Justification

From the Archives – The Importance of Justification

From Faith Pulpit, Summer 2012. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

How is a person justified before God? That was the question that ignited the Reformation. Beyond that foundational question, theologians have debated additional questions, such as “What is the importance of justification in relation to the other benefits of salvation?” and “Where does justification fit logically in relation to saving faith?” In this article Dr. Myron Houghton, senior professor and chair of the Systematic Theology Department at Faith Baptist Theological Seminary, guides us in an in-depth consideration of these significant questions.

To answer these questions about justification, we must first explore the exact nature of justification. Theologians have held two main positions: infusion and imputation.

Roman Catholic Position: Infusion

At the time of the Reformation, Catholics and Protestants differed greatly in their understanding of justification and grace. The Catholic position defined justification to include all of the benefits of salvation, making it a process. Grace was understood as a God-given ability to do good works which was infused into the person. This Catholic view is sometimes described by the words, “Christ IN us.”

The Council of Trent, the Catholic council that dealt with Reformation issues, stated in its canons on justification:

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Literary Theological Imagination

You Are What You Love – A Review (Part 2a)

Read Part 1.

In the Scholastic period of Catholic theology the classic languages were re-learned and many old works were read, including Aristotle. His ideas about the formation of the soul found purchase in the minds of theologians like Abelard, Scotus, and Thomas Aquinas. In You Are What You Love, Smith depends heavily on these men for his thesis. In this paper, we will consider what they believed.

Thomas Aquinas said this about justification:

The righteousness and sanctity which justification confers, although given to us by God as efficient cause (causa efficiens) and merited by Christ as meritorious cause (causa meritoria), become an interior sanctifying quality or formal cause (causa formalis) in the soul itself, which it makes truly just and holy in the sight of God.1

For Thomists,2 the soul is truly made just in the formal aspect of justification. The Christian’s identity as a just person is made real in the formation of his soul. R.C.Sproul puts it like this:

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Theology Thursday - Anathema! The Council of Trent on Justification

Following the deep division in the church which had resulted from the Protestant Reformation, there was a widespread desire, which grew stronger and was expressed in a variety of ways, for an ecumenical council. Its aim would be to reject errors against faith, add strength to the official teaching, restore the unity of the church, and reform the standards of the Roman curia and of church discipline.1

SIXTH SESSION, held January 13, 1547.

Decree on Justification2

CANON 1. If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ: let him be anathema.

CANON 2. If any one saith, that the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, is given only for this, that man may be able more easily to live justly, and to merit eternal life, as if, by free-will without grace, he were able to do both, though hardly indeed and with difficulty: let him be anathema.

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What is the "New Perspective on Paul"? A Basic Explanation (Part 4)

Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

NPP righteousness versus Pauline righteousness: The “Works of the Law”

In an excellent piece for Christianity Today entitled “What Did Paul Really Mean?” (thanks, Filops!) Simon Gathercole called attention to the way New Perspective scholars interpret the phrase “the works of the law.” He writes:

According to the new perspective, Paul is only focusing on these aspects of Jewish life (Sabbath, circumcision, food laws) when he mentions “works of the law.” His problem isn’t legalistic self-righteousness in general. Rather, for Jews these works of the law highlighted God’s election of the Jewish nation, excluding Gentiles. Called by God to reach the Gentiles, Paul recognizes that Jews wrongly restricted God’s covenant to themselves.

Gathercole’s comment matches Dunn a little more than Wright, but neither scholar thinks “works of the law” means the achieving of merit through religious deeds. Certainly we can say it is doubtful if many Jews in the Second Temple period were “legalistic” in the sense that they truly believed their works were good enough. But they were still going about to establish themselves by the law:

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