The Doctrine of Salvation (part 10)

July 20, 2009     Time: 00:29:40

We are continuing our discussion this morning of the doctrine of justification.

1. Judicial declaration. You will remember what I claimed here is that justification is a judicial term, and that we are declared righteous by God in the act of justification. This is his verdict upon us whereby we are declared righteous.

I differentiated this from the view that we are actually somehow inner-morally transformed so as to become virtuous people. That doesn’t take place instantaneously when we are justified. This is a legal declaration of our righteousness. But I also wanted to differentiate it on the other hand from what is called the sort of legal fiction view which says you are not really righteous; God sort of pretends that you are righteous but you are not really. No. The idea here is that there is an actual declaration on God’s part whereby we are absolved from sin, declared not guilty, we are acquitted, and therefore are declared to be genuinely righteous. But that doesn’t mean that there is then a kind of immediate moral transformation in our lives whereby we become persons that are loving, compassionate, always just, always perfect people.

In our discussion last week, there was some discussion about the difference between Catholic and Protestant views on this. I wanted to try to bring some more precision to this if I can by contrasting the views of St. Augustine with Martin Luther on justification.

For Augustine the righteousness that we receive in justification is an internal righteousness. That is to say, it is mine. The righteousness is my righteousness. It is a property of me – God makes me righteous. So I have this righteousness as a result of God’s justification. It is an internal, intrinsic property. For Luther, though, the righteousness of justification is external. It is Christ’s righteousness that is imputed to me in justification. These are subtle differences but I hope that it will become clear.

On Luther’s view, the righteousness of justification is not something that is intrinsic to me. It is something that is extrinsic. It is Christ’s righteousness that is imputed to me, not a righteousness of my own.

Similarly, on Augustine’s view, the person in virtue of this infusion of righteousness is actually made righteous. You become a righteous person because of this infused, intrinsic righteousness that God gives to you. But he is not declared righteous. It is not a declaration. It is something that happens to you that God does.

By contrast, on Luther’s view it is that the believer is declared righteous by God. I’ve already emphasized that it is not that somehow you become a righteous individual in the sense that you become a perfect virtuous person with a flawless character. Rather, this is a judicial declaration by God about you.

Here maybe will make it the most clear, I hope. On Augustine’s view the righteousness is imparted by God to you. He gives you this righteousness. He imparts righteousness to you so that you now become a righteous person.[1] But on Luther’s view the righteousness is imputed – that is to say it is credited to you. It is credited to your account. So it is quite different, I think, as you begin to see the view that it is imparted where you become a righteous individual, having righteousness intrinsically. Whereas here this is the crediting, the reckoning of Christ’s righteousness to you, but it is something that is external.

Finally, on this view, justification is both an event and a process. That is to say there is an initial moment when God justifies you and he imparts this initial righteousness to you, but then you increase in righteousness as you go on in your Christian life. You grow in Christ. So you become more and more righteous. At least that is what you are supposed to do, right? This is the ideal case. You become more justified in that sense. You increase in your righteousness. But on the Protestant view it is not really a process. Justification is this one time declaration “you are just in Christ.” Certainly there will be a process of growth in Christ whereby one will grow to be more like him and what is true of you legally will become experientially true of you. Certainly that is the case. But that wouldn’t properly belong to justification. That would be something in addition to justification.

The Council of Trent, which is one of the most important Catholic councils which met after the Reformation, endorsed the Augustinian understanding of justification as being an intrinsic righteousness that is mine imparted to me by God and is both an event and a process. Let me just read a couple of statements from the Council’s documents that would indicate this. For example:



In which words is given a brief description of the justification of the sinner, as being a translation from that state in which man is born a child of the first Adam, to the state of grace and of the adoption of the sons of God through the second Adam, Jesus Christ, our Savior.

According to this definition, justification is moving from that first state whereby you are in a natural human unregenerate condition, you are changed or translated into the state of adoption, of being an adoptive child of God and a Son of God through the second Adam.

That seems to me to be fine. I don’t see any problem with that. But here we get into this notion of the righteousness as something that is mine and is imparted to me. This is in chapter seven. It says,

This disposition or preparation [that is the preparation of the heart whereby a person is prepared to be justified] is followed by justification itself, which is not only a remission of sins but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man through the voluntary reception of the grace and gifts whereby an unjust man becomes just and from being an enemy becomes a friend, that he may be an heir according to hope of life everlasting. . . . the single formal cause is the justice of God, not that by which He Himself is just, but that by which He makes us just, that, namely, with which we being endowed by Him, are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and not only are we reputed but we are truly called and are just, receiving justice within us, each one according to his own measure, which the Holy Ghost distributes to everyone as He wills, and according to each one's disposition and cooperation.

There we begin to see this notion of made-not-declared righteous and righteousness being imparted by God to us. But I think this becomes clearest in chapter 10 when it speaks about the increase in justification that one receives.[2] This is what chapter 10 says,

Having, therefore, been thus justified and made the friends and domestics of God, advancing from virtue to virtue, they are renewed . . . day by day, that is, mortifying the members of their flesh, and presenting them as instruments of justice unto sanctification, they, through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, faith cooperating with good works, increase in that justice received through the grace of Christ and are further justified . . .

You see the idea of process. You are not just justified as a one-time act or declaration of God. Rather you receive righteousness and then you become more justified through the good works that you perform by the grace of God as your faith cooperates with the good works that God would have you to do. So you actually grow in your justification. I think you can see that is a very different concept than the Lutheran concept.

Finally, the last thing I wanted to quote was canon 24:

If anyone says that the justice received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works, but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not the cause of its increase, let him be anathema.

I think that is an important statement. Here it condemns the person who says that the good works that the Christian does are simply the fruit or the signs of that inner-justification. They are the fruit or the signs of a transformed and justified life. No, the view that Trent wants to hold to is that the good works are actually the cause of increasing justification as you become more righteous before God through doing your good works.

I hope I’ve represented it fairly. For my part, I think that the Protestant view is more biblical. It seems to me that the notion of justification particularly as a process and that we increase in justification doesn’t seem to me to be in-line with Paul’s teaching on this. Certainly I do think that we grow in our righteousness as we walk with Christ but I wouldn’t see that as an increase in justification before him which I think is achieved by Christ.

On what grounds can I say this? On what grounds would I want to try to justify this?

The first would be the language of reckoning that we talked about last time. Remember we mentioned the Greek word logizomai which says that Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. It was like an accounting term, if you will. It was credited to him as righteousness. The idea here does seem to me to be a sort of judicial notion of a declaration rather than an imparted righteousness that belongs to me.

The second thing is an interesting point that I haven’t thought of before, and that is the opposite of justification is not unrighteousness. The opposite of justification is condemnation which is also a judicial notion. It is the verdict of declaring somebody guilty. So, for example, Paul in Romans 8:33-34, “It is God who justifies; who is to condemn?” See the polar opposites there. Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” The opposite of justification is condemnation. For those who are justified in Christ we are not condemned anymore. We are free.[3] Both of those seem to me to be terms of either acquittal or conviction based upon a kind of judicial declaration.

Therefore for that reason I would think that Luther had the better side of this debate.

Having said that, let me add one more thing. That is that there has been a lot of recent discussion among biblical scholars about the notion of justification. There is quite a new look on justification these days that may sort of supersede the old debate between Catholics and Protestants. The dust hasn’t settled from this. But I think it does go some way toward shall we say seeing something right in the Catholic view. That is that this term “to justify” (dikaioó) is understood by a lot of contemporary biblical theologians to mean “to put someone into a right relationship.” That doesn’t seem to be either the Protestant view or the Catholic view at Trent. But it does mean that if this is right it means that it is more than just a judicial declaration. It is that, but it also puts you into a new relationship with God. And that is what the Catholic view wants to say when it says that it is this translation from a state of condemnation or nature to this state of grace as adoptive children of God. We are put into a right relationship with God in virtue of being justified. I think this is something that the Protestant view can assimilate. Namely, in virtue of being acquitted and declared righteous we do come into a right relationship with God that we didn’t have when we were under his condemnation and wrath. But it would mean that there is something here that is correct; namely, it is not just some sort of legal declaration. Something really does change.


Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: It might. I was going to say something different but with respect to that latter part, that could kind of play into the purgatory idea, I think. The Council of Trent distinguishes between venial and mortal sins. A venial sin would be a sin that would not abort the grace of justification that you’ve received. All of us struggle with these nagging sins in our lives. None of us become perfect. So when you die you may have some of these – you will have some of these sins. But Scripture also lists mortal sins that would separate one and abort this justifying grace even though you still have belief. You might still have belief intellectually in the Christian doctrines – you believe that Christ died for your sins and so forth. But Paul says (I can’t quote the verse exactly from memory but he says something like this), Murderers and robbers and slave traders and homosexual offenders have no place in the Kingdom of God. These would be sins if committed by the believer would abort the grace of justification so that you wouldn’t make it. But I think purgatory would come in with respect to venial sins in that you could be purged of all of those through purgatory.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: With respect to Abraham, I think James when he is citing the example with Abraham and Isaac is wanting to show the importance of good works following on his faith in terms of why Abraham was considered righteous before God. I am not sure though that that is saying that there is a sort of increase in his justification before God.[4]

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Is that what it says in James? Does it actually use that language? Let’s just look that up. James 2:21 says, Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar?”

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: That’s right. Yes. It is talking about different instances.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Yeah. OK, the question is then whether or not this is an adequate proof text for seeing this as being a process whereby one increases in one’s justification before God. You are certainly right that he quotes the same text but with respect to a different incident.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I don’t know. You are talking here about things that have so much to do about a person’s individual psychology and motivation. I am sure that for many faithful Catholics they wouldn’t feel that way. I don’t know. It is difficult to know what to say here. I think many of us who are evangelicals wonder why is it that the Catholic Church does seem so filled with people who don’t seem to really be living out their faith. You [referring to a member of the class] are such an exception in many of our experience. One wonders what is it that is missing there that isn’t somehow connecting. Why are so many nominally Christian believers rather than really regenerate? I have suspicions that it has more to do with the doctrine of infant baptism myself than with the doctrine of justification but this is something that does puzzle many of us Protestants.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I certainly agree with you that we are not saved by our correct theology, or we would all be in trouble.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: That certainly greatly to be hoped, I think. If we can come together on these things I think that would be really a wonderful blessing for the world.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: No. One is skeptical about some of these newfound insights. But I think they are trying to read it more against the background of Jewish use of terms and how this term was used in Jewish thinking. Some people are attempting to re-read some of these passages in light of Jewish modes of thought.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Yes, in the Eastern Church at least.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Obviously any kind of new proposals are going to have to be critically weighed against the evidence. But I am just sharing with you what I am observing on the current scene.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: We talked about regeneration – didn’t we? – before we came to the subject of justification. Justification, as I understand it, is a sort of legal declaration by God of innocence and the imputed righteousness of Christ. But regeneration – that is something that is an actual transformation that takes place within me as I move from spiritual deadness to spiritual life. I become alive in Christ through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. As I submit to the Holy Spirit and allow him to remake my life, certainly my life will be transformed as the fruit of the Spirit will be born in my life – love, peace, patience, goodness, and so forth.[5] That is often usually called sanctification in Protestant circles. That would be, I think, an indispensably and inevitably linked to genuine justifying grace. A person who doesn’t have that kind of inner-transformation take place isn’t truly born again. That person has had maybe an emotional experience or he is intellectually ascended or prayed a prayer, but he hasn’t truly been born again because the Scripture is very clear. He who is born again does not continue in sin. His life is going to change. The person who continues to walk in darkness but says that he is a child of God – John says very clearly that man is a liar. So I think there is this indispensable link between justification and a changed life, or perhaps I should say between regeneration and a changed life. I think it is the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit that brings that about.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Certainly that is true. That is what I tried to emphasize when I talked about although justification isn’t a process there is going to be a process of growing in the grace of Christ and the transformed life.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: I think that that would be a proof text that the Catholic view could use because their view is that the good works are not just the fruit and the sign of justification but they actually increase your righteousness, they increase your justification. That would be a text that they could use. I think the Protestant would say here that this doesn’t mean that a person is actually justified before God by virtue of his works. But the works are an indispensable fruit of genuine justifying grace. The person who claims to have faith but has no works doesn’t really have faith. It is not genuine faith. It is a pseudo-kind of faith. In that sense it is true that faith and works are necessary conditions of salvation. That doesn’t mean that the works justify you, but they would be necessary conditions in that if you are saved there will be both faith and works in your life.

Student: [inaudible]

Dr. Craig: Yes, that would be one of these past tense passages. Romans 5:1 is the passage that I quoted about . . . I guess I didn’t quote that one. “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The peace that is spoken of here is not a kind of inner-tranquility - “I have peace of the Lord” or something. This means the enmity with God has been removed. We are now at peace with God. Why? Because we have been justified by the death of Christ. You can see that in verse 2, “Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand.” That would be one of those passages that the Protestant could use to show that justification is something that happens to you at a certain time. What happens after that is growing in grace but you don’t get more justified.


This has been a good discussion this morning. What we will do next time is go on to look at grounds of justification. I think here we will find much more agreement on that issue than we have on the issue of its judicial nature. That will be handled next week.[6]

[1] 5:00

[2] 10:10

[3] 15:01

[4] 20:05

[5] 25:03

[6] Total Running Time: 29:40 (Copyright © 2009 William Lane Craig)