The word Justification in English has the same convenient memory device as atonement did. Many use the Just-as-if to remember ‘it is just as if I never sinned’.
Here is how our pocket dictionary defines it:
Justification, justification by faith: A forensic (legal) term related to the idea of acquittal, justification refers to the divine act whereby God makes humans, who are sinful and therefore worthy of condemnation, acceptable before a God who is holy and righteous. More appropriately described as “justification by grace through faith,” this key doctrine of the *Reformation asserts that a sinner is justified (pardoned from the punishment and condemnation of sin) and brought into relationship with God by faith in God’s grace alone.
Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 764-767). Kindle Edition.
Our other resource for this series, Essential Theological Terms by Justo L. González, provides a helpful distinction about the heated debates between Protestant and Catholic thinkers during the Protestant Reformation.
The difference lay in that for Luther and the main Protestant theologians justification was God’s gracious act of declaring a sinner just, even in spite of the continued presence of sin, while Roman Catholics saw justification as God’s act of infusing *grace into the sinner, who can then perform acts of justice-good works-and thus become just.
(Kindle Locations 2246-2248). Kindle Edition.
Justification provides a telling snapshot about the task of contemporary theology.
- The concept is vital within the realm of theology.
- The underlying truth plays a central role with the christian tradition.
- There are many excellent theories and explanations regarding the concept.
- Consensus can be difficult to come by due to competing theories and explanations.
- Much of the work is subject to speculation.
- If one does not subscribe to the assumed presumption (in this case like ‘original sin’) then the solution seems arbitrary and unnecessary.
This is why I selected justification – as an illustration of the grand, elaborate, nuanced and speculative nature of much theology.
You might be surprised at how excited I get about the topic of justification and how committed I am to both proclaiming and explaining it to congregations that I pastor.
One of my favorite sermons is a high energy presentation of Romans 5 which begins:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
I then take v. 12-21 and convert the words into math formulas in order illustrate the fantastic work of God in Christ!
Keep that in mind when I say that justification is illustrative of the theological endeavor.
- It is vital to the faith.
- It is central to the tradition.
- It is contentious as points.
- It can be speculative.
- It is rooted in suppositions that may be outdated or even antiquated.
This is a great snapshot of our task in contemporary theology: to take the tradition seriously, to account for the variety of perspectives and frameworks, and to adjust/adapt the ‘answers’ to the questions being posed by our present situation.
This is why simply parroting the answers of the past is often not sufficient. There are new considerations provided by sociology, biblical scholarship, history and science.
This is also what makes the theological endeavor A) exciting B) important C) difficult and D) complex.
Thanks to Jesse Turri for the artwork for this series.