Thursday, February 06, 2003

Justification (1)

In John Piper’s new book Counted Righteous in Christ (Crossway Books, 2002) he looks at modern attacks on the traditional Protestant view of justification. He mentions several such attacks, including the so-called "new perspective on Paul", but looks at in-depth only one: attacks on the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. This is of course the belief that we are justified, forensically, by an alien (Christ’s) righteousness, that we are permitted to claim, in a legal sense, as our own.

This is in contrast to the Roman Catholic doctrine of infused righteousness, in which Christ’s righteousness is truly internalized within; in effect we become righteous—though the source of this transformation is always (ultimately) attributed to Jesus.

I will be looking at this in the days to come, essentially summarizing Piper’s book.

How important is this? That is always a thorny question. How important are any of these theological debates? I really don’t know. Somehow those issues that effect the basic gospel message are critical, but it is not always easy to ascertain whether a particular debate qualifies.

Personally, I think this one does. There is an inevitable outcome when one weakens the doctrine of imputation: namely justification and sanctification, which Paul clearly teaches as distinct, become intertwined or even reversed.

We are justified by an instantaneous declaration by God, who asserts that He will accept Christ’s righteousness on our behalf. We then, already saved, and with the help of the Spirit, go through the process of gradual sanctification.

A doctrine of infused righteousness tends to look at the infusion as a sanctifying process. Then, when one utilizes this gift of real, infused righteousness to do good works (though attributed to Christ), one is entering the justification process. As I said, these aspects tend to get mixed or reversed.

Piper points out that the famous British abolitionist William Wilberforce, a politician not a theologian, had a keen insight when it comes to justification. Wilberforce wrote (quoted in Piper)
(Christian errors). . . RESULT FROM THE MISTAKEN CONCEPTION ENTERTAINED OF THE FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES OF CHRISTIANITY. They consider not that Christianity is a scheme "for justifying the ungodly" [Romans 4:5], by Christ’s dying for them “when yet sinners” [Romans 5:6-8], a scheme "for reconciling us to God—when enemies" [Romans 5:10]; and for making the fruits of holiness the effects, not the cause, of our being justified and reconciled.
Wilberforce correctly pointed out the problem that arises from an incorrect view of justification: we mix up the cause and effect of our salvation.

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