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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Baptist Faith & Message Ch. 4 "Salvation" Part 3

"B. Justification is God's gracious and full acquittal upon principles of His righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. Justification brings the believer unto a relationship of peace and favor with God."

This is good as far as it goes, but Scripturally, more must be said about justification. Justification in union with Jesus--Jesus as the Messiah vindicated by His resurrection, ascension, the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, and even the judgment of Jerusalem in AD 70--is more than mere clemency or even "acquittal" in the heavenly courtroom.

If we understand Romans 5:12-21 and parallel texts like 1 Cor. 15:45-49 and 2 Cor. 5:21 correctly, we understand that just as humanity inherited the guilt of Adam because of his original sin and their identification with him by virtue of being fallen humans, Christians are clothed--imputed--with the positive righteousness and obedience of Jesus the Last Adam.

There is a big difference between affirming mere forgiveness of sins of commission such that believers go from -10 to an eternal, neutral 0 (plus, perhaps, some Spirit-wrought and "justified" good works of their own) and affirming the fullness of justification such that believers' spiritual "rap sheets" go from -10 to 10 in the heavenly courtroom.

Unfortunately, the doctrine of the imputation of Christ's "active obedience" to believers has come upon hard times of late, with the influence of many "New Perspective on Paul" writers, as well as those of the "New Finnish school" of interpretation of Luther (akin to Eastern views of theosis), and others not associated with either of those movements who nevertheless are somewhat hostile to the traditional Reformation view of justification for one reason or another.

The answer to these objectors lies not only in a careful exegesis of the aforementioned texts, not only in demonstrations that they are at the end of the day just as reductionistic as their caricatures of Reformed thinking try and show it to be, and not only in a robust biblical theology and typology of Christ as the true Israel, faithful Israelite, and ultimate man; but also in a deeper understanding of the necessary nature of the forgiveness of sins.

Some "anti-imputationists" point to Romans 4:6-8 to try and show that in Paul's mind, justification is simply synonymous with the forgiveness of sins without any reference to the imputation of a positive righteousness at all, since Paul quotes David's discussion of his experience of being forgiven as an example of justification by faith. What they fail to see, however, is that Paul can quote a bare discussion of the forgiveness of sins as an example of full justification precisely because a full understanding of "forgiveness" of sins would include forgiveness of sins of omission; and what does the forgiveness of sins of omission amount to if not imputation of positive obedience (and whose but Christ's could be imputed)?

Moreover, Piper is correct in his writings to point out that in the commercial metaphor of Rom. 4:4-5, the thing credited to the believer's/worker's account comes from somewhere external to them. It will not do to simply view the faith itself as what is credited as righteousness apart from Christ's obedience, although Paul speaks in this way as theological shorthand at times (cf. the last phrase of v.4). All of this must be understood within the context of Paul's theology of union with Christ, as that is spelled out more explicitly in Romans 5 and 6 and elsewhere.

God not only makes prohibitions, but also gives us positive commands, failure of which to obey constitutes sin. Interestingly, just about every positive command of Scripture is supplemented by negative forms of the same divine standard elsewhere in Scripture, and vice versa. "Love your neighbor" is one of the most supreme and comprehensive commandments, an obvious example of the negative form of which would be "You shall not murder." Likewise, "Keep the Sabbath holy" is parallel with "You shall not do any work [on the Sabbath], etc. (and these appear together frequently in the same exact text)! One may even go as far as to say every sin is both a sin of omission as well as a sin of comission, because of this dynamic. Therefore, what could forgiveness of every sin of commission be but also the forgiveness of every sin of omission--and again, what would forgiveness of sins of omission be but the crediting of a person with doing what God had commanded in each of those instances? Is this not imputation of active obedience? Is Christ not the only perfectly obedient man, faith-union with Whom is the only hope for true justification?

It would be possible to approach this whole discussion from a related, but slightly different, angle. Romans 4:25 has been under-interpreted by preachers for ages, and the resurrection of Christ for our justification is pregnant with meaning beyond "a stamp of God's approval of the sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice," taking us into realms of federal representation and inaugurated eschatology. Suffice it for now to say that the implications of Christ's resurrection, and even His ascension and intercession (cf. Rom. 8:33-34), for the achievement and (infallible) maintenance of our (punctiliar and everlasting) justification, go far beyond "acquittal."

Nevertheless, I'm thankful for an orthodox--if brief and incomplete--exposition of justification in the BF&M. distinguish them as two different events.

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