Search AFA

Justification

DAILY STAND EMAIL
Tuesday, March 22, 2022 @ 8:33 AM Justification ATTENTION: Major social media outlets are finding ways to block the conservative/evangelical viewpoint. Click here for daily electronic delivery of The Stand's Daily Digest - the day's top blogs from AFA.

Dr. Matt Ayars President Wesley Biblical Seminary MORE

(Editor's Note: This blog was posted first on Dr. Ayar's blog site HERE)

While Holy Spirit-enabled repentance is required for salvation, repentance does not provide a remedy for the disease of sin. As Athanasias puts it, “But repentance cannot avert the execution of a law; still less can it remedy a fallen nature.”[1] He goes on to say,

FOR HE WOULD STILL BE NONE THE MORE TRUE, IF MEN DID NOT REMAIN IN THE GRASP OF DEATH; NOR, SECONDLY, DOES REPENTANCE CALL MEN BACK FROM WHAT IS THEIR NATURE—IT MERELY STAYS THEM FROM ACTS OF SIN. NOW, IF THERE WERE MERELY A MISDEMEANOUR IN QUESTION, AND NOT A CONSEQUENT CORRUPTION, REPENTANCE WERE WELL ENOUGH.[2]

ATHANASIAS

The only remedy for the disease of sin is the pardon for sin-guilt through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. John Wesley wrote, “By justification we are saved from the guilt of sin and restored to the favour of God.”[3]

Defining Justification

Justification, in the simplest sense, is pardon for sin-guilt. Guilt and punishment are the consequences of rebellion against God. The punishment for sin is ultimately death (Gen. 2:17; Matt. 25:46; Jn. 3:16; Mk. 9:43; Rom. 5:12, 6:23; 2 Thess. 1:9). The consequence is death since sin separates from God, the giver of life (Is. 59:2). 

On the merits of Christ’s perfect obedience and substitutionary death, and through the grace-enabled justifying faith of the believer, God declares the guilty-sinner innocent. By doing so, God makes the sinner righteous, or just.[4]

Atonement

Since the problem of sin is the loss of the presence of God, justification is ultimately about restoration of that presence. Justification is the means for the reconciliation between God and man; it is the mechanism through which the personal presence of God that was lost in Genesis 3 is restored. This reconciliation is the basis of the term “atonement” (i.e., “at-one-ment”), which is at the heart of justification. Atonement is descriptive of what justification accomplishes: restoring a divided human-divine relationship; making those who were at odds, “at one.” 

Justification as the declaration of innocence reaches far beyond the courtroom metaphor in Scripture. Familial relationship dynamics are also operative in the broader biblical notion of atonement. Reconciliation with God that atonement provides is the restoration to God’s family. Being reconciled to God through being declared innocent is the basis for being children of God (Jn. 1:12–13; Rom. 8:15–17). 

Propitiation and expiation are at the heart of atonement. Propitiation is the appeasement of the wrath of God incurred against those in a state of rebellion against him. Jesus, the innocent one, willingly takes on punishment the sinner deserves. He absorbs God’s wrath into Himself through His public shaming and crucifixion. With God’s wrath neutralized through the cross, fellowship between man and God is made possible.  

The notion that sinners are merely victims (and not criminals) is refuted by Scripture as it fails to acknowledge the Scripture-wide theme of the wrath of God against sin. Kenneth Collins helps us saying,

The second difficulty with divine wrath, which perhaps is far more indicative of a twenty-first–century Western setting than Wesley’s own setting, has to do with some of the consequences of reigning therapeutic models of salvation that view sinners principally as victims. So understood, sinners have caught the disease of sin, albeit with some appreciation of responsibility for having done so, and they languish in a sickbed as the Great Physician nurtures them on to increasing degrees of health and wholeness. And though Wesley’s doctrine of salvation can indeed be explained, in part, by appeal to therapeutic models, he never viewed sinners merely or even largely as victims but also as perpetrators—as those who not only actively fed their own inbred sinful inclination to depart from the living God, but also were quite energetic in their opposition, even rebellion, against a God of holy love.[5]

Expiation is the individual’s cleansing of sin-guilt. Throughout the Scriptures sin is imaged as that which makes “unclean” (Lev. 5:2–3). John writes, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”[6] The blood of Christ is the means of cleansing for sin guilt. As the perfect and innocent sacrificial lamb of God, Jesus washes sinners from their guilt by taking sin-guilt into himself at the cross, sinners can be made clean (Is. 52:13–53:12). 

With the wrath of God appeases and sin-guilt cleansed, the divine-human relationship can be restored. Those who were once estranged from one another can now be brought back to a love relationship on the merits of Christ. He is the High Priest. The Holy Spirit applies the atoning work of Christ in believers. He is the water of life that not only nourishes, but cleanses. What Christ does for people at the cross, the Holy Spirit applies in believers. 

Justification by Faith

Paul writes in Romans 3:28, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”[7] He expounds further in Galatians 2:16–17 saying, “Yet we know that at person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”

Justifying faith is faith that renders one righteous before God. It is faith that puts one in right standing before God which allows for the restoration of fellowship with God. Justifying faith believes in the merits of Christ saving work and bears witnesses to his Lordship. Justifying grace is enabled by grace and an act of the Holy Spirit. Such faith is the basis for restored fellowship with God.

Genesis 15 gives us a clear example of justifying faith. In this story, God promises a sterile Abraham and Sarah the impossible: innumerable offspring. Abraham believed God. He trusted God. He had confidence that God would make good on this promise. As the Apostle Paul famously underscores, it was Abraham’s trust in God to accomplish the impossible that rendered him righteous (Gen. 15:6). 

Faith in this sense is trust in a person over and above empirical trust in facts. Even trust in the historical facts of the inspired Scripture and the facts of doctrinal declarations is ultimately trust in the trustworthy, omniscient God, for even the demons believe in the facts (Ja. 2:19). 

Salvation by Grace Through Faith

Why is it that faith is essential to the way of salvation? It is because distrust and suspicion are at the heart of humanity’s estrangement from God. Faith is the restoration of that trust which is necessary for a love relationship. The Deceiver tempted Adam and Eve to believe that God was not trustworthy and likewise not loving. By grace, this lie is countered with the love of God put on display for all to see in the cross. Faith is belief in the truth of God’s love and trustworthiness over the lie of the murderer. 

Craig Koester points out that there are both subjective and objective elements to faith that are tied up with hypostasis. He writes, “The subjective side emerges when hypostasis is linked with ‘faith,’ which pertains to the believing person. The objective side emerges when hypostasis is connected to ‘things hoped for,’ since the object of hope lies outside the believer.”[8]

The hope that is empowered by grace compels a move toward God to ask for forgiveness for not trusting him and rebelling against him. Individuals are saved by grace through faith. It is not faith that saves, but grace. As Ambrose put it so succinctly, “Faith asks for forgiveness.”[9] The Holy Spirit, by grace, empowers the faith that requests forgiveness. 

Faith in Jesus

The Holy Spirit gives people the gift of faith in Jesus as the divine Son. In response to Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Son of God, Jesus says, “And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven (Matt. 16:17). It was not anything human that led Peter to this insight concerning the identity of Jesus, but God. God is the origin of Peter’s faith. Leon Morris writes, “this knowledge is not due to human cleverness or even profound spiritual insight. Jesus says that it is the product of divine revelation…”[10]

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:3, “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God never says, “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.” The connection between faith and the Lordship of Jesus can be found in Paul’s greeting in his letter to the churches are Rome:

PAUL, A SERVANT OF CHRIST JESUS, CALLED TO BE AN APOSTLE, SET APART FOR THE GOSPEL OF GOD, WHICH HE PROMISED BEFOREHAND THROUGH HIS PROPHETS IN THE HOLY SCRIPTURES, CONCERNING HIS SON, WHO WAS DESCENDED FROM DAVID ACCORDING TO THE FLESH AND WAS DECLARED TO BE THE SON OF GOD IN POWER ACCORDING TO THE SPIRIT OF HOLINESS BY HIS RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD, JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD, THROUGH WHOM WE HAVE RECEIVED GRACE AND APOSTLESHIP TO BRING ABOUT THE OBEDIENCE OF FAITH FOR THE SAKE OF HIS NAME AMONG ALL THE NATIONS, INCLUDING YOU WHO ARE CALLED TO BELONG TO JESUS CHRIST…(ROMANS 1:1–6)

Paul first underscores the humanity of Christ (1:3) and the divine Sonship of Christ as evidenced in the resurrection through the Holy Spirit (1:4). His resurrection vindicates him as the divine Son thereby demonstrating his rightful Lordship “through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the nations” (1:5). What does Paul mean by “obedience of faith”? Moo helps us here saying, “faith, if genuine, always has obedience as its outcome; obedience, if it is to please God, must always be accompanied by faith.[11] The Holy Spirit is the one who: (1) gives faith and empowers obedience; and (2) empowers the obedience that is faith. 

Paul himself summarizes this very issue in Ephesians 2:8–9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Faith in Divine Mystery

It was noted above that a part of the holiness of God is the incomprehensibility of God. While God is knowable through general and special revelation, the fulness of God in his infinitude and transcendence is not knowable by the created mind or fully containable by the human heart (Ps. 90:2). The human mind is limited, and God is not, so the human mind cannot fully measure, or fully know God. 

This aspect of the holiness of God is why divine mystery is embedded in all right thinking about God. Mystery is prevalent in basic tenants of the apostolic Christian faith: immaculate conception, virgin birth, descent into hell[12], bodily resurrection, ascension, the Holy Spirit, and the mysteries of the remission of sin and a universal body of Christ. The Apostles Creed begins with “I believe…” The embrace of such ideas requires Holy Spirit-empowered faith. It requires trust in the trustworthiness of God’s revelation. 

In commenting on John Wesley’s understanding of justifying faith, Kenneth Collins summarizes the issue superbly with this:

JUSTIFYING FAITH EMBRACES SEVERAL VITAL FACTORS: ON A NOTIONAL LEVEL, IT ENTAILS AN ASSENT TO THE TRUTH REVEALED IN SCRIPTURE THAT GOD WAS IN CHRIST RECONCILING THE WORLD TO HIMSELF; ON A PERSONAL LEVEL, IT INCLUDES A HEARTY TRUST (FIDUCIA) IN THE PERSON AND WORK OF CHRIST; AND ON A SENSATE OR EXPERIENTIAL LEVEL, IT EMBRACES A TRUST THAT IS NOTHING LESS THAN A SUPERNATURAL WORK, A “DIVINE EVIDENCE AND CONVICTION” THAT CHRIST “LOVED ME, AND GAVE HIMSELF FOR ME.” CONSEQUENTLY, JUSTIFYING FAITH CANNOT BE CONCEIVED IN ANY FULL SENSE EITHER APART FROM THE REDEMPTIVE NATURE OF THE LIFE, DEATH, AND MINISTRY OF JESUS CHRIST, OR APART FROM THE EXPERIENTIAL TRUST AND CONVICTION GRACIOUSLY RECEIVED BY THE BELIEVER THROUGH THE MINISTRATIONS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.[13]

KENNETH COLLINS

[1] Athanasius of Alexandria, “On the Incarnation of the Word,” in St. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Archibald T. Robertson, vol. 4, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1892), 39.

[2] Ibid., 40–60.

[3] John Wesley, “On Working Out Our Own Salvation.” 

[4] For various views on the doctrine of justification, see N.T. Wright, Justification: God’s Plan, Paul’s Vision (London: SPCK, 2009), Paul Rhodes et al. Justification: Five Views (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2011), and Mark Husbands and Daniel J. Trier, Justification: What’s at Stake in the Current Debates (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004).  

[5] Collins, The Theology of John Wesley,

[6] Cf. 1 Cor. 6:11

[7] Also see Rom. 1:17, 3:20, 4:2, 5; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:11; Phil. 3:9.

[8] Craig R. Koester, Hebrews: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary; AB 36 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001), 472. 

[9] Ambrose of Milan, “Two Books Concerning Repentance,” in St. Ambrose: Select Works and Letters, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. H. de Romestin, E. de Romestin, and H. T. F. Duckworth, vol. 10, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1896), 355.

[10] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), 421.

[11] Douglas J. Moo, Romans, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), 38.

[12] The harrowing of hell is present in only some iterations of the Apostles Creed.

[13] Collins, The Theology of John Wesley.

SHOW COMMENTS
Please Note: We moderate all reader comments, usually within 24 hours of posting (longer on weekends). Please limit your comment to 300 words or less and ensure it addresses the content. Comments that contain a link (URL), an inordinate number of words in ALL CAPS, rude remarks directed at the author or other readers, or profanity/vulgarity will not be approved.

CONNECT WITH US

Find us on social media for the latest updates.

SUPPORT AFA

MAKE A DONATION ACTION ALERT SIGNUP Donor Related Questions: DONORSUPPORT@AFA.NET

CONTACT US

P.O. Drawer 2440 Tupelo, Mississippi 38803 662-844-5036 FAQ@AFA.NET
Copyright ©2022 American Family Association. All rights reserved.
<1---->