by Hadley Robinson
“In the New Testament, justification is the moment or the event when you put your faith in Jesus Christ and at that moment God is no longer against you—he’s for you, and he counts you as acceptable, forgiven, righteous, obedient because of your union with Christ. You are perfectly acceptable to God and he is totally on your side. At that moment you are declared and constituted just, even though you’re ungodly.”
Do you find this statement a concise summary of what the Bible says about justification? This summary happens to be from John Piper and is expressed in countless statements of faith and sermons over the centuries in a multitude of denominations. But now, some who call themselves Evangelical Protestants, would not agree with what Mr. Piper has expressed.
So that’s the general gist of the doctrine, and I regard it as a matter of life and death. Luther regarded it as the doctrine the whole church hangs on. It’s the moment and means by which we pass from being under the enmity of God to being under the favor of God, from being utterly unrighteous and damnable to being counted righteous in Christ by God so that he’s our father and he’s totally for us.
It is a matter of life and death – and I hope it is obvious. But it is not obvious to some….
Piper sums up justification,
Justification is the act by which God says, "I no longer count you guilty. I count you as righteous with the righteousness of my Son.”
What Evangelical would disagree with this? Please read on…
This writer has been pretty much out of the loop in some ways about what’s going on in the Evangelical Protestant world for a few years. But there have been indicators about some really new widespread and brilliant heresies that are emerging – and more contempt for the inerrancy of the entire Bible.
It’s the same old devilry of the misuse/non-use of Scripture, including its being full of errors.
Who has sounded the alarm of this dangerous attack on our faith? Many have but they have not been publicly known, especially until recently.
Marilyn Robinson sent me this short interview of R.C. Sproul by Joel Belz that took place a few months ago. And it got me thinking about all of this.
R.C. and most of us who have worked in the Church as teachers/pastors (and are seminary trained) are aware of the ongoing, never-ending battle over the inerrancy of the Bible. But now other core orthodox doctrines are under attack.
The shift is seismic. The promoters of what appears to be a false gospel are winsome, brilliant, and clever in disguising works righteousness in Biblical terms. N.T. Wright, a proponent of what is known as the New Perspective (NP), and wrote this,
“Judaism in Paul’s day was not, as has regularly been supposed, a religion of legalistic works-righteousness.”
“Justification is not how someone becomes a Christian. It is the declaration that they have become a Christian.”
“I must stress again that the doctrine of justification by faith is not what Paul means by ‘the gospel.’”
These statements are both destructive and wrong, as John Piper writes. They are opposed to what Jesus, Himself, said about the Pharisees and the religion of His day and what Paul says is justification. Wright and others have created a brilliant piece of sophistry disconnected from the Jesus of the Gospels – the Gospels that Wright, in particular, does not seem to reference. Who other than Jesus Christ is the final and truthful judge of what 1st century Judaism was like?
Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: "God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get." But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner." I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. – Lk. 18:10-14
Wright is convinced that the Pharisees suffered from racism i.e. only Jews could be in the “group” – the Church. It was not works-righteousness they were pursuing but it was the mere observance of the Law as a gracious gift from being in the “group”. This observance had nothing to do with their seeking righteousness to satisfy God’s holiness and justice. That is, 500 years of Reformed doctrine, at least, is just incorrect.
Everyone needs to be aware of what the NP is: a bomb being dropped on core doctrines of the Reformation including those taught by St. Augustine.
Do we desire the basis of our justification moving away from Jesus Christ’s atoning death and His perfect obedience to being merely a celebration of our being in Christ? Do we want the indescribable gifts that Jesus has given us to remain at the center of the doctrine of justification – the center of the Gospel? Do we want repentance and holy living sent to the sidelines, even into obscurity, as being of little or no consequence to the Christian life?
Wright, in the New Dictionary of Theology, describes justification,
The question of justification is a matter of covenant membership. The underlying question in (for instance) Gal. 3 and 4 is: Who are the true children of Abraham? Paul's answer is that membership belongs to all who believe in the gospel of Jesus, whatever their racial or moral background.
Piper is generous in his criticisms of Wright and others that espouse the New Perspective. Yet , is it appropriate or not to hit the fire alarm and call 911 if our house is about to burn down?
The gulf that separates the Church of Rome from all converted and true Christians is the question of how men are saved? Do we go from being subject to the wrath of God to being His child, His friend solely by what Christ did or is there more that we and others must do?
Take the time to understand your own faith. This new crisis helped this poor sinner. Like what happened to the Galatians, it is all about the Gospel – what it is and what it is not. R.C. Sproul was incredulous that sola fide is being challenged – today – in the Evangelical church.