Justification Already: How Reformed Eschatology Helps Us In Current Controversies

Even our standing at the Final Judgment is by faith alone, since in Christ we have already received all that we will need for that Day which is not yet here.

The debate over faith and works at the Final Judgment has been steadily brewing for awhile now. Launched by John Piper’s controversial “Does God Really Save Us By Faith Alone?“, the article has received a steady back and forth from Mark Jones (The Calvinist International) and Scott Clark (Heidelblog), as well as important contributions from other confessional voices (see here [With Heart and Mouth] and here [Kyle Borg | Gentle Reformation]). Now that the heat of these articles has died down some (I saw too much personality and not enough careful reading), I think one more observation is worth making. I bring this up not because it is original to myself (the rest of this post merely elaborates others’ ideas), but simply because I haven’t seen much of the eschatological nature of Reformed soteriology brought up.

Eschatology of Justification
Many New Testament scholars have pointed to the “already/not yet” pattern in Scripture, where God’s future blessings are already experienced by believers now, even though the fullness is not yet experienced. A classic example of this in Scripture in Jesus’ work with the Kingdom of God. In Christ’s first coming, the Kingdom has already been inaugurated among us (“the kingdom is in your midst,” Luke 17:21), but we await the day when the Kingdom will come in its fullness (“Your Kingdom come,” Matthew 6:10). Scripture repeatedly points to an eschatological fulfillment of present realities.

What if this eschatological fulfillment was also applicable to justification? Throughout Scripture, we often see the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, as being responsible for this eschatological character. So we should not be surprised when “justifying” language and the Spirit come together in Scripture to point to an eschatological character, even for justification. We see I Timothy 3:16 stating that Jesus was “justified” or “vindicated in the Spirit” (ἐδικαιώθη ἐν πνεύματι). Clearly Jesus did not have a need to be justified like sinful humanity does, so understanding the eschatological role the Spirit plays in Christ’s vindication/justification is important for understanding this passage. Continue reading

Articulating Justification Back Then

I hatelove those articles where you have to guess the source of the quote. See, for example, the “Who Said That?” series at The Riddleblog.Riddleblog01 The quotes are either tricky, misleading, or – depending who is writing – completely out of left field.

But that isn’t how this post will go. Spoiler alert: the following quote is from Doug Wilson, in a chapter I’m re-reading for a new initiative I’m helping with. I’m struck by his fairly strong and clear articulation of justification:

The objective reality of our justification is grounded upon the righteousness of Christ. We are put right with God because of the goodness of somebody else. Just as Adam’s sin was imputed to every man, in the same way, Christ’s righteousness was imputed to every saved man. The ground of this justification is the righteousness of Jesus Christ, while the instrument for receiving it is our faith. It cannot be emphasized too strongly that we are not justified on the basis of our faith. We are justified on the basis of Christ’s faith and work. This gospel message of free grace liberates – it liberates from the condemnation of sin once for all, and from the power of sin progressively…
Justification and sanctification are distinct, but they are never separated. They are not the same work, but the one who works in us for His good purposes always accomplishes both…

The centrality of Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us by faith alone, and this provides the only possible foundation for righteous Christian living. Because the rest of this essay is directed at certain standards of personal conduct in a Christian school, I thought it was important to acknowledge the only possible foundation for this personal conduct.

I appreciate the clarity. Detractors might point out he is not clear here on the nature of human faith, but a charitable read notes that he is dealing with the objective nature of justification. (I note, with some glee, a clear forensic priority as well!) There is no sign of the equivocating he was sometimes (justly) accused of. I wish there had been more writing like this after 2002.

Of course, that is the point. Repairing the Ruins, an edited volume on classical education – not soteriology, was published in 1996. Is it too much to wonder if the writing you see above was the kind that got Wilson invited to Ligonier conferences? And the kind of writing he did later brought controversy? The reader must decide if there was a difference.