Monday, July 30, 2007

The Doctrine of Justification

I'm currently in the middle of The Agony of Deceit (Horton, et al), and I'm reading Horton's chapter titled 'TV Gospel'. There are so many things he says in this chapter that I've wanted to quote for you but don't stand well enough alone for me to quote.

However, a paragraph on justification, a subject I've found to be very misunderstood by many Christians, doesn't need much explanation and is worth sharing .

'Much of Paul's epistle to the Romasn is devoted to the explantion of justification. God, says the apostle, is in the business of declaring wicked people guiltless and, in fact, righteous. He does that not by overlooking their sins, not by having them do penance or by having them write "I will never do it again" a thousand times, not by giving folks an "A" for effort. Rather, God imputes, that is, charges or credits to the believer's account, the life-long obedience, death, resurrection, and victory of Christ. We are not saved by our 'victorious Christian life', but by His! Of course, that means that even though the believer will sin many times (in one day!), God has nevertheless declared that person to be a perfectly law-abiding citizen. The basis for our relationship with God is Christ's track record, not our own.'

I had a dicussion with a few friends, Christians, on the doctrine of justification. They were asking questions like, 'What if, though, I murdered somebody and decided I wasn't going to follow God anymore and then suddenly died?' So few people understand that each and every sin we did, do and will do, was covered by the blood of Christ. Without getting in too deep (and I know what I'm about to say would get me in deep with certain theologians!), I explained that upon the moment of our salvation, Jesus didn't forgive us of simply all the sins of the past but every sin of our lives. He doesn't have to justify us over and over, each time we sin. We have been justified. We have Christ's righteousness 'credited to our account'. As the hymn writer wrote, 'My sin - oh the joy of this glorious thought - my sin not in part, but the whole was nailed to the cross and I bear it no more.'

Some might feel that this sort of doctrine is saying we don't have to repent or confess our sin. That is not what justification means. Justification is not the same as sanctification. Santification is the life-long process of cleansing or purification from sin. Repentence and confession are a part of sanctification. In order that we become more like Christ, we must daily confess our sin and repent (turn away from it). But this doesn't mean that as we confess our sins, we are renewing our right standing with God. We are already in a right standing with God, if we have been saved - but not because we are living better lives or being better people now, mind you, but because Christ's perfect life has been credited to us!

The next question is almost always the same: Does this mean I can sin all I want after I become a Christian, since I'm already forgiven for it all? It's not a stupid question, actually. It's obviously one that has been asked from the beginning, considering Paul gives the answer in Romans 6. He asks, 'Does this mean we should go on sinning so that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live in it any longer?' In essence, if we have been saved from sin, we ought not continue living in it. In salvation, we are justified. But we are also made new creations (Galations 2), creations who now desire to follow Christ and sin no more. (We still sin, though. But now the desire to stop sinning is within us.)


I've just read on from the paragraph I've quoted, and interestingly, I have taken the topic in the same direction the author has! I did notice he used Romans 6 before I did, but I feel quite clever that I followed through on the same thoughts he does. I'll end with this final quote:

'As Luther put it, the believer is "simultaneously a sinner and justified".'

What a beautiful, amazing, awe-inspiring and worship-inciting thing it is to be justified!

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