesting, and the more I considered it, the more I saw the truth of it. The difference seems to be conveyed best by saying that the Reformed Christian thinks theologically, the Lutheran anthropologically. The Reformed person is not content with an exclusively historical stance but raises his sights to the idea, the eternal decree of God. By contrast, the Lutheran takes his position in the midst of the history of redemption and feels no need to enter more deeply into the counsel of God. For the Reformed, therefore, election is the heart of the church; for Lutherans, justification is the article by which the church stands or falls. Among the former the primary question is: How is the glory of God advanced? Among the latter it is: How does a human get saved? The struggle of the former is above all paganism- idolatry; that of the latter against Judaism- works righteousness. The Reformed person does not rest until he has traced all things retrospectively to the divine decree, tracking down the “wherefore” of things, and has prospectively made all things subservient to the glory of God; the Lutheran is content with the “that” and enjoys the salvation in which he is, by faith, a participant. From this difference in principle, the dogmatic controversies between them (with respect to the image of God, original sin, the person of Christ, the order of salvation, the sacraments, church government, ethics, etc.) can be easily explained. —Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1: Prolegomena (Baker, 2003), 177. Also yesterday, as it happened, I had done something I normally do not do: study a text without reading Calvin. So, with Bavinck in mind, I looked up both Luther and Calvin on Genesis 11:30. Luther wrote: But Sarai was barren; she had no child (11:29, 30). The Scriptures (here) report that Sarai (Sarah) had no children. This shows that at that time children were regarded as precious gifts of God, for the text represents Sarai’s barrenness as a great affliction. So the almighty God chastened this saintly man (Abraham) with this great tribulation as he lived in this sin-cursed world in which we all (by our sins) are deserving of hell. The wicked (meanwhile) had many children and a large generation, while Abraham’s marriage was without issue. But this was more than a mere trial of Abraham, for it also demonstrated very convincingly God’s adorable mercy, power and faithfulness, for barren Sarai, when she had become old and was beyond the years of bearing children, received a son, from whom there came a great people. —Martin Luther, Luther’s Commentary on Genesis Volume I, trans. J. Theodore Mueller, (Zondervan, 1958), 203–204. and Calvin: But Sarai was barren. Not only does he say that Abram was without children, but he states the reasons namely, the sterility of his wife; in order to show that it was by nothing short of an extraordinary miracle that she afterwards bare Isaac, as we shall declare more fully in its proper place. Thus was God pleased to humble his servant; and we cannot doubt that Abram would suffer severe pain through this privation. He sees the wicked springing up everywhere, in great numbers, to cover the earth; he alone is deprived of children. And although hitherto he was ignorant of his own future vocation; yet God designed in his person, as in a mirror, to make it evident, whence and in what manner his Church should arise; for at that time it lay hid, as in a dry root under the earth. —John Calvin, Commentary on the Genesis, Volume I (Baker Books, 2009), 337–338. This text, at least, corroborates Bavinck. While Calvin interprets it as a mirror of God’s glory, Luther sees God’s purpose for Abraham.

In the Heavenly Places Now

Wednesday··2013·09·25
Justification before God guarantees a place in heaven for all believers. But the benefits of justification are not off in the future. They are now. In terms of our moral and legal status, Christians are judged perfect immediately—not on the basis of who we are and what we have done, but because of what Christ has done for us. We are fully justified the moment we believe. We are forgiven of all our sin. We are clothed with a perfect righteousness (Isaiah 6:10; Romans 4:5), which instantly gives us a standing before God without any fear of condemnation (Romans 5:1; 8:1). This is the great position of privilege Scripture refers to when it says God has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3). And when Paul writes that God has “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6), he is again speaking of this position of favor with God that we have been granted by grace alone. We are not literally, physically seated with Christ in the heavenlies, of course. We are not mystically present there through some kind of spiritual telepathy. But legally, in the eternal court of God, we have been granted full rights to heaven. That is the high legal standing we enjoy even now. —John MacArthur, The Glory of Heaven: The Truth about Heaven, Angels, and Eternal Life (Second Edition) (Crossway, 2013), 131.

The Cross Is Not Enough

Thursday··2014·03·20
The doctrine of double imputation demands that we have more than a cross-centered theology. R. C. Sproul explains: Justification: Our Sin Transferred to Christ In our justification a double transfer takes place. First, the weight of our guilt is transferred to Christ. Christ willingly takes upon Himself all of our sin. Once our sin is imputed to Christ, God sees Him as a mass of corruption. He sees a mass of sinfulness. Because the sin now has been transferred to Jesus’ account, He is counted or reckoned guilty in our place. But if this transfer were all that happened, if the imputation were a one-dimensional transaction, we would never be justified. If Jesus were to take on His back all of the sins that I have ever committed and bear the punishment for me, that would not get me into the kingdom of God. All that would do is keep me out of hell. I would still not be just. I would be innocent but still not just in a positive sense. I would have no righteousness of which to speak. Remember, it is not simply innocence that gets us into the kingdom of God. It is righteousness. Unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, we will never get into the kingdom of God (see Matthew 5:20). If the only thing that occurred in salvation were the removal of my guilt, I would still have no merit. Justification: Christ’s Righteousness Transferred to Us So there is a double transfer. Not only is the sin of mankind imputed to Christ, but His righteousness is transferred to our account. In God’s sight [we are] now clean. When God declares me just, He is not lying. This is no mere legal fiction. If the imputation were fictional, then God’s declaration would be a legal fiction. It would be a lie and blemish on the character of God. But the point of the gospel is that the imputation is real. God really did lay my sins on Christ, and God really did transfer Christ’s righteousness to me. There is a genuine union for those who are in Christ. We truly possess the righteousness of Jesus Christ by imputation. Christ is our righteousness. That’s why He is our Savior: not merely because He died but because He lived. Without His meritorious life the atonement would have no value. Without His obedience, His suffering on the cross would be merely a tragedy. We must have the double transfer, by which God declares us just. When we consider this double imputation, we see the essence of our salvation in a phrase made famous by Martin Luther: simul justus et peccator. Simul is the Latin word from which we get the English word simultaneous. It means “at the same time.” Justus is the word for “just” or “righteous.” Et means “and.” Peccator is the Latin word for sinner. So simul justus et peccator means “at the same time just and sinner.” This is the glory of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. The person who is in Christ is at the very same instant both just and a sinner. That’s good news, for if I had to wait until there was no sin in me to get into the kingdom of God, I would surely never make it. —R. C. Sproul, Saved from What? (Crossway, 2002), 96–98.

Deeds of the Law

Monday··2018·07·02
Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. —Romans 3:19–20 Critics of sola fide are fond of pointing out that Paul doesn’t use the precise words “faith alone” But there’s no escaping his meaning: the immediate context makes it plain. Remember that final, devastating point in Paul’s lengthy discourse on sin: “By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). In other words, works are worthless for justification. Paul’s very next statement is that “the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, [is granted] to all and on all who believe” (Rom. 3:22). That is a clear affirmation of the principle of sola fide. Most Roman Catholic theologians (and a fairly recent strain of nominal Protestants who reject the principle of sola fide) have claimed that when Paul speaks of “the deeds of the law,” he means only the formal rituals and other ceremonial features of the law—circumcision, rules governing ceremonial cleanness, and such. But Paul’s use of this phrase simply cannot be narrowed down that way, in a heretical effort to give sinners some credit for their salvation. In Romans 7, for example, when Paul wanted to illustrate the law’s utter inability to justify sinners, the one precept he chose to single out as an example is the tenth commandment: “You shall not covet” (Rom. 7:7; cf. Ex. 20:17). Coveting is arguably the least of all the sins named in the Decalogue. It deals with desire. Resisting or committing that sin is not something that entails any kind of action. So when Paul speaks of the deeds of the law,” he is using that expression in the broadest possible sense. His meaning cannot be limited to the rituals and ceremonial features of the law. Quite the contrary: the expression “deeds of the law” as Paul consistently employs it would include any thought, action, or attitude that aims to gain God’s approval through a show of obedience to the Old Testament’s 613 commandments. No matter how rigorously the sinner tries to follow the law, seeking justification before God that way is a futile exercise. —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 61–62.

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