Thoughts On Justification

In my search for truth, I have altered my view on the idea of justification. I am a progressive Bible student. I am a reformer who looks to keep on being reformed. I have reposted two articles on the subject below the next paragraph. The first one was from 2014 where I relate questions I was asking myself about the topic. The second article is from 2016 where I added some additional helps on the subject. Now today I am adding another paragraph that seems to confirm to my mind that justification, like it was for Abraham, is for the believer, not the “heathen.” I post this hoping it encourages true Bereans to never settle, but to keep searching and seeing whether whatever he or she has been taught or learned is so. Here it is:

—December 20, 2017 – Justification: A Well-Proportioned Relationship

The Pauline idea of righteousness is derived from the Old Testament, and is inseparable from the conception of the holy will of God and his revealed law. But the classical usage is quite consistent with it, and illustrates the biblical usage from a lower plane. The Greek words are derived from “dikA” – right, and further back from “dicha,” or “dis,” –  two-fold, in two parts (according to Aristotle, Eth. Nic., v. 2); hence they indicate a well-proportioned relation between parts or persons where each has his due. It may then apply to the relation between God and man, or to the relation between man and man, or to both at once. To the Greeks a righteous man was one who fulfils his obligations to God and man. It was a Greek proverb: “In righteousness all virtue is contained.”

—August 14, 2014 – A Question About Justification: Was Abraham Saved Before He Was Justified?

In Genesis 15 Abraham was “reckoned righteous.” Was Abraham a “saved” man before he was reckoned righteous?

Keep in mind that Abraham was called out of Ur of the Chaldees in Genesis 11. He did that “by faith” according to Hebrews 11:8.

He built a tent in Genesis 12. He did that “by faith” according to Hebrews 11:9. He did it because “he looked” for the New Jerusalem according to Hebrews 11:10.

He built an alter in Genesis 12 and 13. He did that because he worshiped the true and living God in a world of idolatry. See Joshua 24:2.

Having said all that – Abraham wasn’t reckoned righteous until the fifteenth chapter of Genesis.

So here are a few questions:

  1. Was Abraham a “saved” man before he was reckoned righteous?
  2. If your answer is yes, what was the point of his justification if he was already a believer?
  3. Is justification for a saved person or a lost person?
  4. If your answer is no to the first question, how can an “unsaved” man worship, live by faith, and partake of God’s promise of the New Jerusalem?

Ponder this. Search and see.

—September 11, 2016 – Justification: Who is it for? (Paul and James Compared)

In Genesis 15, Abraham was “reckoned righteous.” Was Abraham a “saved” man before he was reckoned righteous?

Keep in mind that Abraham was called out of Ur of the Chaldees in Genesis 11. He did that “by faith” according to Hebrews 11:8.

Abraham built a tent in Genesis 12. He did that “by faith” according to Hebrews 11:9. According to Hebrews 11:10, he did it because “he looked” for a city whose builder and maker is God.

Abraham built an alter in Genesis 12 and 13. He did that because he worshiped the true and living God in a world of idolatry. See Joshua 24:2.

Yet, after all that, Abraham wasn’t reckoned righteous until the fifteenth chapter of Genesis.

So here are a few questions:

  1. Was Abraham a “saved” man before he was reckoned righteous?
    2. If your answer is yes, what was the point of his justification if he was already a believer?
    3. Is justification for a saved person or a lost person?
    4. If your answer is no to the first question, how can an “unsaved” man worship, live by faith, and hope in God’s promises?

The point is this: justification is for the believer, not the “heathen,” not the person who doesn’t know God.

Coming to this conclusion solves the great problem, a self-created problem by Christians, regarding the differences between Paul and James on justification. Both James and Paul use examples of BELIEVING people’s actions when they discuss justification by faith. Rahab believed in the living and true God long before the spies set foot in her home.

Church historian Phillip Schaff describes the differences between James and Paul beautifully:

James, the brother of the Lord, in keeping with his life-long labors in Jerusalem…holds most closely to the Mosaic religion, and represents the gospel itself as law, yet as the “perfect law of liberty.” Herein lies the difference as well as the unity of the two dispensations. The “law” points to the harmony, the qualifying “perfect” and “liberty” to the superiority of Christianity, and intimates that Judaism was imperfect and a law of bondage, from which Christ has set us free.

Paul, on the contrary, distinguishes the gospel as freedom from the law, as a system of slavery; but he re-establishes the law on the basis of freedom, and sums up the whole Christian life in the fulfilment of the law of love to God and to our neighbor; therein meeting James from the opposite starting-point.

James…lays great stress on good works which the law requires, but he demands works which are the fruit of faith in Him, whom he, as his servant, reverently calls “the Lord of glory”…Such faith, moreover, is the result of the new birth, which he traces to “the will of God” through the agency of “the word of truth,” that is, the gospel. As to the relation between faith and works and their connection with justification at the tribunal of God, he seems to teach the doctrine of justification by faith and works; while Paul teaches the doctrine of justification by faith alone, to be followed by good works, as the necessary evidence of faith…

But the contradiction between James and Paul is verbal rather than logical and doctrinal, and admits of a reconciliation which lies in the inseparable connection of a living faith and good works, or of justification and sanctification, so that they supplement and confirm each other, the one laying the true foundation in character, the other insisting on the practical manifestation…they wrote from different standpoints and opposed different errors, and thus presented two distinct aspects of the same truth.

James says: Faith is dead without works.
Paul says: Works are dead without faith.

The one insists on a working faith, the other on faithful works.

Both are right: James in opposition to the dead Jewish orthodoxy, Paul in opposition to self-righteous legalism. James does not demand works without faith, but works prompted by faith; While Paul, on the other hand, likewise declares a faith worthless which is without love, though it remove mountains, and would never have attributed a justifying power to the mere belief in the existence of God, which James calls the trembling faith of demons.

But James mainly looks at the fruit, Paul at the root; the one is concerned for the evidence, the other for the principle; the one takes the practical and experimental view, and reasons from the effect to the cause, the other goes deeper to the inmost springs of action, but comes to the same result: a holy life of love and obedience as the necessary evidence of true faith. And this, after all, is the ultimate standard of judgment according to Paul as well as James. Paul puts the solution of the difficulty in one sentence: “faith working through love.”

January 15, 2017 – Luther’s Treatment of James and Overcompensation

“Luther’s harsh, unjust, and unwise judgment of this Epistle has been condemned by his own church, and reveals a defect in his conception of the doctrine of justification which was the natural result of his radical war with the Romish error.”

Schaff talks about Luther’s “defect” with regard to his teaching on the subject of justification, what Schaff means by this I can’t tell at this moment. But the principle is clear that oftentimes a Biblical concept is twisted when a “combatant” goes by the rule that “all is fair in war,” the “natural result of” a “radical war with…error.”

What defects are still with us today? How often, when people spend so much time “defending truth against error,” do they warp a certain teaching to try to destroy another? Is orthodox teaching about Justification still infected with ideas that were inspired by overcompensation?

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