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Theology Thursday: Justification

Today’s topic is Justification.

Calvin said that “the subject of justification…is the principle hinge by which religion is supported…for unless we first of all apprehend in what situation we stand with respect to God, an dwhat his judgment is concerning us, we have no foundation either for certainty of salvation, or for the exercise of piety towards God.”1

He defines justification this way:  “Thus we simply explain justification to be an acceptance, by which God receives us into his favour, and esteems us as righteous persons; and we say that it consists in the remission of sins and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ.”2

Last week we took a look at Regeneration and defined it as: ”…secret act of God in which he imparts new spiritual life to us” (Systematic Theology, p.  699).  It is helpful to make this distinction between justification and regeneration.  “Regeneration is an act of God in us and justification is a judgment of God with respect to us” (John Murray as quoted in Grudem, Theology, p. 724).  Regeneration is the particular work of God in making me new, I respond to him with repentance and faith  (conversion) and in turn he declares me forgiven and righteous (justification).  There are two parts of justification:  the forgiveness of past sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.  Justification is a legal declaration. The word we use in Protestant theology to categorize justification is “forensic.”

There are two important words that need to be defined as we attempt to understand justification.  The first one is imputation.

Imputation means that some benefit or harm is transferred to another person.  Some more modern synonyms would be “attribution” or “ascription.”  In Bible usage the most common term associated with imputation is “reckon” or “reckoned.” So, Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness, or since “reckon” is a more archaic English term we are now using the word “credit”.  There are three “imputations” in the Bible.  Adam’s sin was imputed to the human race.  The sins of the redeemed are imputed to Christ, and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the redeemed.

This idea of imputation with regard to justification is the major theological difference between Catholics and Protestants and was really the substance of the Reformation.  A Roman Catholic would see the righteousness of Christ as not imputed but rather “infused” into the believer.  It is a concept more akin to our idea of Sanctification.  The Eastern Orthodox Church does not see Justification as a judicial or forensic concept here and more like the Roman Catholic view, they see righteousness as being actually imparted in justification. Here is where we would emphasize the “forensic” nature of justification.  Paul’s argument in Romans 4 is hard to take any other way in that he goes to great lengths to state that Abraham was justified before he did any good works, before he was circumcised and before the law was given.  This was a declaration of righteousness based on his faith.

The result of justification is peace with God (Romans 5:1). Here is an mp3 of Gordon Clark teaching on justification:

1 Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Chapter XI

2 Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Chapter XI

Still working on the Altar Call Post…

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