Justification and Sanctification
by Peter Toon
Crossway Books, 1983
Bible quotations are from the New International Version
Part 1: Biblical
2. Righteousness According to Paul
3. Faith According to James
4. The Holiness of the Saints
Part 2: Historical
5. Augustine and Aquinas
6. The Lutheran View
7. The Council of Trent
8. The Reformed View
9. The Anglican Approach
10. The Wesleyan View
Part 3: Contemporary
11. Newman and Schmaus
12. Tillich and Berkouwer
Notes (moved to ends of chapters for web)
References to Holy Scripture (omitted for web)
Index of Names and Topics (omitted for web)
It has been and remains commonplace for Protestants to describe the Christian life in terms of justification by faith or justification and sanctification. This tradition developed in the early decades of the Reformation, found its way into the Protestant catechisms and confessions of faith and became a paw of the distinctively Protestant language of salvation.
This short study, which aims only to introduce the subject of justification and sanctification, is divided into three parts. First of all there is an examination of the meaning of righteousness/justice (justification) and holiness (sanctification) in the sacred Scriptures. Such an examination does not, of course, represent a comprehensive study of all that is said of the Christian life in the New Testament. Its purpose is to enable the reader to be in a position to begin to evaluate the various doctrines of justification which have emerged in the Church over the centuries.
The second part presents the history of the doctrine of justification and its relation to sanctification. There is careful selection so that the reader can see how the Protestant doctrine is related to the earlier patristic and medieval teaching and where it differs from the dogma promulgated by the Roman Catholic Council of Trent. In the final part examples of recent Protestant and Roman Catholic expositions of the doctrine are noticed.
This book will have served its purpose if it encourages the reader to pursue further study of the biblical, historical or contemporary material. The time seems ripe for the further explication of this area of doctrine in the dialogue between denominations as well as its application to the pastoral ministry of the churches and the life of individual Christians.
Quotations from the Bible are taken from the New International Version, except where it is otherwise indicated.
I regret the completion of this book before release of the final volume in the important dialogue between American Lutheran and Roman Catholic scholars, which will deal with justification. However, I am happy to report that through the kindness of Dr. John Reumann I was allowed to see in prepublication form his valuable book, “Righteousness” in the New Testament: Justification in the Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue (1983), which incorporates material presented in the scriptural studies in the dialogue. Further, I need to thank Dr. A. E. McGrath for his help and to state that we look forward to seeing his detailed history of the doctrine of justification presented in three volumes (Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, James Clarke, Cambridge).
Finally I would like to dedicate this book to the Right Reverend John Whine, Bishop of St. Edmunsbury and Ipswich. He has made me most welcome in his diocese and has honored me by describing me as his “theological consultant.”
Part 1: Biblical
1 – Introduction
We are all familiar with Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the tax-collector who worked for the occupying forces, the Romans (Luke 18). They both went to pray in the Temple at Jerusalem. The Pharisee, proud of his religious achievements, thanked God for his piety and morality. In contrast, the tax-collector, shunned by contemporary Jewish religious society, prayed that God would have pity upon him as a sinner. Jesus concluded that it was the tax-collector and not the Pharisee who was dedikaiōmenos (perfect passive from dikaioō) – that is, in right relationship with the Lord when he went home from the Temple. Such a story is alarming, raising not only basic questions about religious practice and duty, but also the fundamental question about how a human being, even a devout human being, is to have a right relationship with God, our Creator and Redeemer. It is not surprising that during times of profound religious and spiritual searching (e.g., the Protestant Reformation) the idea of justification by faith is prominent.
The Greek word dedikaiōmenos in Luke 18:14 can be translated in a variety of ways: “justified” (KJV/AV; RV; RSV), “justified before God” (NIV), “acquitted of sins” (NEB), “at rights with God” (JB), and “in the right with God” (TEV). In English we have an old tradition of translating dikaioō as “to justify.” Yet when the noun dikaiosunē occurs, as in Matthew 6:33, we have an equally old tradition of translating it as “righteousness” (KJV/AV, RV) with a modern rendering of “justice” (NEB). In translating into English words of the dikaio-stem, scholars have used the nouns “justice” and “righteousness,” the adjectives “just” and “righteous,” and the verbs “to justice,” “to justify” and “to rightwise.” Of these verbs, “to justice” and “to rightwise” ceased to be generally used in the sixteenth century, leaving only “to justify.” This means that unless we revive the verb “to rightwise,” there is now no verb from the right-stem to function as a synonym of “to justify.” We speak of the gospel as revealing the righteousness of God and declaring that the ungodly are justified. This raises the further problem of whether dikaioō means either to declare righteous/just or to make righteous/ just. Does our English word “justify” mean to declare just or to make just?
The Greek translators of the Old Testament generally used dikaioō to translate the Hebrew root .sdq. What is the principal concept that is found in the contexts in which this word occurs? Scholars agree that this concept relates to the administration of justice within the covenant which God made with his elect people, the Israelites. However, it pictures an ancient Hebrew and not a modern Western law court. Dikaioō refers to the laws of the land and the tradition of their interpretation. In fact, there is no word in Old Testament Hebrew which literally means “a court.” The word that is used is literally translated as “the gate of the city,” for that was the ancient place, along with the central religious sanctuary, where a “court” met. The judge (the King or an elder) heard the statements of the accuser and the accused, called and heard witnesses, and then gave his judgment (see e.g., 2 Samuel 15:1–6; 1 Kings 3:16ff.). Justification is the verdict of the judge in favor of one party or another; it is more than mere aquittal, for it carries the definite idea of actually being in the right and thus “righteous.”
Scholars refer to this meaning of .sdq and diakaioō as forensic, which simply indicates that it has to do with a court of law. To assert that the basic meaning is forensic is not to deny that the forensic often easily moves over in the Old Testament into the ethical, referring to the life of faith/faithfulness of members of God’s covenant people. We must expect a certain fluidity in ancient words and concepts.
As the Bible has been interpreted in the history of the Church, the basic forensic idea of righteousness/justice has not always been fully appreciated. Sometimes it has not been known or taken seriously, and the ethical idea has been prominent. Thus dikaioō and its Latin equivalent justificare were for many centuries understood in the West as primarily ethical, meaning “to make righteous.” At other times, particularly in Protestant use of the Bible, the forensic idea of declaratory righteousness was heightened through the use not of a picture of justice at the gate of the city but rather in a Roman or Western court of law. Thus, though the forensic idea was preserved, it was exaggerated and separated wholly from the ethical. Let’s look deeper at these topics.
1 The basic Hebrew verb .sdq means “to be righteous” and in its hiphil stem means “to declare to be in the right.” About 90 percent of the 500 or so occurrences of words from the root .sdq in the Hebrew Bible are rendered in the Septuagint by words from the root dikaioō. These 500 or so occurrences are found mostly in the books of Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah and Ezekiel. .Sdq is used both of God and human beings, primarily in the forensic sense but sometimes with an ethical emphasis.1
2 The Lord is seen as the righteous one who acts justly. He is the just judge who judges righteously. His character is clear to all. “From the ends of the earth we hear singing: ‘Glory to the Righteous One’” (Isa. 24:16). What Jeremiah heard from Heaven is true: “I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight” (9:24). The psalmist had to sing: “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you” (89:14). When psalmist and prophet celebrated the .sedeq of their Lord, they were not thinking of what we call distributive justice. Rather, they were praising his attitude and activity in perfectly maintaining his side of the gracious covenant which he made with the people of Israel.
Yahweh, the LORD, judge of the whole world, acts in .sedeq toward Israel, upholding the right; but that right is determined by his own free choice of Abraham and descendants as his elect people. Thus the righteousness/justice of the Lord can both chastise Israel (Lam. 1:8) and deliver from trouble, oppression and disaster (Ps. 68; 103:6). It can also mean salvation for Israel and destruction of her enemies (Ps. 58:10, 11; Hab. 3:12, 13; Mal. 4:1–3), as well as punishment for some Israelites and vindication for others (Ps. 51:4; 116:5, 6; 146:7, 8).
The forensic is seen when the prophets represent the activity of God’s .sedeq in the picture of a court where the judge faces the accused and passes sentence after hearing and reviewing the evidence. The Lord is the judge, and Israel is the party who is accused and then condemned by God according to the covenant relationship which exists between them. Perhaps the best-known of these prophetic pictures is found in Micah 6:1–8 (but see also Isaiah 1:2–9 and Jeremiah 2:4–13).
Hear, O mountains, the LORD’S accusation;
listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth.
For the LORD has a case against his people;
he is lodging a charge against Israel.
The Lord as judge brings forth the accusation, and the terms of reference are the basic conditions of the covenant. God’s righteousness requires that he accuse and chastise Israel in order to restore the people to the right relationship required by their covenant. What he looks for in Israel is behavior that reflects the right relationship with himself: “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (6:8). In this way the forensic and ethical are united.
Since Israel appealed to the Lord as righteous when they looked for deliverance from all kinds of troubles and enemies, it is not surprising that .sedeq came to mean salvation. This is especially so in the latter part of the book of Isaiah where God’s future saving action on behalf of his people is presented: “Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted, you who are far from righteousness. I am bringing my righteousness near; it is not far away; and my salvation will not be delayed” (46:12, 13). Where the NIV has “righteousness” the RSV has “deliverance” – “I bring near my deliverance.” A similar function of God’s .sedeq as deliverance (RSV) is found in 51:5: “My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations.” In this context, to speak of God’s righteousness is to speak of good news, which makes us think of Paul’s connection of righteousness and good news in Romans 1:16, 17.
3 God’s covenant people are to be like him. He is righteous; so they are to be righteous. But their righteousness is dependent upon and proceeds from his. When God called Abram and told him of his plans for the future, what he wanted to see in Abram was faith and trust accompanied by loving obedience. God set in motion a relationship, and what was needed as foundational at the beginning and forever was faith, faith in the God who made and keeps his promise. “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to Abram as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). Here the Lord as judge places Abram in the right in terms of their covenantal relationship. Later God said: “I have chosen Abraham, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him” (18:19). A right relationship with God required that Abraham do what is “right and just”; the forensic and the ethical cannot be separated.
The king of Israel, as the Lord’s anointed one, was also to set an example of righteousness in the way that he created, maintained and restored right relationships within his people. Psalm 72 speaks of Solomon and the gift of righteousness given to him so that he would act righteously.
Endow the king with your justice, O God,
the royal son with your righteousness.
He will judge your people in righteousness,
your afflicted ones with justice.
The mountains will bring prosperity to the people,
the hills the fruit of righteousness.
He will defend the afflicted among the people
and save the children of the needy;
He will crush the oppressor. (vv. 1–4)
Here there is great emphasis (as in Isaiah 11:4) on justice/righteousness.
Bearing this in mind, it is not surprising that faithful Israelites who were in a state of affliction or oppression were actually called “righteous” as they looked for vindication from their Lord. They are also called “the poor,” meaning “the humble poor.” In fact, God’s judgments are always favorable for the oppressed, the hungry, the alien and the prisoner as well as the widow and the fatherless (see Amos 2:6ff.).
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets prisoners free,
the LORD gives sight to the blind,
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down,
the LORD loves the righteous.
The LORD watches over the alien
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked. (Ps. 146:7–9)
God decides in favor of the needy and declares him to be in the right. And this example is to be followed by his covenant people.
In Israel “righteous” referred primarily to one who lived faithfully as a member of the covenant people. Those who lived in faith and faithfulness as the Lord required were righteous, whether in riches or poverty, in their own land or in exile. The truly pious and righteous man also recognized that he was a sinner and so made full use of the means God had provided for atonement and remission of sin. This association of a consciousness of sin and righteousness occurs, for example, in Psalm 143. “No one living is righteous before you [the LORD]” (v. 2) is a way of saying that no pious Israelite is righteous all the time, for he always needs provision for the blotting out of his sins through prayer and sacrifice.
Though he recognizes his sin, the psalmist is also confident that God, the Righteous One, will preserve his life, bring him out of trouble, silence his enemies, hear his prayers and vindicate him. The psalmist believed that God had given him a righteous verdict because he had put his trust in the Lord – “I have put my trust in you” (v. 8). The prophet Habakkuk later put it this way: “The righteous will live by his faith (faithfulness)” (2:4).
Before any psalms were written or Abraham had been called out of Ur of the Chaldees, God had said of Noah that he was “a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God” (Gen. 6:9). Here the ethical import of righteousness is prominent, as it is also in Psalm 15. There, in answer to the question, “Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary (i.e., at Jerusalem)?,” the following reply is provided:
He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from his heart
and has no slander on his tongue,
who does his neighbor no wrong
and casts no slur on his fellow man,
who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the LORD,
who keeps his oath even when it hurts,
who lends his money without usury
and does not accept a bribe against the innocent. (vv. 2–5)
The meaning is clear. God expects those who are within the covenant, and who on this basis have been declared to be in a right relationship with him, to live as children of the righteous Lord.
In Ezekiel 18:5–9 there is a striking and impressive picture of a righteous man who exercises his individual responsibility to do God’s will as a member of God’s covenant people. “He follows my decrees and faithfully keeps my laws. That man is righteous; he will surely live, declares the Sovereign LORD” (18:9). Where a mistake could be made, and in fact was made in later Judaism, was to think that God’s declaration of righteousness was dependent upon an individual Jew’s meticulous fulfillment of the laws within the covenant made with Moses on Mount Sinai. Actually, righteousness as an ethical quality of blamelessness came as a result of God’s declaration of a right standing before him within his covenant of grace, and not the opposite way around. The Pharisee in Luke 18 represents the way in which the whole pursuit of righteousness can go wrong. He stopped looking to the Lord as the giver of righteousness and concentrated on seeking to achieve righteousness to present to the Lord at the end of his life.
The key to understanding .sdq is to think of relationships. “There is absolutely no concept in the Old Testament,” wrote the German Gerhard von Rad, “with so central a significance for all the relationships of human life as that of .sdq. It is the standard not only for man’s relationship with God, but also for his relationship to his fellows, reaching right down to ... the animals and to his natural environment.”2 E. R. Achtemeier has written: “Righteousness is in the Old Testament the fulfillment of the demands of a relationship, whether that relationship be with men or with God. Each man is set within a multitude of relationships: king with people, judge with complainants, priests with worshippers, common man with family, tribesman with community, community with resident alien and poor, all with God. And each of these relationships brings with it specific demands, the fulfillment of which constitutes righteousness. The demands may differ from relationship to relationship; righteousness in one situation may be unrighteousness in another. Further, there is no norm of righteousness outside the relationship itself. When God or man fulfills the conditions imposed upon him by a relationship, he is, in Old Testament terms, righteous.”3
The story of the Old Testament is, however, a story of the failure of men to be righteous and of God’s faithfulness in righteousness. The God of grace intervenes on behalf of his people to declare them in the right before himself and the world. So the way is prepared for the further righteous activity of God in Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, by whom the gift of righteousness is offered to the whole world in his gospel.
Notes: Chapter 1
1. For discussion of the theme of righteousness, see The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 4 and Supplement, Nashville, Abingdon, 1976. All the basic textbooks on Old Testament theology have sections on the topic – W Eichrodt (two volumes, 1961, 1967), G. von Rad (two volumes, 1962, 1965), T C. Vriezen (1958). The older works of J. Pedersen, Israel (four volumes, 1926, 1940) and N. H. Snaith, The Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament New York, Schocken, 1944 are worth consulting. J. Barr, The Semantics of Biblical Language (1961) has helpful warnings about biblical word studies.
2. G. von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. 1, New York, Harper & Row; Birmingham, England, SCM, p. 370.
3. Op. cit., Interpreter’s Dictionary, Vol. 4, p. 80.
2 – Righteousness According to Paul
The Gentiles were not, in one sense, a part of the covenants that God made with Abraham, Moses and David in the Old Testament. Yet the gospel of God “regarding his Son ... Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 1:2–4) was meant to be heard and received by them. God intended that they should become members of the new covenant, prophesied by Jeremiah (31:31ff.) and inaugurated by the blood of Jesus (Matt. 26:28). Through Jesus, the Savior, they would be included in the original covenant of grace that God made with Abraham and his descendants (Gen. 12:1–3).
But must they become converts to Judaism and join the historical Israel of God as proselytes in order to benefit from the gospel of God? Were conditions other than repentance and faith required of them? How was a right relationship created between Gentile sinners and the Lord, the God of Abraham and Moses? Paul’s answer to these and related questions is found in the doctrine of justification by faith. Both Jews and Gentiles have a right relationship with God the Father through faith in Jesus, the Christ, who died for their sins and rose for their justification (Rom. 4:25). We are justified by faith through the grace of God apart from the Law of Moses.
The first substantial presentation of this doctrine of justification by faith alone occurs in the letter to the churches of Galatia, while the second, and theologically more developed, is found in the letter to the church in Rome. As we would expect, there are also important brief references in other letters – for example, Philippians 3:9–11 and Titus 3:3–7.
Let us be clear on one point. Justification by faith is not the actual message of the gospel preached to the heathen by Paul. Rather, it is an explanation of how the gospel is effective based on the great Old Testament themes of the righteousness of God and human faith.1
The Letter to Galatia2
Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia is brief, and it is advisable to read it through several times before ascertaining what it has to say about righteousness. Further, to appreciate Paul’s teaching on this topic it is useful to note how the theme of righteousness was being used in primitive Christian teaching before Paul wrote his letter and also the basic elements of Paul’s actual preaching to the heathen in Galatia. Since there are several very early Jewish-Christian formulations or confessions of faith embedded in parts of the New Testament, it is possible by looking at these to notice how righteousness was then understood.3 If we take 1 Peter 3:18 and 1 Timothy 3:16 to be such formulations, then we notice that the use of the righteousness theme is Christological. Jesus is the Righteous One who died for the sins of the unrighteous and then was vindicated/justified by the Father in his exaltation into Heaven. Only at 1 Corinthians 6:11 do we encounter in a pre-Pauline formulation a reference to the justification of human beings: “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” All the verbs are in the passive voice. The first may refer to baptism, while the other two are complementary ways of understanding the gracious work of God for and in believers, using familiar Old Testament themes of holiness and righteousness. To look for too precise a meaning of either term at this early stage in the life of the young Church would be a mistake. But here was something on which Paul could and did build.
The elements of Paul’s good news for Galatia have to be deduced from the contents of his letter, the nature of the society of the region, and our general knowledge of early Christian proclamation. Fundamental to the good news was that there is one God, who revealed himself in days past to the people of Israel. He is not a tribal deity like the lords and gods known in the towns and cities of Asia Minor; he is the living and universal Lord. As the one and only living Lord, he desires, initiates and makes possible for human beings actual communion and fellowship with himself. This gracious activity of God is made a reality through Jesus of Nazareth who, though the Jews’ Messiah, is also the Savior of all peoples. He died for the sins of the whole world, Jews and Gentiles, and rose victorious over death, sin and Hades. Therefore people of every race, social class and nation are called to believe in Jesus, the universal Savior and Lord, who is alive forevermore. In and through him salvation is freely given by God to each person who is ready to receive it, turning from idols and sin to serve the living Lord. Salvation from God includes the call to a new life within the community of the disciples of Jesus, with goals set by him and achieved by power from his Spirit. This outlines the message that Paul preached. We must emphasize that the apostle made no reference to a need to obey any of the requirements of the Law of Moses. The gospel he preached was a gospel concerning Christ and Christ alone.
Paul’s teaching on justification/righteousness by faith undergirded the message of salvation and hope he had proclaimed in Galatia. Obviously he had thought about all this before, but he put it into writing because of the sinister effect certain false teachers were having on the churches he had founded. “I am astonished,” he wrote, “that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all” (1:6). We know little about those who provided this false gospel except that they were probably Jews who accepted Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah of Israel and Savior of the world. But they differed from Paul in what they added to the basic confession of faith in Jesus. They said something like this: “What Paul told you is fine, but it is not the whole story. He omitted to tell you to complete your obedience to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus by submitting (as Gentiles have always done) to the basic requirements of the Law of Moses. In particular, this means that all males must be circumcised. Further, both male and female must obey the dietary regulations and keep the Sabbath and Feast days.” In effect they were saying that Jesus, the Christ, is not a complete Savior: Gentile believers not only need Christ to be put in the right with God but also the Law of Moses for their full acceptance with God.
These Judaizers, as they are usually called, had a different view of justification than the non-Christian, orthodox Jews of their time. Pious, orthodox Jews looked forward to being declared in the right by God at the Last judgment because as members of God’s covenant they had provided meticulous obedience to the Law of Moses through their lives. The Christian Judaizers saw the need for and the importance of the expiatory death of Jesus as Messiah for their sins. They believed that through Jesus, the Righteous One, they were already sanctified and justified (1 Cor. 6:11). Yet, to be guaranteed full acceptance by God at the Last judgment, they believed, they and all Christians – Jew and Gentile alike – had to practice Christian discipleship within the demands of the Law of Moses.
Paul believed that the Judaizers were corrupting the gospel of God. In his own teaching to the churches of Galatia he narrated an account of an incident involving Peter, God’s apostle to the Jews. At Antioch, the church from which Paul had begun his apostolic labors, Peter joined in the fellowship around the meal table and at the Lord’s Table and quite happily, as a Jew and contrary to common Jewish practice, actually ate with Gentiles who were uncircumcised members of the church (2:11–14). He Hellenized harmoniously until, on receipt of certain information from Jerusalem, he not only ceased to fellowship with Gentile Christians but began to actively persuade those Gentiles to submit to circumcision and other requirements of the Law. Even Barnabas, who had been Paul’s faithful companion in the Gentile mission of the church, was persuaded to follow Peter. Whatever were Peter’s reasons, Paul was shocked and rebuked him. The basis of Paul’s evangelism had been that Gentiles are saved by grace and are under no obligation whatsoever to become Jewish proselytes.
Therefore, seeing that the gospel of God as it had been revealed to him by the Lord Jesus (Acts 9) was on trial, Paul addressed some forceful words to Peter and his companions and then offered this profound teaching (using four words of the dikaio-stem).
We who are Jews by birth and not “Gentile sinners” know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. (2:15–18)
Both Peter and Paul were circumcised Jews, and so members of the covenant God made with Moses (Ex. 19ff ). They were not “Gentile sinners” who had no revelation of God and his will. Further, as Christians the two apostles were in a right relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ the Lord, a relationship begun when they believed and received the gospel of God. They were accepted by God and placed in a right relationship with him not because of their commitment to the Law of Moses but through the grace of God in Jesus Christ, to which they responded in faith.
Perhaps verse 16b needs unpacking. Paul is saying, “We Jews are convinced that a human being needs to be accepted and declared righteous by God at the Last Judgment. Further, as Jews we are convinced that such acceptance will never be achieved by our fulfillment of the rules and ordinances of the Law. Instead we have come to see that acceptance by God occurs now – in anticipation of acceptance at the Last judgment – through what Jesus Christ has achieved for us. The gift of salvation, provided in and through Jesus, we gratefully accept in faith, gaining thereby a right relationship with God our Father through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Verse 17 refers to the breaking of Jewish law and custom concerning eating with Gentiles, who are Christians but uncircumcised. The righteousness of God provided in Christ places Jews and Gentiles on the same footing before God, the judge of all. Therefore, actions truly taken within the Christian fellowship on the basis of this gift of righteousness in Christ cannot be sinful, for it is impossible for Christ to be the agent or initiator of sin. In contrast, however, to deny the unity of Jew and Gentile in Christ through the gift of the one righteousness and to act on the old basis of division based on the Law is in fact to become a sinner, even a sinner against Christ himself. This was what Peter had done. He should have known that once a Jew is in Christ there is no return to the old ways of Jewish isolationism.
There is no escape from the fact that justification by faith means a changed life. This is emphasized in the “autobiographical” section of Paul’s letter (2:19–21). Actually though, the use of the first person singular is not to be taken as though it were Paul’s personal experience. It is a literary device by which Paul speaks for all those whom God justifies and accepts as his children. Four truths are set forth.
First of all, “through the law 1 died to the law so that I might live for God” (v 19). Paul sees the function of the Law as (1) that which separated Jew and Gentile and prevented Gentiles from coming to God except as proselytes; and (2) that which was a temporary measure, preparing for the advent of the Messiah, but is now finished. Set free from the Law by Christ, the Christian can truly live for God, being empowered by the indwelling Spirit of Christ.
Secondly, “I have been crucified with Christ” (v 20). The death of Christ by crucifixion was not merely the death of a man; it was the death of the Representative Man, with the result that his death is also the death of all who are united to him within the new covenant. The sinful self of each believer was crucified and put to death on the cross.
So, thirdly, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (v 20). The “I” here is the ego of man, seen as the root of evil passions and desires (cf. 5:24). This center of personal existence in the believer has been crucified in and with Christ. The new center of motivation and freedom within the justified believer is the living Christ – the exalted Christ who now acts in and by the Spirit.
Finally, “the life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (v 20). The Christian life of the justified believer is based on faith and centered on Christ. There is no room in it for subjection to the Law of Moses.
Was such teaching a denial of God’s revelation recorded in the Old Testament? Surely Abraham was justified by God because he was a circumcised and faithful servant of God! Paul’s reply was that Abraham is the example, par excellence, of justification by faith.
Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (3:6–9)
Perhaps the key statement here is the quotation, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:3). Abraham is presented not only as the great example of a man justified by faith (Genesis 15:6 is quoted in v 6), but also as the one to whom the Lord made the momentous promise which became the basis of God’s further gracious activity in bringing salvation and justification to the Gentiles. So the story of justification by faith actually begins with the Lord himself keeping faith and being faithful to the promise made to Abraham. It reaches its climax in Jesus, the Messiah, who also kept faith with the Father in life and sacrificial death. The exalted Lord Jesus is the personal embodiment of the ancient promise, which means that all who are united to him by faith are justified, even as Abraham was justified by faith.
The gift of a right relationship with God, promised to Jews and Gentiles in the covenant made with Abraham, is available everywhere and for all because Jesus Christ lives forevermore and is present by his Spirit wherever the gospel of God is proclaimed. What Paul wanted to establish beyond all doubt and in answer to all Judaizing was that salvation is wholly the gift of God. God made the promise, and God has fulfilled the promise. God is righteous, and he alone gives the gift of righteousness. Whatever human beings do in terms of believing and trusting, following and obeying, is only response to what is already wholly provided in the exalted Lord Jesus and the omnipresent Spirit.
If God always intended that a right relationship with him was by faith, why did he give the Law of Moses? Paul answers that before the era of faith arrived,
we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith is come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. (3:23–25)
The function of the Law before the era of faith (which came with the exaltation of Jesus into Heaven) was like that of a slave carefully guiding and protecting his master’s child on the way home from school. He prevented the child from going anywhere or doing anything other than what the master had decreed. He was a repressive custodian. But with the arrival of the era of faith there is no need for such an overseer. The children of God, as true believers, are led by the indwelling Spirit of Christ to love, trust and obey their heavenly Father and their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. For them, the Law of Moses as a custodian or guide is no longer necessary because they belong to Christ and live under his Lordship in the power of his Spirit.
It is clear from those parts of the letter we have examined that justification by faith as a right relationship with God in Christ does not, indeed cannot, exist in isolation from a life directed by the Spirit of Christ. The effectual word of the Lord (Gen. 12:1–3; Isa. 55:10, 11) which places the believer in a right relationship with his God also puts him into the body of Christ (3:28) and gives him the gift of freedom, which is a freedom to love others and to serve them (5:1). This same effectual word and promise of the Lord produces hope that on the basis of the justification revealed in the gospel there will be full and complete justification in the life to come: “By faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope” (5:5). The Christian lives by faith but the expression of his life is in terms of love for others: “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (5:6). Justification as a right standing before and relationship with God has inevitable consequences for daily life. As we noticed in the psalms of ancient Israel, he who is righteous before God will also be righteous with and before human beings.
The Letter to Rome4
Why did Paul write such a long letter to a church he had not founded? And why did he present such deep theology in it? We know that he wanted to extend the preaching of the gospel to Spain and hoped that the Christians in Rome would assist him in this task (15:24). He explained to them the dynamics of his teaching so as to gain their confidence. Rome was the capital of the civilized world, and it was important that the church there should be strong in the faith so it could be for the western Mediterranean and other areas what Antioch had been for the east (Acts 13). It is also probable that Paul wanted to produce for the churches in the Roman Empire a handbook of the gospel of God which he and others proclaimed. The need to write to Rome provided the opportunity to produce this, and it is probable that copies were made to use in other churches.
In harmony with his teaching to the Galatian churches, Paul’s explanation to the Roman Christians of how the gospel of Christ is effective in bringing God’s salvation to mankind is in terms of God’s righteousness. After his opening remarks he declares that “in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last ...” (1:17). Here are the twin themes of righteousness and faith. Considering this initial statement, the presence of sixty-three words from the dikaio-stem in the letter, and its general structure and content, righteousness or justification may be seen as its unifying or overarching theme.
After the initial declaration of the revelation of God’s righteousness, the long section of 1:18–3:20 may be seen as a statement of the solemn fact that in the light of the gospel of God all people – without any exceptions – are sinners. No human person is reckoned as righteous by God except on the basis of personal faith. Then, in the supremely important paragraph of 3:21–31, we encounter in a compressed form Paul’s explanation of the way God’s righteousness is effective in and through Christ’s atonement to bring justification to sinners who believe. In this paragraph words of the dikaio-stem occur nine times while there are another nine occurrences of words for faith and believing. Chapter 4 provides the important illustration of Abraham, who was justified not by his obedience to God but by his faith and trust in God. At this point the argument of Paul is similar to that found in the letter to Galatia.
The contents of the next three chapters (5–8) may be seen as an explanation of what justification by faith means and entails. There is freedom from death, sin and the Law with new life in the Spirit of Christ. Again we note links with the contents of the letter to Galatia. Having received God’s righteousness by faith, the believer is delivered from eternal death and the wrath to come (5:9) and will be given salvation at the Last Judgment. Here and now he experiences a freedom from the power of sin and he is enabled to live according to God’s will (6:16). The old Law of Moses is no longer a threat to him; he now lives in the power of the indwelling Spirit, who brings the love of God to his heart and assures him he is a child of God (8:15, 16). Chapters 9–11 have sometimes been seen as a digression from the main theme. It is far better, however, to see their contents as a whole and to view Paul wrestling with the problem of the history and destiny of the Jews in the light of the revelation of God’s righteousness in the gospel. Finally, while it is true that dikaio-stem words are rare in chapters 12–15, the material in them is about the obedience to God of those who have been declared righteous before God. In fact, without the previous teaching on justification these final chapters would have no base for the obedience they describe.
Having given an overall sketch of the theme of righteousness/justification in the letter, it is now appropriate to examine in a little more detail particular parts.
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
This good news is for the whole world – “everyone.” And because it is the effectual word of the Lord proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit, it achieves results; it brings salvation to sinners, Jew and Gentile, who receive and believe it. The clue to the saving power of the gospel of God lies in the fact that God has acted in righteousness to make provision in Christ for human salvation. This means that God now reckons as righteous in his sight those who believe. The “righteousness of God” (KJV) is best understood (as is apparently the case in the NIV) as a genitive of authorship meaning, “the righteousness which goes forth from God.” Luther, however, took it to be an objective genitive meaning, “the righteousness which is valid before God.” The function of the quotation from the prophet Habakkuk is to emphasize faith as the only right response to God, the righteous Lord.
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies the man who has faith in Jesus.
It is possible that Paul adapted here a Jewish-Christian formula, but of this we cannot be sure and must understand it in its Pauline form. In verse 21 the “now” refers to the special period of time (eschatological) between the exaltation of the Messiah and his return in glory as judge; “law” in that verse is probably shorthand for “the demands imposed by a collection of commandments.” The righteousness of God is revealed and set forth in the achievement of Jesus as Messiah and in the proclamation of the gospel of God concerning him. Though this righteousness has nothing to do with law, the contents of the books of Moses and of the prophets of Israel testify to it. This righteousness (v 22) is available from God to all who believe the good news concerning Jesus, the Messiah. In fact (v 23), everyone needs this gift of righteousness, for all human beings are declared by God to be sinners. As the judge of the world, God freely declares sinners to be righteous on the basis of the liberation Jesus the Messiah achieved for mankind through his death and resurrection (v 24). Jesus died at Calvary as a sacrifice for sin (v 25) so that God could declare sinners righteous on the basis of his perfect atonement for sin. Sinners have to do nothing but accept the gift by faith.
Verses 25b and 26 are difficult to understand. The NIV uses the noun “justice” twice in preference to “righteousness,” which is used in verses 21 and 22. Other translations (RSV, TEV) keep to the one word “righteousness” throughout this section. The meaning appears to be that the death of Christ, as a divine act of righteousness, proved that God is righteous yet merciful. For in the act of demonstrating that he is a just/righteous God, he provides also the means by which the believer can be put into a right relationship with himself and forgives sins. Before the atonement of Christ, God had passed over past sins but had not forgiven them. Now because the death of Christ is a righteous and saving act of God, sins can truly be forgiven. It is probable that Paul had in mind that Christ’s “sacrifice of atonement” (v 25) averted the wrath of God and functioned as a propitiatory as well as expiatory sacrifice; the Greek hilastērion certainly suggests this.
What comes out clearly in this section is that God’s activity in restoring sinners to a right relationship with himself is centered on the cross; thus justification cannot be separated from the “his blood” and “a sacrifice of atonement” by Christ. In the language of later theology, the sacrificial death of Christ is the meritorious cause of our justification.
RSV For just as you once yielded your members to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification.
NIV Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness and holiness.
TEV At one time you surrendered yourselves entirely as slaves to impurity and wickedness, for wicked purposes. In the same way you must surrender yourselves entirely as slaves of righteousness, for holy purposes.
Here Paul is contrasting two ways of life, the pagan and the Christian. In 6:15–19, what is made clear is that those who submit to the gospel of God by believing are actually by such faith also committing themselves to obedience to God’s will and a new way of life. True faith is faith-obedience (or faith that is faithful). In verse 19 a believer is described as a slave of righteousness (= God acting in righteousness) for a life of consecration/holiness. (The basic idea of holiness is, being set apart for God and his service.) This verse or section does not endorse the idea that a person is first justified/declared righteous and then (later or gradually) sanctified. Rather, the idea is that being in a right relationship with God as judge and heavenly Father, the believer is thereby consecrated to the service of the Lord. Justification and consecration belong together. Not a little harm has been done by those preachers who have rigidly imposed upon Paul’s teaching a division between justification (understood as what God declares in Heaven) and sanctification (understood as what God does in us here on earth). It is not quite so simple, for as we shall see in Chapter 4 of this book, justification and sanctification are two complementary ways of describing the gracious activity of God.
NIV Since they disregarded the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
TEV They have not known the way in which God puts people right with himself, and have tried to set up their own way: and so they did not submit themselves to God’s way of putting people right. For Christ has brought the Law to an end, so that everyone who believes is put right with God.
In this part of the letter Paul is relating the righteousness of God to the history and destiny of the Jewish people, and he is also contrasting justification by faith and justification by works. Pious Jews were not aware that in the gospel God himself has revealed a righteousness which is a gift accompanying a right relationship with himself. They have sought to achieve by their works their own type of righteousness, hoping that this would be acceptable and place them in a right relationship with God. They have not allowed themselves to be placed (by faith) in the presence of God, the judge, so that he could declare them righteous in his sight through Christ. For the truth is that Christ has put an end to the use of the Law of Moses as the basis for righteous status before God through doing the deeds of the Law. The battle is faith versus works, and God has already decided in favor of faith. This fact is made abundantly clear in verses 5–13.
These four extracts from the letter have served to make clear four aspects of Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith. It is all about the righteousness which goes forth from God to be the power within his gospel; it is inseparably bound to the “sacrifice of atonement” offered by Christ; it has a built-in requirement of consecration of life to God’s service; and it stands opposed to all schemes which allow for human achievement in gaining a righteous status before the Lord.
To say the least, justification is a dominant perspective in Paul’s theology. To say the most, it is its central theme. Certainly Luther believed that it was the central theme of Paul’s teaching concerning the gospel of God, and he has been followed by many Protestant theologians in this evaluation. Perhaps there is not one truly dominant theme in Paul’s writings but a cluster of prominent themes (e.g., reconciliation, salvation-history, justification and “in Christ”). It is best to view these major themes as related to each other in terms of a cluster of different but complementary models or metaphors, each of which highlights an important aspect of the work of God in Christ for and in us. To try to arrange the different major and minor themes in Paul in an ordo salutis (order of salvation) is to misunderstand their function. They overlap in meaning and cannot be put into a logical order. We shall perhaps become more aware of this as we note below how sanctification is used in Paul’s letters and other parts of the New Testament. Here the point may be illustrated with reference to forgiveness and adoption, minor themes in Paul’s writings.
The verb aphiēmi, meaning “to forgive,” occurs forty-five times in the New Testament, of which only one is in Paul’s letters (Romans 4:7). The noun aphesis (“forgiveness”) is found only in Ephesians 1:7 and Colossians 1:14. The related word paresis, meaning “letting go unpunished,” occurs only in Romans 3:25. These three or four instances indicate that forgiveness is a minor theme. And it remains a minor theme if we add the occasions when the verb charizomai (= to be gracious to) occurs with a sense near to the idea of aphiēmi – see 2 Corinthians 2:7, 10; 12:13; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 2:13; 3:13. Forgiveness includes both making of no account the sin that has been committed and the acceptance of the sinner, be it between God and man or between man and man. Since Paul makes much use of the two great themes of justification and reconciliation, he has little need to use that of forgiveness. There is an overlap of meaning between forgiveness and justification as well as between forgiveness and reconciliation.
The legal word huiothesia, which describes the “making” or “adopting” of a son, is used of what God the Father does to Christians (Rom. 8:15, 23; Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1:5), as well as to ancient Israel (Rom. 9:4). The contexts in which the word occurs shows that it has reference to the present in anticipation of the future and that it is closely connected with the gift of the indwelling Spirit. The Holy Spirit testifies to the human spirit that adoption has taken place, but believers still “wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:15–23). So it is not a simple story – as in some popular accounts of Paul’s theology – of justification being followed in an ordo salutis by adoption. The relation of the theme of justification to that of adoption cannot be forced into any chronological or logical order, for they are complementary metaphors and models.
Not only must we hesitate to turn Paul’s complementary metaphors into descriptions of parts of a process that has logical or chronological sequence; we must also be cautious in taking metaphors from others parts of the New Testament (e.g., regeneration from the Johannine documents) and making them fit into a scheme whose major parts come from Paul. While there is a profound and deep unity in the teaching of the New Testament, three is also a diversity which must be respected. The teaching on justification in Paul’s letters is a distinct and powerful example of the diversity of ways in which the New Testament explains the power of the gospel.
Notes: Chapter 2
1. See further D. Hill, Greek Words with Hebrew Meanings (1967); J. Reumann, Righteousness in the New Testament (1982); E. P Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism, Philadelphia, Fortress; Birmingham, England, SCM, 1977; and J. A. Ziesler, The Meaning of Righteousness in Paul (1972). The textbooks on New Testament theology all have sections on this theme – see those by R. Bultmann (1956), L. Goppelt (1982), J. Jeremias (1971) and W. G. Kümmel (1973).
2. The commentaries by H. D. Betz (1979) and F. E. Bruce (1982) on Galatians are excellent.
3. On these hymns, see J. T. Sanders, The New Testament Christological Hymns (1971) and E. Schweitzer, Lordship and Discipleship (1960).
4. The commentaries by E. Käsemann (1980) and C. E. B. Cranfield (1979) on Romans are excellent. See also M. Barth, Justification: Pauline Texts Interpreted in the Light of the Old and New Testaments (1971) and the provocative K. Stendahl, Paul Among Jews and Gentiles, Birmingham, England, SCM, 1977.
3 – Faith According to James
A truth presented in two dissimilar situations easily appears to be two different truths. Our natural inclination when we speak to people is to accommodate or tailor what we have to say so that they can, from within their situation, appreciate the message. For example, suppose my message is: “For the good of the country, the government requires all people of eighteen years to do military service for one year.” The way I present the need and importance of this military service will differ, perhaps greatly, in my address to a club of retired army officers and in my chat to teenagers at a youth club. Further, if two people are involved in communicating this message and if each one goes to a separate group, then the differences between the two presentations will be obvious.
The clue to the different presentations of the combined theme of justification-works-faith in the letters of Paul and the letter of James is that each writer was addressing a separate problem from a distinct perspective. Both were in agreement that the gospel of God calls for and creates saving faith in us; further, both held that such genuine faith should be expressed in a new quality of life. Yet each had his own ministry in a particular context with specific needs and questions. Therefore, in presenting the one truth in these two very different human and religious situations, it is not surprising that the emphasis of each one is not identical. James is the leader of the Christian community in Jerusalem and writes for Christian Jews.1 Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles and writes to the churches he has founded or with which he wants to make contact. It should not surprise us that we have to make an effort to recognize the unity within the dissimilarity.
Martin Luther was unable to see this unity. He referred to James’ letter as “an epistle of straw” and dismissed its teaching as “contradicting St. Paul and the rest of Scripture by giving righteousness to works.” Like others of his day, he believed the letter should not have been included in the canon of the New Testament. Happily today, both from a scholarly perspective and the needs of ministry at the grassroots level, we can perceive the need for the teaching of both St. Paul and St. James. The actual tension they set up in our thinking is the very tension we find in seeking to live as Christians today.
The passage in James which is the center of discussion is 2:14–26, which may be entitled, “Christian Faith Expressed in Christian Deeds.”
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (vv. 14–17)
Where the NIV translates the Greek ergon as “deeds” the RSV has “works” and the TEV “actions.” Paul taught that salvation is by faith and not by deeds/works/actions. James teaches that faith must be accompanied by deeds/works/actions. Why? Paul had in mind those actions done to fulfill the requirements of the Law of Moses so one can claim that the Law has been obeyed. James has in mind here deeds or actions of love. These may be understood as all types of duties, inward and outward – thoughts as well as words and actions (towards God or to human beings) which proceed from a heart and will that love God and seek to please him. James saw very clearly that genuine faith is inevitably linked to authentic works of love, especially within the Church, the community of love.
James proceeded to face the challenge of those who said: “I have faith; I know and accept the Christian creed. However, I cannot see that Christian behavior is absolutely required by the Christian creed. Surely it is enough merely to believe.” If James wrote before Paul, then here we have an example of a particular heresy which arose in early Jewish Christianity. If he wrote after Paul’s teaching on justification by faith was known, then he was facing an exaggerated (and therefore unfair) presentation of Pauline theology.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder. (w 18, 19)
There are several problems of translation here (as a comparison of the English versions reveals). What James is saying is something like this: “You who are in error claim to have faith, and I make the claim by God’s grace to have works and deeds. I can prove the existence of my faith as well as its quality by my actions and behavior. But I challenge you, indeed I defy you, to prove to me or any rational being either the existence or the quality of your faith. It is my conviction that without Christian action and behavior you cannot possibly have genuine faith in your hearts.” The proof of the pudding, as we say, is in the eating, and the proof that anyone truly believes and trusts in God is that he lives in a manner which is pleasing to God. Faith is not only a matter of believing that God exists and that Jesus is the Messiah; it is also a matter of trusting God and obeying him. If faith were only a matter of believing that God and Christ exist, the devils would be justified and saved!
It was impossible for anyone to discuss the topic of faith and deeds/works without making reference to Abraham because of his unique place in the covenant God made with his people. Still addressing the person whom he judged to be in error, James continues in verses 20–24:
You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.
The readiness of Abraham to sacrifice Isaac was the greatest trial of his faith – as Genesis 22 makes clear. His unquestioning and simple faith in God revealed a trust in the Lord like that a child has in his parent – as Hebrews 11:17–19 celebrates. His readiness to sacrifice was a deed of love for God which showed that he was in a right relationship with God – he was considered righteous. This and other deeds of love were the products of real faith, a faith that came to maturity (completion) in Abraham’s acts of obedience to God’s call and direction. In fact, the sacrifice of Isaac as a deed of love is to be interpreted as a fulfillment of Abraham’s justification by faith (Gen. 15:6).
It is to be noted that where Paul employs the example of Abraham to dismiss the claim of salvation by works of the Law of Moses, James uses it to illustrate the futility of a dead faith. James saw Abraham as a man with genuine and living faith which had to find expression in deeds of love. In his way of understanding the matter, Genesis 15:6 is to be interpreted by Genesis 22: faith and works of love are necessary for justification – a right relationship with God. In contrast, Paul talked of faith alone and the fruit of righteousness (Phil. 1:11). Both Paul and James saw an integral connection between the Christian creed and the Christian ethic. Faith alone justifies, but the faith that justifies is not alone.
The final part of 2:14–26 presents Rahab as an unexpected example of justification by faith and works of love.
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (vv. 25, 26)
Rahab was a Canaanite woman who had been a prostitute and who became a proselyte, and thereby a member of Israel (Josh. 2). By her conduct in helping the men of Israel, she offered proof that real faith expresses itself in deeds of love. Thus through the example of patriarch and prostitute James sought to prove that justification is by a true faith which operates in, cooperates with, and is vindicated by works. Faith without deeds of love is not a genuine faith: it is that kind of believing of which demons are capable.
The difference of emphasis between Paul and James may be expressed in terms of the Old Testament theme of .sdq, which we noted has both a forensic and an ethical import. It is clear that in Paul’s teaching the forensic idea of righteousness (being declared righteous by God the judge) is prominent. In contrast, for James there is the dual emphasis of righteousness/justification as both acceptance in God’s sight and as deeds of love. Rightly to understand Paul is to accept the teaching of James since Paul looked to all who are justified by faith to be those in whose lives the fruit of the Spirit could be seen.
We have noted how Martin Luther failed to grasp the particular message of James. He tended to assume that the “works” or “deeds” were identical in the teaching of the two apostles. Before Luther’s time the most influential attempt to overcome the apparent contradictions in the two writers came from Augustine of Hippo (to whose teaching on justification we turn in Part 2). He claimed that Paul referred to “works” that preceded faith while James referred to “works” which followed faith. This solution is true of James but not of Paul. As we saw, Paul was against “works” which were offered to God to gain justification, whether before faith or after it. The other major point that Augustine made was to distinguish between “dead faith” which even the devils possess (Jas. 2:19) and the true faith which is both active in love (Gal. 5:6) and revealed in “works” (Jas. 2:18).
If we think of the different theologies (Pauline, Johannine, Lukan, etc.) of the New Testament along the analogy of the rainbow (which is a unity of seven colors – red to violet), then we can say that while they certainly belong together in the one Testament, the theologies of Paul and James on justification are as different as the two most dissimilar colors in the rainbow. However, as we need those two very different colors to have a rainbow, so we need the differing emphases of James and Paul in the Bible and in the Church.
Notes: Chapter 3
1. Useful commentaries on James have been written by J. Adamson (1976), M. Dibelius (1976) and C. L. Mitton (1966).
4 – The Holiness of the Saints
“Holy” and “holiness” are words often used in the vocabulary of worship and prayer. Catholic Christians talk about the “holiness” of the “saints,” and Protestant Christians sometimes speak of the need for “sanctification” in their lives. All types of Christians pray, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” In the Greek New Testament, “holy” translates hagios (hagiotēs is “holiness”; hagioi are “saints”; and hagiazō is “to sanctify” or “to hallow”). In the Latin New Testament the equivalent words are sanctus, sanctitas, sancti and sanctifico. So while the Greek of the New Testament uses one basic word, hagios, and its cognates, the English we speak uses words from Old English (halig, holy) and the Latin, (sanctus) to translate it. Thus the relation of “holiness” and “sanctification” is much the same as that we noted between “righteousness” and “justification.”
In the English New Testament, “holy” is commonly used to translate the Greek hagios, “holiness” (hagiotes), and “saints” (hagioi). So we shall look first at holiness and sanctification in the Old Testament and then turn to the New Testament. We shall find out that there is not one simple meaning but a cluster of related meanings.
The Old Testament1
Wherever God’s presence was felt, the Israelites encountered the wonder and mystery of holiness. Take the events recorded in Exodus 19 as an example. The people of Israel, recently liberated from Egypt, were camped near Mount Sinai. Moses went up the mountain to hear from the Lord, who was about to make a covenant (agreement) with this people. The way in which God revealed himself on the mountain and his call for consecration from the people illustrate the wonder and mystery of holiness.
God revealed himself as the holy Lord: “Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder” (vv. 18, 19). The association of holiness and fire is common in the Old Testament (see also 2 Sam. 22:9ff.; Ezek. 1:4ff.); and in the New Testament God is described as “a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:26–29). A great fire attracts by its powerful light and repels by its heat, and these two characteristics well represent the holiness of God.
The people sanctified themselves by washing their clothing, by abstaining from sexual relations and by not touching the mountain where the theophany (= temporal and spatial manifestation of God) took place. Sanctification, or the act of making holy, is the transition from the realm of the profane to that of direct association with God. In this case the people were responding to the call of God, who had liberated them from the slavery of Egypt and was about to renew (in a special form of administration) the covenant of grace he had made with their ancestor, Abraham. They were to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (19:6). Within the covenant (Ex. 20ff.), they learned that not only as a total people were they holy (that is, set apart for God), but that there was also a sanctification of certain times, space, things and persons. They were to keep holy the Sabbath day (Ex. 20:8) and the festivals (Lev. 23:4ff.). The land in which they were to live was God’s territory, and so must not be polluted with idolatry and immorality; it was holy ground (Lev. 18:27, 28). Jerusalem was to become the holy city (Isa. 8:18; 18:7; 30:29). Especially holy was the Tabernacle (and then the Temple), along with its furniture and vessels (Ex. 30:25–29; 40:9–11; Lev. 8:10ff.). Finally the persons of the ministers of the sanctuary were holy (Ex. 30:30; 40:13ff ). Thus, by his call and covenant the Lord made his people holy; but they expressed this sanctification in terms of making themselves holy in the ways God directed. They thereby showed that they belonged to the holy Lord and were not as other nations.
The revelation of the Lord on Mount Sinai emphasized the unapproachableness and remoteness of the Lord. Whoever stared at the holy mountain when the Lord descended perished (Ex. 19:21; cf. Judg. 13:22), for no person may see God and live (Ex. 33:20). This aspect of the holiness of God is particularly evident in the terrifying stories of the impact of the holy ark of the covenant upon the men of Beth Shemesh (1 Sam. 6:19, 20) and the Philistines (2 Sam. 6, 7). The ark was holy because it served as the symbol of the holy Lord’s covenant with a holy nation. To examine it out of curiosity was to trifle with the holy Lord – just as touching or looking at the mountain at the time of the theophany was to trifle with his holiness. We read, “God struck down some of the men of Beth Shemesh, putting seventy of them to death because they had looked into the ark of the LORD. The people mourned because of the heavy blow the LORD had dealt them, and the men of Beth Shemesh asked, ‘Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God? To whom will the ark go up from here?’” (1 Sam. 6:19, 20). There is a distance between the Lord and human beings which is more than the distinction between eternity/infinity and space/time.
Perhaps the most well-known presentation of God as holy in the Old Testament is that found in Isaiah 6, the vision of the prophet. He saw the Lord exalted above the Temple but nevertheless filling the Temple with his glorious robe. The seraphim, as servants of the Lord, called one to another, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” God’s holiness as encountered by Isaiah was not only his wholly otherness; it was also his total perfection and absolute purity. He is separated from the creation, though his glory fills it; he is also separated from all impurity and sin, though he will cleanse it. Isaiah had to confess, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” God, the Holy One, commanded one of the seraphs to minister to Isaiah and with a coal from the burning sacrifice of atonement to touch his lips and cleanse him from sin. Thus cleansed, he was able to respond to the call of God to go as the divine messenger to the people of Israel.
It is clear that the holiness of God in the experience and teaching of Isaiah includes an ethical dimension of moral purity. But it would be false (as in some popular Christian thinking) to reduce the holiness of God to moral categories alone. The transcendence, apartness and otherness of God remain when the moral attributes have been exhausted. In fact, God acts in righteousness to save and to punish because he is first and foremost holy. Isaiah recognized this: “But the LORD Almighty will be exalted by his justice, and the holy God will show himself holy by his righteousness” (5:16). Further, Isaiah taught that God makes himself known as the Holy One who in his holiness redeems his people (41:14; 43:4, 14; 47:4; 49:7; 54:5) and executes judgment (1:4-9; 5:13-16; 30:8-14).
The definite association of holiness with love/mercy in God reaches its clearest portrayal in the Old Testament in the book of Hosea. Through his experience as a husband of an unfaithful wife, this prophet learned about God’s holy hatred of sin and his love for sinners. The apparent tension between holiness (which must destroy sin) and mercy (which works for the restoration of sinners) is conveyed in some of Hosea’s prophetic oracles. For example, the Lord spoke to him about both what he, the Lord, ought to do and what he would do for his people who had betrayed and forsaken him: “I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor devastate Ephraim again. For I am God, and not man – the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath” (11:9). Later the Lord said, “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my. anger has turned away from them” (14:4). Hosea learned that the Lord is holy and merciful. But for a full picture of God’s holy love we have to read the New Testament.
The holiness of God cannot be presented merely as his wholly otherness, but must also be expressed in terms of eternal moral perfection; likewise the holiness of God’s people cannot merely be seen in terms of separation from wickedness, but must also be seen in terms of a morally upright life. Leviticus 19 provides an excellent example of this principle. Moses was commanded by the Lord: “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.’” Then follows a long list of commandments in the keeping of which as God’s separated people they will express holiness in terms of moral integrity. These commandments refer both to external behavior (e.g., not to defraud the neighbor) and to right attitudes (e.g., not to hate the brother but to love the neighbor as oneself). Holiness in Israel included righteousness of life in thought, word and deed. Further, as Psalm 15 clearly indicates, only “he whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous” is to live on the holy hill of Zion and worship the Lord, the Holy One. God’s setting us apart as his people should lead to a reflection in daily life of his moral purity and perfection.
The New Testament2
The writers of the New Testament assume that God is holy. Only seldom, however, do they explicitly say so (e.g., Rev. 4:6–10; 16:4–7; 1 Pet. 1:15, 16; John 17:11). On a few occasions Jesus is called holy (e.g., Luke 1:35; Mark 1:24; John 6:69; Acts 3:14; 4:30; Rev. 3:7). Further, in the style of the Old Testament, things and places are sometimes called holy – e.g., the “Holy Scriptures” (Rom. 1:2) and the “holy” law of God (Rom. 7:12). Perhaps the best way to state the difference between the Old and New Testaments is to say that in the New there is a great emphasis on the presence and work of the Spirit of God as Holy Spirit. As the One who bears the name and characteristics of Jesus (John 14–16), the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete sets people apart for God in the name of Jesus, the Holy One and Messiah. They can be set apart for God because of the sacrificial blood of Jesus, shed for the remission of their sins (Heb. 10:29). We are set apart for God by the atoning work of Christ, and we are set apart for God in the work of the Holy Spirit. The one is done once and for all; the other is done continually in the Church on earth until the end of the age. Sanctification, like justification, is clearly the work of God.
The teaching of the Apostle Paul concerning sanctification may be said to begin with the idea that believers are presented to God the Father in Jesus Christ, who is their holiness/sanctification. In Christ we were chosen by God out of all peoples and placed on God’s side in Christ and dedicated to his service. “You are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). Only in Christ do we have a right relationship with God (“Christ ... our righteousness”) and a place by God’s side over against the profane world (“Christ ... our holiness”). The Church is composed of those who are “sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1:2). Put another way, the community of believers is “called to be saints” (Rom. 1:7), so that local churches may be described as “the congregations of the saints” (1 Cor 14:33). In Christ all believers are saints. Martyrdom or great personal virtue is not a prerequisite because, as Paul told the church in Corinth, “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). The church is the community of the sanctified and the congregation of the saints.
The people who are already made holy in Christ are called to be holy in daily living. “It is God’s will that you should be holy; that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God” (1 Thess. 4:3–5). For Paul it is crystal-clear that “God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life” (1 Thess. 4:7). In looking at the apostle’s teaching on righteousness and holiness in Romans 6:19–22, we noted in Chapter 2 that sanctification has reference to that segment of the Christian life which involves total dedication to the service of the holy Lord.
Since the concept of holiness is much used in the Old Testament with reference to the cultus – the place and means of the worship of God the Holy One – it is not surprising that Paul uses this association to emphasize both the consecration to God and the purity of life required by those who are consecrated to such a deity. The Church is a holy temple (1 Cor. 3:16, 17; Eph. 2:21); believers are to present their bodies to God in the form of living, holy sacrifices (Rom. 12:1). In fact, Christ sanctified the whole Church and made it his own by his sacrifice at Calvary, so he could present it as a pure, spotless sacrifice at the end of the age (Eph 5:27).
Holiness, a state of belonging to God and being dedicated to him, relates directly to the Church’s being called to service and sacrifice in the power of the Holy Spirit. It will not surprise us that whenever Paul used the verb hagiazō the subject was always God the Father, Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit. Sanctification is the work of God. However, Paul did sometimes use the noun sanctification (hagiasmos) in such a manner as to suggest that for the actual realization of sanctification in the life of the Church and its individual members, the total commitment and dedication of the believers is required (2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Thess. 4:7). But in the strict sense there is no such thing as self-sanctification. It is a work of God into which he nevertheless calls for and makes use of the cooperation of the whole Christian community.
In the letter to the Hebrews (which in the history of the Church has often been regarded as written by Paul) Christ is presented as the sanctifier of his people. “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (10:10). Here the perfect tense of hagiazō is used, conveying the idea of something done once for all time. By the sacrificial death of Jesus we have been placed on God’s side and consecrated to him forever. At 10:14 there is a change of tense: “By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” Here the verb “perfect” is in the perfect tense, referring to that perfection of the people of God which is accomplished once and for all by Christ our High Priest in his mediatorial work. In 10:29 we read of “the blood of the covenant that sanctified” the Christians; this refers to Christ’s inaugurating the new covenant by his sacrificial death and thus setting the people of the new covenant on God’s side. We also read at 13:12, “Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.” This is a reference to Golgotha, situated outside the city walls of old Jerusalem where Jesus suffered in order to sanctify his people and to bring them to God. Because Christ is our sanctifier, let us “through Jesus Christ ... continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (13:15, 16). Here the association of worship and holiness is clear; the holy sanctuary of the old covenant becomes the holy people of the new covenant.
Finally we need to notice the use of the great Old Testament call to holiness among God’s people as cited by the Apostle Peter: “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’ “ (1 Pet. 1:14–16). Here the ethical dimension is prominent. Christians are to show their consecration to God by the way they live.
Justification and Sanctification Compared3
If we examine the relationship of justification and sanctification in the letters of Paul (or in the whole of the New Testament) we cannot simply conclude that we are first declared righteous and then made holy by God – justification followed by sanctification. The relationship is more subtle. First of all, the words gain their meaning from different contexts; justification is a forensic term, while sanctification is a cultic metaphor. Thus their meanings can often be parallel without being identical – sanctified in Christ and justified in Christ. Here the tense is past tense, for in the death and resurrection of Christ the people of God are already justified and sanctified. The one has reference to being declared in a right relationship with God the Father; the other has reference to being placed on God’s side and consecrated to his service.
In the second place, while justification has a primary reference to God’s personal relationship (as judge) with the individual believer, declaring him to be in the right, sanctification normally describes what God does for his people and calls for from them as a whole – “called to be saints” and made a “holy nation.” Certainly at a secondary level of meaning, to be justified also means being placed with others in the covenant of grace; and to be sanctified must have personal reference as well as a community dimension, for a community is composed of persons.
Thirdly, justification as an act of God, the judge, has no explicit reference to the actual making of a person righteous in a moral sense. An implicit reference, however, is there since it is the one Lord who pronounces acquittal and calls for right relationships with the Church and the world. In contrast, sanctification often has an explicit reference to actually making the Christian community holy in terms of moral perfection. Thus, the idea of sanctification has a larger reference than justification, for it describes what the people of God are in Christ and what they are to become in real-life situations. Thus in sanctification, understood as that which takes place on earth under the control of the Holy Spirit, God calls for the wholehearted response and self-dedication of believers. In justification there is only one appropriate response to God’s Word and promise, and that is believing submission to the Word of the living God.
God’s justification of the sinner must lead to ethical, internal sanctification; but justification can never be based on man’s ethical attainments. God’s justification must lead to righteousness of life, but such righteousness of life is never the basis for God’s justification. The only ground for our justification before God is what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for us in death and resurrection; he, and he alone, is our righteousness. Likewise, the only basis of our sanctification before God and within us is the saving work of Christ, who is our holiness. Our sanctification in Christ before God must lead to a righteous life, but right deeds and right relationships can never be used for our sanctification before the Father. It is clear that the only source of our justification and sanctification is God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
When we come to study Protestant theology in Part 2, we shall see that sanctification has often been understood solely in terms of a process within the Church and the believer of a growth towards perfection in love. Its reference to our objective standing as already sanctified before the Father has been little emphasized in dogmatic theology. Another related matter is also worth mentioning here. In Protestant systematic theology the concept of regeneration or new birth by the Spirit has often been presented as the beginning of the process of sanctification – the idea being that new birth begins new life. It is not necessary to supply here a sketch of the New Testament teaching on regeneration. It is perhaps sufficient to remark that the word or its cognates is rarely used by Paul (see Titus 3:5 though), who apparently preferred the alternative picture of “new creation” (see 2 Cor. 5:17). However, in the Johannine material the picture of new birth (or birth from God who is above) comes fairly often (see John 1:13; 3:3, 7; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7). The New Testament use of regeneration implies more than the beginning of a process. Its full meaning may be said to overlap at certain points with the meaning of sanctification (when understood as the process moving towards moral perfection). Regeneration and sanctification cannot merely be seen in the New Testament as the beginning and continuation of a process. There is much, much more to the dynamic of life in Christ than this.
Notes: Chapter 4
1. For the understanding of holiness with reference to the cultus, see J. Pedersen, Israel, Volumes 3, 4, pp. 198ff.; op. cit., N. H. Snaith, The Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament, pp. 21ff.; and O. R. Jones, The Concept of Holiness (1961). There are useful articles on holiness and sanctification in op. cit., The Interpreter’s Dictionary
2. See the article “Holy” and the literature cited in The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology Vol. 2, ed. Colin Brown, Grand Rapids, Zondervал, 1977; Exeter, England, Paternoster Press.
3. Compare Hans Küng, Justification, excursus 2 on “Justification and Sanctification,” London, Search Press, 1964.
Part 2: Historical
5 – Augustine and Aquinas
Writing in 1874, the Scottish theologian Robert Rainy claimed that the tenet of justification by faith was the result of a genuine doctrinal development.1 As dogma, justification through the imputed righteousness of Christ and by faith had not been explicitly taught in the post-apostolic, pre-Luther Church. This claim may come as a surprise to some Protestants, for it has been common to assert that the doctrine of Luther was the recovery of the doctrine taught by Augustine of Hippo or by one or other of the late medieval theologians.
For example, G. S. Faber, an Anglican clergyman, authored The Primitive Doctrine of Justification (1837) in which he claimed that the teaching of Protestantism was in substance the same as that of the early Greek and Latin fathers of the Church. James Buchanan, a Free Church of Scotland clergyman, wrote a major book, The Doctrine of Justification (1867) in which he confidently appealed to the patristic period. He wrote:
It is of special importance that the precise object and reason of any appeal to the Fathers on the subject of justification should be distinctly understood. It is simply to prove a matter of FACT, in opposition to an erroneous assertion – the fact, namely, that the Protestant doctrine of justification was not a novelty introduced for the first time by Luther and Calvin – that it was held and taught, more or less explicitly, by some writers in every successive age – and that there is no truth in the allegation that it had been unknown for 1,400 years before the Reformation. (p. 94)
A careful study of the quotations supplied by Faber and Buchanan proves only one thing – the early Fathers believed that salvation is by grace. The Victorians claimed too much and read back into an earlier period the structure of thought which belonged to a later period. This will become apparent as we look at the teaching of Augustine and Aquinas.
To look for serious discussions on justification in the writings of the Fathers before Augustine is to look in vain. Apparently no theologian or biblical commentator felt a need to attempt to translate St. Paul’s teaching on righteousness and faith into contemporary terms. This may be accounted for in terms of a decline in the doctrine of grace. More probably it was because it was held that Paul’s teaching had a particular reference to the problem of Judaizers in the Church, and this problem had long since departed. Whatever the reason, the Christian life was not seen in terms of justification. If there was a dominant way of looking at the Christian life, is was in terms of what was then called “deification,” giving the word a different meaning than that which we so quickly attribute to it today.
The idea of deification or divinization as taught in the patristic period has often been misunderstood by Protestants.2 It has been seen as contrary to Scripture, as blurring the distinction between God and man, and as distinctively “Eastern” in tone and content. It is found in the teaching of both Eastern and Western fathers up to Augustine (and afterwards). However, it is more usual today to think of it as an Eastern or Orthodox (Greek and Russian) doctrine.3
When the teachers of the early Church spoke of deification or divinization, there was no intention of claiming consubstantiality with God, for, in the words of the Creed, only Christ is one in substance with the Father. The idea could rather be summarized something like this: the eternal Logos became flesh and dwelt among us in order to live our life, face. our temptations, die for us and be exalted for us; as the second Adam and thus as representative man, what he did as One who possessed our human nature he actually did for all of us – especially those of the human race who by the Holy Spirit are. in union with him. Salvation is wrought by Christ for us and is achieved in us when his Spirit dwells in our hearts. The biblical basis of such teaching was anchored firmly in the Word-flesh Christology of John’s Gospel.
Further, man was seen in terms of the description in Genesis – made “in the image and likeness of God.” The image had been impaired and the likeness defaced through sin and Satan, but grace would renew and renovate every believing individual after the pattern of Christ, the true image of God. St. Paul’s teaching concerning becoming sons of God by adoption and possessing the Spirit as the seal of sonship (Rom. 8) was also important – even more so perhaps than the famous statement of 2 Peter 1:4 that Christians are “partakers of the divine nature” (RSV). Psalm 82:6 also was influential: “You are gods ... sons of the Most High.”
In the light of this type of biblical background, Athanasius (c. 296–373 felt able to make such statements as, “The Word became man so that we might be deified” (i.e., made like God), and, “The Son of God became man so as to deify us in himself.” That he saw sonship and deification as identical comes across in the statement, “By becoming man he made us sons to the Father, and he deified men by himself becoming man.”4 More clearly, his belief that salvation is only enjoyed by those who are united to Christ is seen in this statement:
This is God’s loving-kindness to men, that by grace he becomes the Father of those whose Creator he already is. This comes about when created men, as the apostle says, receive the Spirit of his Son crying, “Abba, Father,” in their hearts. It is these who, receiving the Spirit, have obtained power from him to become God’s children. Being creatures by nature, they would never have become sons if they had not received the Spirit from him who is true Son by nature.5
Thus we may grow into closer communion with God through Christ and become less attached to and dominated by those forces in the universe which cause alienation and disorder. This is the process of becoming genuinely human, if being human is seen in the light of Christ, the perfect man.
Augustine’s contribution to these concepts was to emphasize the love of God in the human heart reaching out to God and neighbor.
Augustine of Hippo (354-430)6
Some of Augustine’s writings – e.g., Confessions and City of God – rank among the classics of Western literature. His influence on the course of theology after his death was immense. The shape of medieval theology and aspects of Reformation theology were molded by his teaching. In fact, the development of Western theology owed more to St. Augustine than to any other theologian.
He applied his great intellect and spiritual perception to many issues. The problem that required his attention during the last twenty years of his life was the Pelagian controversy. Pelagius, a British theologian who was teaching in Rome, had taken offense at Augustine’s famous remark in his Confessions: “Grant what thou dost command, and command what thou wilt” (X.29).7 Pelagius claimed that the will of every human being was free to obey God’s will. Sin had not affected the freedom of the will either to choose or do the divine will. To Augustine and others, the religion of Pelagius appeared to be a religion without grace. Augustine used the teachings of Paul to show the errors and heresy of Pelagianism, and in so doing he expounded his doctrine of justification, along with related doctrines of the freedom of the will and the place of moral law.
Augustine wrote a great deal, but only some of his writings have been translated into English from the original Latin. Happily, the clearest statement of his response to Pelagianism occurs in The Spirit and the Letter, and this is available in translation.8 The teaching of Augustine on justification may be briefly stated as follows:
1. The justice/righteousness of God in the teaching of Paul is not an attribute of God, but that by which he justifies and gives salvation to the sinner. He made much use of the epistle to the Romans, where the gospel is said to be the power of God unto salvation because in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed (1:17; 3:21). Contrary to Pelagian exegesis, Augustine maintained that “the righteousness of God (is) not that by which God is righteous, but that wherewith he clothes man, when he justifies the ungodly.”9 He believed it “was hidden in the Old Testament and revealed in the New: called the righteousness of God, because by imparting it God makes man righteous.”10 This righteousness brings salvation because it is of God and through Jesus Christ, Savior and Mediator.
2. To justify means to make righteous. The Latin term justificatio is postclassical, so no readily available interpretation existed. Augustine decided that justificari means “to make righteous,” thereby apparently treating -ficari as the unstressed form of facere, as in sanctificatio, vivificatio and glorificatio. He held that the sinner is actually made righteous in justification.11 He briefly considered and rejected the possibility that “to justify” could mean “to pronounce righteous” (Section 45).
He wrote of righteousness as an internal gift of God. “Man is justified by the gift of God through the help of the Spirit.” “God confers righteousness upon the believer through the Spirit of grace.” And, “This is the Spirit of God by whose gift we are justified.”12
3. Justification describes the whole Christian life. It is both the initial event and the continuing process throughout life, leading to the perfect righteousness of the eternal kingdom of God. Justification is an event in and through baptism, at which time God forgives sin. Thereafter it is the internal growth of righteousness in the life of the believing sinner. In a sermon on Romans 8 Augustine said: “We have been justified; but this justice increases, as we make advance. And how it increases I will say, and so to say confer with you, that each one of you, already established in this justification, having received to wit the remission of sins by the laver of regeneration (= baptism), having received the Holy Ghost, making advancement from day to day, may see where he is, may go on, advance, and grow, till he be consummated, not so as to come to an end, but to perfection.”13
At the close of The Spirit and the Letter, Augustine wrote:
It follows, as I see it, that in whatever kind or degree we may define righteousness in this life, there is in this life no man entirely without sin: there is need for every man to give that it may be given to him, to forgive that it may be forgiven him, and in respect of any righteousness he possesses not to presume that it has come of his own making, but to accept it as of the grace of God who justifies; yet none the less to hunger and thirst for the gift of righteousness from him who is the living bread and with whom is the well of life – who so works justification in his saints that labor in the trial of this life, that there is always somewhat his bounty may add in answer to their prayer, or his goodness pardon upon their confession.14
To enter into the righteousness of the eternal kingdom, Augustine believed, the believer needed to persevere to the end of this life in faith and love.
When commenting on the book of Psalms he wrote: “He alone justifies who, by himself and not by another, is just. It is God who justifies, and ... by justifying them he makes them sons of God. If we have become sons of God ... this is due to gratuitous adoption, and not natural generation.”15
4. Justification is by faith and love. While Augustine often declared that justification is by faith, he much preferred to say that justification is by faith and love, or by love alone. This is because he took faith to be the act of believing in the sense of accepting the gospel on the authority of the Church which taught it. Such faith needed love, in terms of love of God and of neighbor, so that it was not merely a dead faith or a faith such as devils possess. Augustine wrote: “By the faith of Jesus Christ – the faith, that is, which Christ has conferred upon us – we believe that from God is given to us, and will be given yet more fully, the life of righteousness.” And, “The man in whom is the faith that works through love (Gal. 5:6) begins to delight in the law of God after the inward man; and that delight is a gift not of the letter but of the Spirit.” Also, “And this is the gift of the Holy Spirit, by which charity is shed abroad in our hearts; that charity alone which is the love of God from a pure heart and a good conscience and a faith unfeigned (1 Tim. 1:5).”16 For Augustine, amor (love) is a neutral term. When directed towards God it becomes charitas (charity). True righteousness is found when amor as charitas is directed to God and neighbor.
5. The grace of God prepares the will of man for justification and strengthens the will in justification. Augustine made the distinction between operative grace working before justification and cooperative grace working in the justified believer. The question of the freedom of the will was at the center of the Pelagian controversy. Augustine held that each man has free will but does not possess the liberty to function properly. Man as a sinner is incapacitated and needs the help of divine grace both to believe and to make progress in Christian commitment and life. The grace of God heals the free will so that it has true liberty to believe the gospel and to love God and neighbor. As the Bishop of Hippo remarked: “Not that the justification is without our will, but the weakness of our will is discovered by the law, so that grace may restore the will and the restored will may fulfill the law, established neither under the law nor in need of law.”17 And he also wrote: “As the law is not made void by faith, so freedom of choice is not made void but established by grace. Freedom of choice is necessary to the fulfillment of the law. But by the law comes the knowledge of sin; by faith comes the obtaining of grace against sin; by grace comes the healing of the soul from sin’s sickness; by the healing of the soul comes freedom of choice; by freedom of choice comes the love of righteousness; by the love of righteousness comes the working of the law.”18 So grace establishes liberty or freedom of choice and then assists liberty to achieve righteousness. Having a good will and moving with that will into good acts of love – this is righteousness.
It will be seen that while Augustine teaches the nonimputation of sin (= forgiveness from God) he does not teach the imputation of righteousness, as did Luther and Protestantism after him. Protestant writers from the sixteenth to the twentieth century have tried to find in Augustine the same doctrine of justification as is found in the Protestant confessions of the Reformation period.19 It has to be admitted that the great theologian of grace does not teach a “Protestant” doctrine of justification. In fact, Augustine never had more than a minimal knowledge of the Greek language and was therefore unable seriously to face the question of what dikaioō meant for St. Paul. Thus his legacy to the Latin West, which is still to be found in the Roman Catholic Church, is the interpretation of justification as both an event and process of making the unrighteous man into a righteous man.
St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–1274)
Declared “Doctor of the Church” by Pope Pius V in 1567, Aquinas still warrants careful study. His influence, especially over Roman Catholic theology, has been immense. He was both a philosopher and theologian and may be said to have baptized Aristotelian philosophy for use in the systematic presentation of Christian truth.20
Many Protestant students find it difficult to begin to read Aquinas. This is in part because his name is associated in much traditional Protestant thinking with salvation by works. It is also because his style, with its use of Aristotelian categories, seems so far removed from the dynamic and common-sense language of the Bible. It must be admitted that there is no easy way to understand Aquinas, but those who do persevere will realize, perhaps to their surprise, that he is a theologian of grace who certainly does not teach that we receive eternal life by human achievement.
The question of justification was treated by Aquinas at three points in his voluminous writings. First he discussed it in the context of the sacrament of penance in his Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, written between 1252 and 1256. This needs a brief explanation. The beginning of justification as the process of making righteous was seen as taking place at baptism. But what happened to justification when the person in the process of being made righteous committed sin? This is where the practice of private confession to a priest came in.21 The restoration of justification, or the reentry into the process of being made righteous, was seen as being effected by the grace of God through the use of the sacrament of penance, involving certain acts of the penitent and the absolution of the priest. So not only was the process of justification clearly linked with one sacrament; it was also placed definitely within the structures of the Church. Aquinas accepted this development even though, we can see now, it meant that the more dynamic idea of being made righteous, as presented by Augustine, was in danger of being lost as the process of growth in righteousness was made dependent on sacraments whose validity was guaranteed by the Church. The Protestant Reformation can be interpreted, in part, as a rejection of such a close identification.
The relation of justification to the sacraments of the Church is also dealt with by Aquinas in his Quaestiones Disputatae de Veritate, dating from 1256 to 1259. Baptism is the sacrament by which justification is begun, with the sacraments of penance and holy communion contributing to the process of justification.
His most mature discussion of the topic is to be found in the Summa Theologiae. Here it is not treated with reference to the sacraments but in the treatise on grace in the Seconda Pars, which traces the essential structure of the return of the sinner to God. In this approach Aquinas was adopting the method of theologians in the thirteenth century and seeking to bring clarity to the relation of the grace of God and human choice.
We shall be describing the view of Aquinas as it appears in the Summa Theologiae. The reader is invited to look carefully at the answer to question 113 as found in 1a2ae (Blackfriars edition, Vol. 30). First, however, a brief statement of his doctrine of grace (questions 109–112) will be helpful.
1. Grace is given to man wholly from outside man. Grace is the result of the presence and work of the Holy Spirit, who operates in the name of Jesus Christ. As such grace cannot be earned or merited, it always remains the gift of God and the initiative of God.
2. Grace is infused into the essence of the soul and dwells habitually there. Grace does not mean that a new nature or new potentialities as such are given to the soul. While grace and the human soul are different substances, grace is so present in the soul as to be called a habit or permanent disposition, which becomes the root or source of the virtues of faith, hope and love. Grace is also a quality in the soul in that it causes the soul to exist in a different way. Grace is also an accidental form of the soul in that while the substance of the soul remains what it always has been, grace gives it a purpose and meaning which belong not to the finite but to the infinite world.
3. Grace is not necessary for man to fulfill his role and purpose in nature as a man; but it is necessary for him to attain eternal life. As a creature, each human being has been given by God a purpose and an end within the created order. This includes a moral and spiritual perfection which belongs to man as an intelligent being. But it is a perfection within the finite, created order. Grace is not concerned primarily with making it possible for man to attain his natural end, but is rather concerned with making it possible for man to obtain the true vision of God with eternal life in Heaven. Had Adam not sinned, he would still have needed grace to cause him to be able to enter Heaven since even perfect or perfected human nature cannot gain entrance to Heaven on its own merits.
4. While grace has the effect of renewing and restoring the soul (which is impaired by sin), its primary purpose is to elevate the soul. The soul needs to be lifted into a higher plane of existence if it is to move towards the gates of Heaven and thus have a supernatural goal. Knowledge of such a goal is the gift of God by revelation and illumination, and the entrance into and the journey along the road to that goal is the gift of God’s grace. Grace elevates the soul to a plane at whose end is the true vision of God.
5. Grace is both beyond nature and in accordance with nature. God is the only source of grace and only he (normally via the sacraments) can infuse grace into the soul. So grace is beyond or outside nature in its origin and its essence. However, once infused, grace works within the soul, causing what is within the soul to move towards a different goal. Grace enables the soul and its powers of mind and will to move towards a supernatural goal. So it may be said to be acting within the soul in accordance with nature in that it causes only the elevation of the soul, not a change in the makeup of the soul. This is why salvation is said to be not the fulfillment of creation but the transcending of creation, for grace heightens or elevates the image and likeness of God within man so that it is directed towards God himself in his glory.
6. Grace is presented in ontological rather than psychological terms. Augustine saw grace as the activity of God healing and restoring the human motivation and will to their proper functions of loving God and neighbor (righteousness). Without denying these effects of grace, Aquinas described grace primarily in ontological terms. Grace elevates the soul to a new plane of existence; grace gives the soul a supernatural end and goal. Here, of course, is the influence of the Aristotelian categories which he adopted. The effect of the method of Aquinas is to offer a description of the dynamic experience of Christians (their life as disciples of Christ and servants of God) in nondynamic and nonexistential terms. Because his theology is so divorced from experience, many have found it (and the systems which have developed from it) hard to understand or to accept. Among these we must name Martin Luther.
7. Grace both justifies and sanctifies the sinner. Justification (justificatio) is presented as a process. It is a passing from a state of sin to a state of righteousness/justice. It is a movement from one state of being to another state. Sanctification (sanctificatio) is another way of describing the same process in terms of a deepening participation in the divine life through the presence of infused grace in the soul. As grace elevates and heightens the soul, it causes it to participate in the love of God. Thus it can be seen that despite (what may seem to many moderns) the unhelpful use of Aristotelian categories/words, Aquinas emphasizes that without grace there is no possibility of gaining eternal life. Turning in more detail to his doctrine of justification we find the same clear emphasis.
We must remember that (from a post-sixteenth century perspective) Aquinas’s discussion of justification is limited to what was called the processus justificationis (the process of justification), which had been defined as a theological topic for debate for about a century. While agreeing with his contemporaries that justification was the process of making just/righteous, he offered his own solution to this restricted theological problem of the process of justification. So his view of justification may be stated as follows.
8. The justification of the unrighteous is the effect of operative grace. God alone causes the beginning of the process of justification. God is the supernatural Mover, and the unrighteous are those who are moved to will the good (having previously willed that which did not please God). In question 111, article 2 Aquinas makes it very clear that no man can merit justification, for God alone can and does cause the process to begin. This particular action of God as Mover is called operative grace (gratia operans).
9. Justification is so named because it is the process whereby unrighteous man comes to possess supernatural justice (question 113, article 1). Aquinas carefully distinguished between human justice on the one hand and divine or supernatural or infused (or “metaphorical” in the Aristotelian sense) justice on the other. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to infuse supernatural justice into the human soul. It is the gift of God, the result of his operative grace, and it becomes the possession (since it is within the soul) of the baptized Christian.
10. Considered as a process or movement, justification may be said to have four logically distinct elements. Using the analogy of physical movement, he listed four requirements for the justification of the sinner. These are “the infusion of grace; a movement of free choice directed towards God by faith; a movement of free choice directed towards sin; and the forgiveness of sin” (question 113, article 6). This whole process is the result of operative grace, and it involves both a right relationship with God and the right ordering of the Christian life towards the love and obedience of God. The elements of this process can be discussed from various perspectives – temporal succession, logical sequence and human experience. What matters is that all four must be recognized.
It has rightly been said that “God’s gracious action upon us (according to Aquinas) is unique and unified in its origin and its ultimate goal (but) diversified in its effects in our plural, complex and evolving reality” as Christian believers.22
11. Within the process of justification the baptized Christian may gain merit through the effect of cooperative grace (gratia cooperans). Aquinas quoted Augustine with approval: “By his cooperation (with us) God perfects in us what he initiates by his operation; since by his operation he initiates our willing who, by his cooperation with us who will, perfects us” (question 111, article 2).23 Having made a clear distinction between operative grace and cooperative grace, the one initiating and the other continuing the process of justification, Aquinas went on to discuss merit as the effect of cooperative grace.
Aquinas held that while man cannot merit grace, he can in a state of grace and with the help of grace gain merit before God by his cooperation with God and his use of the grace given to him by God (question 114). Merit is based on God’s free decision in grace to reward baptized believers who seek to do his will. The biblical background to this is the teaching in the New Testament on rewards in the Kingdom of Heaven (see e.g., Matt. 5:12, 46; 6:1; 10:41, 42). In fact, Aquinas taught nothing new in this area and differs little from Augustine who said: “The merits of man are the gifts of God, and God does not crown your merits as your merits, but as his gifts.”24 Such teaching is fine when it is clearly expounded and clearly understood. Regrettably it has often been so taught or so received that it appears to produce a doctrine of salvation by works or by human effort. Certainly thousands of Protestants have understood Aquinas and the tradition of theology connected with him in this light.
After the time of Aquinas the doctrine of justification continued to be discussed in the different schools of medieval theology – e.g., Dominican and Franciscan. While differences of approach and method may certainly be detected, it is clear that the discussion remains within the general principle that “to justify is to make righteous.” As yet the idea that to justify is to declare or pronounce righteous has not appeared and will not appear until Luther. Thus the search for forerunners of the Reformers – that is, men (heretic or orthodox) who actually taught the Reformation doctrine of justification – has produced none and seems incapable of producing any.25
Notes: Chapter 5
1. Rainy, The Delivery and Development of Christian Doctrine (1874); see further P. Toon, The Development of Doctrine in the Church, Chap. 3, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1979.
2. The latest appears to be Ben Drewery “Deification,” in Christian Spirituality: Essays in Honour of Gordon Rupp, ed. Peter Brooks, Birmingham, England, SCM, 1975.
3. For expositions of this later understanding, see V. Lossky, In the Image and Likeness of God, Crestwood, N.Y, St. Vladimir’s, 1974 and John Meyendorff, Christ in Eastern Christian Thought, Chap. 6, Cгestwood, N.Y, St. Vladimir’s, 1975. Cf. E. L. Mascall, Via Media, Chap. 4, 1956, for a Western approach.
4. Cited by J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, New York, Harper & Row, 1978; London, Black, 1968, p. 378.
5. Ibid., p. 379.
6. The best study of Augustine is Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo, London, Faber, 1967.
7. For the Pelagian controversy, see Gerald Bonner, St. Augustine of Hippo: Life and Controversies, Chaps. 8, 9, London, 1963.
8. The best is by John Burnaby, Augustine: Later Works, Library of Christian Classics, Vol. VIII, Philadelphia, Westminster, 1980.
9. Ibid., Sec. 15, p. 205.
10. Ibid., Sec. 18, p. 208.
11. See further Alister McGrath, “Justification – ‘Making just’ or ‘Declaring just,’” Churchman, Vol. 96, No. 1 (1982), p. 45. Augustine clearly stated that “the word ‘justified’ is equivalent to ‘made righteous.’” See op. cit., Burnaby, Sec. 45, p. 228.
12. Op. cit., Burnaby, Sec. 15, p. 205.
13. Augustine, Sermons, Vol. 2, sermon 108, p. 781, in A Library of Fathers (1883).
14. Op. cit., Burnaby, Sec. 65, pp. 249, 250.
15. En in Psalm, XLIV.2. I owe this reference and translation to Dr. McGrath.
16. Op. cit., Burnaby, Sec. 18, 26, 49, pp. 208, 215, 233.
17. Ibid., Sec. 15, p. 205.
18. Ibid., Sec. 52, p. 236.
19. See the special pleading of James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification, Edinburgh, 1867, reprinted 1961, pp. 104ff. W. Heick, A History of Christian Thought, Vol. 1, p. 203 recognizes that Augustine is not a “Protestant” in this area and speaks of “a deplorable absence of an emphatic distinction between justification and sanctification....”
20. Studies of Aquinas by F. C. Copleston (1955), E. Gilson (1957) and M. D. Chenu (1974) are profitable.
21. On the development of private penance see O. D. Watkins, A History of Penance, two volumes, London, 1920.
22. Editorial comment on p. 129 of Summa (Blackfriars edition), Vol. 30.
23. De Gratia et Libero Arbitrio, 17, in Anti-Pelagian Writings, Vol. 3, Edinburgh, 1876.
24. Ibid., p. 6.
25. See H. A. Obermаn, Forerunners of the Reformation, New York, 1966, and A. E. McGrath, “Forerunners of the Reformation? A Critical Examination...,” Harvard Theological Review (1982).
6 – The Lutheran View
Of all churches it is the Lutheran which is most obviously associated with the doctrine of justification by faith. And for good reason. It was Luther who introduced the doctrine into the postmedieval Church. So our study begins with him.
Martin Luther (1483–1546)1
As both a personality and a writer, Luther raises deep feelings in many of us. He spoke from the heart with passion, but he did so via a powerful intellect. He was full of new ideas which were often expressed imprecisely. To interpret his thought and to present it systematically is a fascinating but difficult task. What he says about justification is clear in its outlines but sometimes apparently contradictory in details. It is found scattered in many rich writings, belonging to a period of thirty or so years. Perhaps the English-speaking student will most profitably encounter it in the translations of his Preface to the Epistle to the Romans (1515), The Freedom of a Christian Man (1520) and Commentary on Galatians (1535). These have often been reprinted and are available in a variety of editions.
Luther’s doctrine may be described as a restatement of the teaching of St. Augustine of Hippo in the light of his study of the letters of St. Paul (especially that to Rome). It became for him the article of faith by which the Church stands or falls. He saw the doctrine as contained in the whole of the Bible while recognizing that St. Paul gave it particular clarity in his controversy with Judaizers in Galatia and in his exposition of the gospel addressed to the Roman church. He made the teaching the foundation of his ethics.2 By this doctrine he challenged the Pope and the Church of Rome, and in the light of it he called for the reformation of the whole Church.
Luther saw this doctrine as the expression of the gospel. It brought together the God of grace and sinful, condemned man. It asserted that salvation is wholly by divine mercy and of the divine initiative; God in Christ has made salvation possible. Justification rests wholly on the grace of God revealed and given to sinful man in Jesus Christ, Savior and Mediator. That grace is desperately needed is seen in the position of human beings. Not only are they guilty before God, the just judge, in that they have broken his moral law, but they are also totally unable to help themselves since they possess an enslaved will. They can do nothing whatsoever to merit or gain salvation, for they are in bondage to sin. This is the theme of Luther’s book, The Bondage of the Will (1525).3
Luther believed doctrine and personal experience cannot be separated. Justification by faith arose as a clear concept in his mind after a long and painful search for a gracious God who would accept him as he was rather than condemn him for his sins. This absorbing search involved his whole self and included meticulous study of the Scriptures and consultation of the works of the Fathers. In particular it involved a study of the meaning of the righteousness/justice of God as Paul uses the expression in the letter to the Romans, especially in 1:16, 17 – “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’” (KJV). Luther explained:
I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but one expression, “the justice of God,” because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant.
Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that “the just shall live by his faith.” Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the “justice of God” had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in great love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven.4
It hardly needs adding that this discovery changed the direction of his life and led to his becoming an outstanding reformer of the Church.5 In fact, as Luther later realized, Augustine and many other writers had presented God’s justice (as found in Paul’s theology) not in terms of an attribute of God but as his saving and justifying activity.
It is tempting to comment on his fascinating career as a reformer but our task is to state and examine the explanation of justification which he offered not once but many times in his voluminous writings. His doctrine represented a major innovation and development in terms of the history of the doctrine of justification in the Western Church.6 It may also be claimed that his exposition reached a high point that his successors never quite reached. Our method will be to offer various headings and then explain each one.
1. The message of justification is the word of the gospel. The righteousness of God is the saving activity of God in Christ by the Holy Spirit. Thus righteousness is the foundation and the explanation of the gospel. When the good news is declared as the word of God, the gospel (by the Holy Spirit acting in the name of Christ) creates faith in the hearts of its hearers. God’s righteousness is that by which the gospel effectively creates true faith and establishes the state of being justified by faith. It is all of grace, from beginning to end. As an article of belief, justification by faith cannot be overestimated. As Luther wrote in the Schmalkaldic Articles of 1537: “Nothing in this article can be given up or compromised, even if Heaven and earth and things temporal should be destroyed.... On this article rests all that we teach and practice against the pope, and devil and the world. Therefore we must be quite certain and have no doubts about it. Otherwise all is lost and the pope, the devil and all our adversaries will gain the victory.”7
2. Justification is entirely based on the alien righteousness of the living Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever. It is an alien righteousness in the sense that it never belongs personally to the sinner; it is totally different from and contrary to his own (un)righteousness, and it belongs entirely and always to Jesus Christ. As Luther said: “Christ or Christ’s righteousness is outside of us and alien ... to us.” And, “To be outside of us means to be beyond our powers. Righteousness is our possession, to be sure, since it was given to us out of mercy. Nevertheless it is alien to us, because we have not merited it.” And, “This is a peculiar righteousness: it is strange indeed that we are to be called righteous or to possess a righteousness which is in us but is entirely outside us in Christ and yet becomes our very own, as though we ourselves had achieved and earned it.”8 There is a wonderful exchange by which our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s, and Christ’s righteousness no longer his alone but also ours.
In The Freedom of a Christian Man Luther wrote: “Because Christ is God and man, and has never sinned, and because his sanctity is unconquerable, eternal and almighty, he takes possession of the sins of the believing soul by virtue of her wedding-ring, namely faith, and acts just as if he had committed those sins himself. They are, of course, swallowed up and drowned in him, for his unconquerable righteousness is stronger than any sin whatever. Thus the soul is cleansed from all her sins by virtue of her dowry, that is, for the sake of her faith. She is made free and unfettered, and endowed with the eternal righteousness of Christ, her bridegroom.”9
It is important to note that Luther does not employ forensic terms to explain this imputation of alien righteousness. This development will come later, from others.
3. Justification is received in the form of faith since God justifies a sinner by giving him faith. Man possesses an enslaved will with sin as his master. Faith must be, and is, the gift of God, created by the power of God within the gospel. Luther makes clear that faith cannot be defined merely as assent to what the Church teaches or what the Bible says. It is not an idea in the head without a corresponding experience in the depths of the heart. Both the mind and will must turn to Christ in order to apprehend him.
Faith grasps Christ, appropriates him and makes him my own. This is fides apprehensiva. This means that Christ is not only the object of my faith but is also present in my faith. In this spiritual union the sinner participates in the righteousness of Christ and is justified.
Once true faith had been created by the word of the gospel, it expresses itself dynamically. As Luther wrote in Preface to the Epistle to the Romans.
Faith, however, is something that God effects in us. It changes us and we are reborn from God, John 1:13. Faith puts the old Adam to death and makes us quite different men in heart, in mind, and in all our powers; and it is accompanied by the Holy Spirit. O, when it comes to faith, what a living, creative, active, powerful thing it is. It cannot do other than good at all times. It never waits to ask whether there is some good work to do; rather, before the question is raised, it has done the deed, and keeps on doing it. A man not active in this way is a man without faith. He is groping about for faith and searching for good works, but knows neither what faith is nor what good works are. Nevertheless, he keeps on talking nonsense about faith and good works.10
In the light of these explanatory comments on the nature of faith, it will be recognized that to say sola fide is in fact to say that salvation is by grace alone. Because of his rich understanding of “faith” Luther only needs to say “justification by faith.”
4. Justification by faith is both an event and a process. What later Protestants were to divide, Luther kept together. He was quite clear that there is a moment when the sinner is actually justified by faith. He then has the righteousness of another, the alien righteousness of Christ, imputed to him. But this is the beginning of a journey towards a time (following the resurrection of the dead in the age to come) when he will in fact possess a perfect righteousness created in him by the Spirit of God. “For we perceive that a man who is justified is not yet a righteous man, but is in the very movement or journey towards righteousness.” And, “Our justification is not yet complete .... It is still under construction. It shall, however, be completed in the resurrection of the dead.”11 It is an event and process because faith, the gift of God, receives both the forgiveness of sins through the imputation of righteousness and also in the Spirit creates the new nature, the very nature which finds its fulfillment in the resurrection body.
5. Justification by faith means that the Christian is simultaneously sinful and just (simul iustus et peccator). While on earth, the position of the Christian does not change. He is totally righteous through faith, and he remains always and completely a sinner. With reference to Christ he is righteous; but with reference to his fallen nature he is sinful. Yet this apparent contradiction does not imply a static situation. The very faith that draws Christ into the heart and creates the new nature gladly and freely allows Christ to do battle against the old, sinful nature (= “the flesh”). The result of this spiritual conflict (described by St. Paul in Romans 7, 8) should be that “Christ is constantly formed in us and we are formed according to his own image.”12 Each and every day faith is to grasp anew the word of promise which is the gospel and appropriate Christ, who is our righteousness. Further, each and every day sin, the devil and temptation must be fought. Yet despite all the daily battles, the old nature remains with us until death. There is no escape from it, nor from the possibility of sin. So Luther has no doctrine of progressive holiness or growth in sanctification (as these terms were later used). The flesh or old nature does not change; rather, Christ (or really the new nature) grows within the believer. Justification includes the daily renewal of the new nature. The believer can never say he is less sinful than he was at any earlier time!
6. Justification by faith leads the Christian to love his neighbor in a genuine and practical manner. Because justification includes the creation of a new nature within the sinner, there is in him a new principle of divine love. Thus faith naturally seeks out the neighbor to love him.
Faith is a living and unshakeable confidence, a belief in the grace of God so assured that a man would die a thousand deaths for its sake. This kind of confidence in God’s grace, this sort of knowledge of it, makes us joyful, high-spirited, and eager in our relations with God and with all mankind. That is what the Holy Spirit effects through faith. Hence, the man of faith, without being driven, willingly and gladly seeks to do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of hardships, for the sake of the love and glory of the God who has shown him such grace. It is impossible, indeed, to separate works from faith, just as it is impossible to separate heat and light from fire.13
The second part of The Freedom of a Christian Man is devoted to establishing the truth of the statement that “a Christian is a dutiful servant in every respect, owing a duty to everyone.” Luther was quite clear that good works do not save a man from sin; but he was also quite clear that a justified man will perform good works for God’s glory and the benefit of mankind.
7. Justification by faith is paradoxical and contrary to reason. Luther held that God, as judge, was obliged to require perfect obedience to his law from his creatures and to punish them if they did not offer that obedience. The idea that they should be accepted by God because of an alien righteousness was at best paradoxical and at worst irrational. So in this area of doctrine, as in others, Luther delighted to affirm that the God of revelation and salvation, and thus the God who justifies, acts contrary to human reason. “Human nature, corrupt and blinded by the blemish of original sin, is not able to imagine or conceive of any justification above and beyond works.”14 Not all Luther’s successors accepted his position. In the period of Lutheran orthodoxy, theologians saw reason as a handmaid for the gospel and produced what may be called rational accounts of the doctrine of justification.
Having claimed that Luther’s doctrine was a restatement with modifications of Augustine’s teaching, we are now in a position to note what are those modifications. Further it will be helpful to note the major differences between Aquinas and Luther.
Augustine, Aquinas and Luther
Following his discovery of the meaning of righteousness in Romans 1:17, Luther read Augustine and was conscious that they did not wholly agree. In his enigmatic “Autobiographical Fragment” he wrote:
Later I read Augustine on The Spirit and the Letter, where beyond all hope I found that he also interprets the righteousness of God in the same way, as that in which God clothes us when he justifies us. And although Augustine’s statement is still open to criticism, and he is neither clear nor comprehensive in the matter of imputation, yet he is satisfied that the righteousness of God should be taught to be that by which we are justified.15
Luther certainly followed the bishop of Hippo in understanding the righteousness of God to mean the gracious, saving activity of God rather than an eternal attribute of God. Also they were agreed in seeing justification as a description of the whole Christian life, covering the relation of the soul to God as well as the renewal of the inner man.
But Luther saw the basis of justification in the alien righteousness of Christ (justitia extra nos), while Augustine located it within an internal, infused righteousness (justitia in nobis). They agreed that sin is not imputed to the believer and so justification includes forgiveness. Luther looked to the righteousness of Christ, who is always at God’s right hand but present in the Spirit. In contrast, Augustine looked to the righteousness actually imparted to the believer through the presence of the Spirit. So Luther talked of the imputed alien (external) righteousness of Christ; concerning this Augustine had nothing to say, for his emphasis was on the internal righteousness caused by the Spirit.
Secondly, Luther saw no progression within the internal aspect of justification because the old nature remains fundamentally the same, with the human will always enslaved to sin. In contrast, Augustine believed that the Christian is actually in a process of becoming righteous, with his will liberated by the Spirit so that his old nature can be renewed and perfected. For Luther, the all-important fact is the presence of Christ by the Spirit bringing his own life into the soul, that life being the new nature. Augustine, in contrast, saw the divine life as permeating and thus becoming in some sense the possession of the soul, so that the soul can grow in righteousness.
It is much more difficult to compare Aquinas and Luther. This is because their approaches are so very different. Otto Pesch has referred to the contrast of a “sapiential” and an “existential” theology.16 Luther described the position of the human being before God in personal and relational categories. In a personal relationship with God, experience affirms that sin and grace are not exclusive or even contradictory. Grace exists despite and because of human sinfulness. There is no absurdity in affirming simul justus et peccator.
In contrast, Aquinas, who offered a coherent explanation of the relation of a human being to God through objective, metaphysical causes, saw sin and grace to be exclusive categories. It is metaphysically and ontologically absurd to state that a person is in sin and in grace (righteousness) at the same time. Thus simul justus et peccator seemed to Roman Catholics who followed the general scheme of Aquinas to be quite ridiculous. In fact, it is the methodological differences which make it difficult to contrast what the two great men say about any aspect of doctrine – that of merit for example.17
Philipp Melanchthon (1497–1560)18
Luther and Melanchthon had very different personalities and backgrounds, but they worked together for reform in Germany. Whereas Luther was bold, impulsive, innovative and controversial, Melanchthon was calm, cool, rational and conciliatory. The former had been an Augustinian monk, whereas the latter had been and remained a humanist scholar. From Melanchthon came the first ordered presentation of Protestant (Lutheran) doctrine in the often reprinted Loci Communes (1521).19 Besides his biblical commentaries, he was also the primary writer of the Augsburg Confession (1530) and its Apology.20
The assumption that Luther and Melanchthon used identical thought patterns and imagery is misleading. Certainly there were important and striking similarities in their use of language, but there were also differences. (These differences were perhaps less significant at the time than they are now as we consider the development of doctrine with the benefit of hindsight.)
What Melanchthon wrote in the Loci (1521) about justification is in full accord with Luther’s teaching, though perhaps not having the same richness.
Therefore, we are justified when, put to death by the law, we are made alive again by the word of grace promised in Christ; the gospel forgives our sins, and we cling to Christ in faith, not doubting in the least that the righteousness of Christ is our righteousness, that the satisfaction Christ wrought is our expiation, and that the resurrection of Christ is ours. In a word, we do not doubt at all that our sins have been forgiven and that God now favors us and wills our good. Nothing, therefore, of our own works, however good they may seem or be, constitutes our righteousness. But faith alone in the mercy and grace of God in Christ Jesus is our righteousness. This is what the prophet says and what Paul discusses so often. “The righteous shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17).
Why is it that justification is attributed to faith alone? I answer that since we are justified by the mercy of God alone, and faith is clearly the recognition of that mercy by whatever promise you apprehend it, justification is attributed to faith alone. Let those who marvel that justification is attributed to faith alone marvel also that justification is attributed only to the mercy of God, and not rather to human merits. For to trust in divine mercy is to have no confidence in any of our own works. He who denies that the saints are justified by faith offends against divine mercy. For since our justification is a work of divine mercy alone and is not a merit of our own works, as Paul clearly teaches in Romans, chapter 11, justification must be attributed to faith alone; faith is that through which alone we receive the promised mercy.21
The differences in expression and figurative structure between Melanchthon and Luther begin to surface in the text of the Augsburg Confession and its Apology. The former reads:
IV. Of Justification.
They teach that men cannot be justified in the sight of God by their own strength, merits or works, but that they are justified freely on account of Christ through faith, when they believe that they are received into grace and that their sins are remitted on account of Christ who made satisfaction for sins on our behalf by his death. God imputes this faith for righteousness in his own sight (Romans iii and iv).
Here it may be noted that justification is expressed in forensic terms. This is clear in the Latin text, propter Christum per fidem (on account of Christ through faith). Whereas Luther consistently used personal images of relationship (e.g., bride and bridegroom) to describe the union of Christ and the sinner in which the alien righteousness of Christ is imputed to the sinner, Melanchthon (followed by others) began to use words and images – “pronouncement,” “acceptation,” “forensic” – taken from Roman law. God the judge pronounces sentence and declares that on account of the righteousness of another (Christ) the believing sinner is to be reckoned or accounted as righteous. In the Apology there are the following statements:
“To be justified does not mean that a wicked man is made righteous, but that he is pronounced righteous forensically” (Art. IV, 252); “It is faith, therefore, which God declares to be righteousness: St. Paul adds that it is accounted freely and denies that it could be accounted freely if it were a reward for works” (Art. IV, 89).
The understanding of imputation in a forensic sense was to increase as Melanchthon and others did battle with Osiander (whose views are discussed below). Though the change in the type of illustrative image may seem minor, it did have within it the possibility of viewing justification not as a statement of a God-created union of Christ and the sinner for the latter’s salvation, but rather as one of the blessings or benefits earned for his people by Christ.22
Another difference must also be noted. Whereas for Luther justification included regeneration and renewal, for Melanchthon (and the majority of orthodox Lutheran and Reformed protestants after him) justification came to be seen as only the declaration by God that a sinner is reckoned righteous. R. S. Franks has commented that Melanchthon sowed the seeds of a return to the analytic methods of the medieval schoolmen: “Above all justification and regeneration, the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit are carefully separated.”23 This conceptual distinction between justification and regeneration/sanctification came to assume great importance, especially after it was adopted by John Calvin. That Melanchthon could hold to such a distinction as well as teach forensic justification makes even stranger his claim that he taught the same doctrine of justification as Augustine.24
The same analytic methods to which Franks refers were used by Melanchthon to decide at what point in the process of psychological-religious experience God actually declares that the sinner is righteous. This tendency is seen in the revised edition of the Loci (1535) and especially in the third edition of 1543. How do the Word of God (proclaimed from Scripture), the power of the Spirit and the human will relate to each other in the process of conversion and in the declaration of justification? This question is related to the problem of the ordo salutis, with which Lutheran dogmaticians came to be concerned (see below). For Luther, the basic element in all false religion was the idea: “If I do thus and so, God will be merciful to me.” By making the movement of the human will or faith (or both) in some sense or another a cause of justification or as preceding justification, Melanchthon was testifying that the insight of Luther was being lost!
Andreas Osiander (1498–1552)25
Osiander joined the Lutherans in 1522 and in 1549 became professor at Königsberg, the place where his De Justificatione was published in 1550. His teaching caused controversy with Lutheranism and was deemed sufficiently important and erroneous by Calvin for him to condemn it in his Institutes.
The doctrine of Osiander appeared at first sight to be similar to that taught by Luther as well as by Augustine. Justification was only by grace received in faith. But he had no use for the idea that the righteousness by which the sinner is justified is either external or forensic. It was his view that it must be internal, and he located it within Christ himself who is made present in the soul through the Spirit, the Paraclete of Christ. However, and here he differed from Augustine, he meant by righteousness not what had come to be called the mediatorial righteousness of Christ, but rather his essential attribute as the eternal righteous Son of God. Thus, with Luther and Augustine, he accepted that justification is both the forgiveness of sins and the renewal of the soul; against Luther, he maintained that the righteousness was imparted not imputed; and against both Luther and Augustine, he maintained that the righteousness was only that of the divine nature of Christ. To add to the picture, against Melanchthon and other Lutherans, he denied forensic (imputed) righteousness. Thus he was vulnerable for criticism from many sides.
It is often the case that one extreme generates its opposite. Francesco Stancaro, an Italian, opposed Osiander in Königsberg by affirming that the righteousness of Christ by which we are justified is located only in his human nature. So later it was necessary in the Formula of Concord to affirm that the righteousness of Christ belongs to him as one person with two natures.
The Formula of Concord (1577)26
The controversy involving Osiander and Stancaro was not the only one within Lutheranism. There were others involving the questions of justification and good works and the ability or inability of the sinner to say yes or no to the call of God in the gospel. One major purpose of the Formula of Concord was to find a solution to the various theological disagreements within the Lutheran churches. This purpose was achieved at a time when the decrees and canons of the Council of Trent (1545–1563) on justification and other disputed areas were known. So while the Formula is primarily addressed to Lutheran disputes, it does so in the context of what was declared at Trent.
The Formula, as we would expect, makes a clear distinction between forensic justification and internal regeneration. The first is external and perfect; the latter is internal and to be perfected in the age to come. Article III reads:
We believe, therefore, teach and confess that this very thing is our righteousness before God, namely, that God remits to us our sins of mere grace, without any respect of our works, going before, present, or following, or of our worthiness or merit. For he bestows and imputes to us the righteousness of the obedience of Christ: for the sake of that righteousness we are received by God into favor and accounted righteous.
We believe, also, teach, and confess that faith alone is the means and instrument whereby we lay hold on Christ the Savior, and so in Christ lay hold on that righteousness which is able to stand before the judgment of God; for that faith, for Christ’s sake, is imputed to us for righteousness (Rom. 4:5).
In section V of this same article, regeneration and vivification are said to refer to the renewing of man “which is rightly distinguished from the justification of faith.” Later on the following is stated:
We believe, teach, and confess that, although antecedent contrition and subsequent new obedience do not appertain to the article of justification before God, yet we are not to imagine any such justifying faith as can exist and abide with a purpose of evil, to wit: of sinning and acting contrary to conscience. But after that man is justified by faith, then that true and living faith works by love (Gal. 5:6), and good works always follow justifying faith, and are most certainly found together with it, provided only it be a true and living faith. For true faith is never alone, but hath always charity and hope in its train.
So while good works can have no place whatsoever in the justification of the believing sinner they are necessary, in the sense that they should arise from a free and spontaneous spirit of love for God and man.
The period immediately following the production of the Formula is often called the period of Lutheran orthodoxy, when the great dogmaticians produced their systematic theologies. Of such writers perhaps the best-known are Johann Gerhard (1582–1637) and J. A. Quenstedt (1617–1685), the last of the line being David Hollaz (1648–1713).27 In their writings, justification is treated as external, forensic and imputed; further, it is clearly distinguished from sanctification and is thus presented as one among several important aspects of redemption/salvation. Though lip-service is paid to justification’s being the article of faith by which the Church stands or falls, the doctrine does not hold the strategic place in their systems that it did in the teaching of Luther.
It is possible to claim, as does R. Preuss,28 that Luther’s teaching has not been changed in its content, only clarified in a new controversial situation. Following the controversy caused by Osiander’s views as well as the teaching of the Council of Trent, it was simply not possible to continue to use the terminology of Luther, for if it had been used it would have played right into the hands of the enemy.
On the other hand, it is possible to claim that because of the preoccupation within Lutheran orthodoxy with the question of the ordo salutis, justification was actually made dependent upon repentance and faith within man. Certainly justification is carefully defined as an actus Dei forensis in foro coeli (a forensic act of God in the court of Heaven) in order to exclude anxious questionings of troubled consciences over the righteousness of their own works. However, in the ordo salutis justification is usually made to follow vocatio (calling), illuminatio (illumination), regeneratio (regeneration) and conversio (conversion). David Hollaz provides the following list: De gratia vocante, illuminate, convertente, regenerante, justificante, inhabitante, renovante, conservante and glorificante.
Thus, while justification is carefully defined as an act of God in Heaven and nondependent upon any spiritual/moral change in man, its place in the ordo salutis makes it dependent upon a change in man. What is gained by a radically objective definition of justification is apparently lost by its position in the order of God’s producing salvation in and for man.
Luther, it will be recalled, held that justification is received in the form of faith since God justifies a sinner by giving him faith. Since man’s will is enslaved, justification must be wholly and only the gift of grace.
Notes: Chapter 6
1. For studies of Luther see R. H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, Nashville, Abingdon, 1978; London, New English Library and James Atkinюn, Martin Luther and the Birth of Protestantism, Atlanta, John Knox, 1981. For a very useful collection of documents see Martin Luther, eds. Rupp and B. Drewery New York, St. Martin, 1970. The German edition of Luther’s works is known as the Weimarеr Ausgabe. There is an American edition, Luthеr’s Works, in fifty-five volumes, St. Louis, Concordia.
2. See further P. Althaus, The Ethics of Martin Luther, Philadelphia, Fortress, 1972.
3. There is an English translation by J. I. Packer and O. R. Johnston, published in London in 1953 and often reprinted. Luther’s book was aimed at refuting the views of Erasmus.
4. Cited by op. cit., Bainton, p. 65. See also op. cit., Rupp and Drewery, Martin Luther, p. 5.
5. See further the excellent chapter “The Problems of Luther’s ‘Tower Experience’ and Its Place in His Intellectual Development,” W. D. J. Cargill, in Studies in the Reformation: Luther to Hooker, London, Athlone Press, 1980.
6. For an exposition of Luther’s doctrine see Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther, Philadelphia, Fortress, 1966, and Regin Prenter, Spiritus Creator, Philadelphia, 1953. In German see A. Peters, Glaube und Work. Luther’s Rechtfertigungslehre im Lichte der Heiligen Schrift, Berlin, 1967.
7. There is a translation of these Articles in The Book of Concord, ed. T. G. Tappert, Philadelphia, Fortress, 1959, pp. 287–335.
8. Op. cit., Althaus, Theology of Luther, p. 228, citing Luther’s Works, 34, 153; 34, 178; 24, 347.
9. Reformation Writings of Martin Luther, two volumes, trans. B. L. Woolf, Vol. 1, New York, Philosophical Library, p. 363.
10. Op. cit., Reformation Writings, Vol. 2, pp. 288, 289.
11. Op. cit., Althaus, Theology of Luther, pp. 227, 237, citing Luther’s Works, 34, 152 and Weimarer Ausgabe, 39, 52.
12. Ibid., p. 245, citing Weimarer Ausgabe, 39, 252.
13. Op. cit., Reformation Writings, Vol. 2, p. 289.
14. Op. cit., Althaus, Theology of Luther, citing Luther’s Works, 34, 151.
15. Op. cit., Rupp and Drewery Martin Luther, pp. 6, 7.
16. O. Pesch, “Existential and Sapiential Theology – The Theological Confrontation between Luther and Thomas Aquinas,” in Catholic Scholars Dialogue with Luther, ed. Jared Wicks, Chicago, Loyola, 1970, p. 64ff.
17. Cf. B. A. Garrish, Grace and Reason, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1979, p. 133.
18. For studies of Melanchthon see R. Stupperich, Melanchthon, London, 1965; C. L. Manschreck, Melanchthon: The Quiet Reformer, New York, London, Greenwood, 1975; and M. Rogness, Melanchthon: Reformer Without Honor, Minneapolis, 1969.
19. For a translation of this see Melanchthon and Bucer, ed. W Pauck, Library of Christian Classics, Vol. XIX, Philadelphia, Westminster, 1980, p. 3ff.
20. There is a translation of the Augsburg Confession in P. Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, Vol. 3 and of the Confession and Apology in op. cit., Tappert, The Book of Concord.
21. Op. cit., Pauck, Melanchthon and Bucer, pp. 88, 89, 105.
22. It has been suggested that Melanchthon gained his forensic understanding of imputation from reading the comments on Romans 4:3 made by Erasmus in his Novum Instгumentum (1516). See op. cit., A. McGrath, “Justification – ‘Making just’ or ‘Declaring just.’”
23. R. S. Franks, The Work of Christ, London, 1962, pp. 324, 325.
24. See further Peter Fraenkel, Testimonium Patrum: The Function of the Patristic Argument in the Theology of P. Melanchthon, Geneva, 1961, pp. 32, 87.
25. There appears to be nothing of substance on Osiander in English. See, therefore, G. Sebass, Das Reformatorische Werk des Andreas Osiander (1967). R Lau and E. Bizet, A History of the Reformation in Germany to 1555, 1969, pp. 230, 231, have some helpful comments on the controversy caused by Osiander.
26. The text is in Schaff, Creeds, Vol. 3 and in op. cit., Tappert, The Book of Concord. The chief authors were Martin Chemnitz (1522–1586) and Jakeb Andreae (1528–1590). See also E. W. Gritsch, and R. W. Jenson, Lutheranism: The Theological Movement and Its Lutheran Confessions, Philadelphia, 1961 and W. Elert, The Structure of Lutheranism, St. Louis, Concordia, 1974.
27. See for details H. Schmid, The Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, Augsburg, 1961 and J. L. Gonzalez, “The Theology of Lutheran Orthodoxy,” in A History of Christian Thought, Vol. 3, Nashville, Abingdon, 1975.
28. R. Preuss, “The Justification of a Sinner Before God,” Scottish Journal of Theology, Vol. 13, No. 3, pp. 262ff. This article is primarily about Quenstedt’s theology.
7 – The Council of Trent
In the bull Laetare Jerusalem (from Isa. 66:10), Pope Paul III called a Council of the Church into being; it met in Trent in northern Italy in 1545. Apart from dealing with the issues raised by the growth of Protestantism, it also intended to bring reform into the Roman Church and to advise on the menace created by the Ottoman Turks.1
The debates on justification within the Council followed the production of the decree on original sin. The bishops and theologians were conscious that their work on justification would be their most important theological production. Reporting to Rome on June 21, 1546 they wrote: “The significance of this Council in the theological sphere lies chiefly in the article on justification; in fact this is the most important item the Council has to deal with.”2 They began from positions which covered a wide spectrum of views, some of which were not too far from Luther’s own position. Eventually they decided to produce their teaching around the model of the conversion of an unbeliever to the Christian faith. This is interesting and shows the desire to try to see the issue from the perspective of early Christianity. They divided the problems into: (1) How is a man justified? (God’s action and man’s response, the significance of faith); (2) How is progress in justification made?; and (3) In the event of the loss of grace, how is a person restored and justification renewed? After the rejection or improvement of various drafts, the final statement was enthusiastically passed at the beginning of the sixth session on January 13, 1547.
This Tridentine decree on justification is the Roman Catholic Church’s answer to the teaching of Luther and the early Lutheran Confessions of Faith. Little if any notice was taken of Calvinist teaching. It served to make clear the basic differences between Roman Catholic dogma and Protestant teaching. The thirty-three canons expose and condemn errors while the sixteen chapters provide the positive teaching. The latter have a triple gradation (as the method of study required): 1–9, 10–13, and 14–16.3
The Positive Teaching
Chapters 1–9. Chapter 1, in recalling the earlier decree on original sin, declares that neither by man’s natural powers nor by the moral law is he to be justified before God. In contrast, chapter 2 points to the incarnate Son, Jesus Christ, as the Savior of both Jew and Gentile.
Chapter 3 affirms that those to whom the merit of the passion of Christ is communicated are justified: “seeing that, in that new birth (John 3:3–6), there is bestowed upon them, through the merit of his passion, the grace whereby they are made just.” Justification means to be made, not declared, just or righteous.
In chapter 4 justification is defined as being “a translation, from that state wherein man is born a child of Adam, to the state of grace, and of the adoption of the sons of God, through the second Adam, Jesus Christ, our Savior. And this translation, since the promulgation of the gospel, cannot be effected, without the laver of regeneration....” Justification is a process which begins with the event of baptism, the “laver of regeneration.”
Chapter 5 explains the necessity of preparation for justification in adults. By the illumination of the Spirit the heart of man is turned towards God, but man must respond positively and cooperate with the leading of the Spirit. “He is not able by his own free will, without the grace of God, to move himself unto justice in his sight.”
More information on preparation for justification (which includes regeneration) is provided in chapter 6. Prompted and assisted by the Holy Spirit, sinners believe God’s revealed promises of salvation and turn towards the Lord, knowing that he is the God of mercy; “and they begin to love him as the fountain of all justice; and are therefore moved against sins by a certain hatred and detestation, to wit, by that penitence which must be performed before baptism, to begin a new life and to keep the commandments of God.”
Chapter 7 is one of the more important chapters and begins by defining justification as “not remission of sins merely, but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man, through the voluntary reception of the grace, and the gifts, whereby man of unjust becomes just, and of an enemy a friend, so that he may be an heir according to hope of life everlasting.”
Then, in medieval style, the causes of justification – final, efficient, meritorious, instrumental and formal – are explained.
Of this justification the causes are these: the final cause indeed is the glory of God and of Jesus Christ, and life everlasting; while the efficient cause is a merciful God who washes and sanctifies gratuitously, signing, and anointing with the Holy Spirit of promises who is the pledge of our inheritance; but the meritorious cause is his most beloved only-begotten, our Lord Jesus Christ, who, when we were enemies, for the exceeding charity wherewith he loved us, merited justification for us by his most holy Passion on the wood of the cross, and made satisfaction for us unto God the Father; the instrumental cause is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which (faith) no man was ever justified; lastly, the alone formal cause is the justice of God, not that whereby he himself is just, but that whereby he maketh us just, that, to wit, with which we, being endowed by him, are renewed in the spirit of our mind, and we are not only reputed, but are truly called, and are just, receiving justice within us, each one according to his own measure, which the Holy Ghost distributes to every one as he wills, and according to each one’s proper disposition and cooperation. For although no one can be just, but he to whom the merits of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ are communicated, yet is this done in the said justification of the impious, when by the merit of that same most holy Passion, the charity of God is poured forth, by the Holy Spirit, in the hearts of those that are justified, and is inherent therein: whence, man through Jesus Christ, in whom he is ingrafted, receives, in the said justification, together with the remission of sins, all these (gifts) infused at once, faith, hope, and charity. For faith, unless hope and charity be added thereto, neither unites man perfectly with Christ, nor makes him a living member of his body.
Here is the heart of the Tridentine doctrine. The formal cause is imparted and inherent righteousness, while true faith is always accompanied by hope and charity.
Chapter 8 acknowledges the primacy of faith and states that “faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation, and the root of all justification.” Yet faith does not merit salvation. It merely precedes justification. A polemical strain enters in chapter 9 which is “against the vain confidence of heretics.” This confidence (of Protestants) is the assurance of justification which they claim to enjoy within their souls. In contrast, the received Catholic theology teaches that “for even as no pious person ought to doubt of the mercy of God, of the merit of Christ, and of the virtue and efficacy of the sacraments, even so each one, when he regards himself and his own weakness and indisposition, may have fear and apprehension touching his own grace; seeing that no one can know with a certainty of faith, which cannot be subject to error, that he has obtained the grace of God.”
Chapters 10–13. Justification, states chapter 10, is the process of becoming just and is thus to be increased within the faithful. “They, through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, faith cooperating with good works, increase in that justice which they have received through the grace of Christ, and are still further justified.” The need to keep God’s commandments continually is emphasized in chapter 11. “Whoso are the sons of God love Christ; but they who love him keep his commandments ... which assuredly with the divine help they can do.” Those who persist will never be forsaken by God, “for God forsakes not those who have been once justified by his grace, unless he be first forsaken by them.” It is a rash presumption, however, as chapter 12 declares, for a Christian to presume that he is surely one of the elect. In fact, as chapter 13 makes clear, perseverance is a gift of God; so “let those who think themselves to stand, take heed lest they fall, and, with fear and trembling work out their salvation in labors, in watchings, in almsdeeds, in prayers and oblations, in fastings and chastity....”
Chapters 14–16. Chapter 14 is concerned with the recovery of the state of justification through the sacrament of penance by those who have fallen from grace. In the following chapter it is claimed that “the received grace of justification is lost, not only by infidelity whereby even faith itself is lost, but also by any other mortal sin whatever, though faith be not lost.” The distinction between mortal (or deadly or grave) and venial sin is common in Roman Catholic theology. While the former deprives the Christian of sanctifying grace, the latter does not. Venial sins have been called “daily sins” or “light sins.” The purpose of the sacrament of penance is to forgive sins committed after baptism and to restore the penitent to the position obtained at baptism.
In the final chapter (16) the merit of good works is described. “Life eternal is to be proposed to those working well unto the end and hoping in God, both as a grace mercifully promised to the sons of God through Jesus Christ, and as a reward which is according to the promise of God himself, to be faithfully rendered to their good works and merits.” It continues:
For, whereas Jesus Christ himself continually infuses his virtue into the said justified, as the head into the members, and the vine into the branches, and this virtue always precedes and accompanies and follows their good works, which without it could not in any wise be pleasing and meritorious before God, we must believe that nothing further is wanting to the justified, to prevent their being accounted to have, by those very works which have been done in God, fully satisfied the divine law according to the state of this life, and to have truly merited eternal life, to be obtained also in its (due) time, if so be, however, that they depart in grace.
Explaining the nature of infused and inherent righteousness (justice) the chapter states: “Neither is our own justice established as our own from ourselves; nor is the justice of God ignored or repudiated: for that justice which is called ours, because that we are justified from its being inherent in us, that same is (the justice) of God, because that it is infused into us of God, through the merit of Christ.”
It will perhaps be helpful to summarize the main features of the Roman doctrine of justification.
1. Justification is both an event and a process. An unrighteous man becomes a righteous man. Becoming a child of God in baptism and having the remission of sins, the Christian is made righteous. If in the process he loses faith or falls away, he is restored through the sacrament of penance.
2. Justification occurs because of the infusion of the grace of God into the soul whereby inherent righteousness becomes a quality of the soul.
3. This imparted, infused and inherent righteousness is the formal cause of justification, while the meritorious cause is the passion of Christ.
4. Only at the end of the process will the believer truly know that he is justified. His constant duty is to cooperate with the grace of God given to him.
While it is true that the decree of the Council of Trent established Roman doctrine and excluded certain debates, it is not true that Trent actually prohibited all further exploration of the theme. But the exploration has been over secondary aspects of the doctrine, not over the central tenets – e.g., over what precisely cooperation with the prevenient grace of God really means. Had this teaching been the official and general teaching of the Church in 1517, perhaps Luther would never have felt the need to set forth his own understanding of the righteousness which is by faith. Adolf von Harnack has written that “the decree on justification, though an artificial product, is in many respects an excellent piece of work; in fact one may doubt whether the Reformation would have developed if this decree had been issued by the Lateran Council at the opening of the century and had really passed into the Church’s flesh and blood.”4
Canons, Errors and Heresies
Jedin provides the following helpful explanation concerning the relation of the chapters to the canons:
The Council’s aim was to draw a line of demarcation between Catholic dogma and belief and Protestant teaching. This delimitating function of the decree was realized, in the first instance, by means of thirty-three canons which are no mere appendage of the doctrinal chapters. As a matter of fact the doctrinal chapters explain the canons; they are the positive formulation of the content of the faith which underlies the condemnation of the errors listed in the canons. On the other hand, in accordance with the whole purpose of the Council, the canons are of decisive importance. It is therefore a safe rule for an interpretation of the decree that it must always start from this delimitating function – that is, from the canons.5
Thus to the canons we turn.
It must be quickly emphasized that the canons are not aimed at Protestant teaching as the Protestants themselves would have expressed it and did express it. The majority of the canons are aimed at that understanding of Lutheran teaching found within the Roman Catholic Church. We know from much experience that what is said by one side is not always strictly identical with what is heard and understood on the other. For example, these two canons show how Lutheran doctrine was heard:
Canon XIII: If any one saith, that it is necessary for every one, for the obtaining the remission of sins, that he believe for certain, and without any wavering arising from his own infirmity and indisposition, that his sins are forgiven him: let him be anathema.
Canon XV: If any one saith, that a man, born again and justified, is bound of faith to believe that he is assuredly in the number of the predestinate: let him be anathema.
In fact, it is difficult to find one canon which anathematizes teaching which is presented in such a way as to be acceptable to Lutherans as a fair statement of their confession of faith. Some come very near to being fair accounts of Luther’s position. For example, Luther had a very strong view of the bondage of the human will and this is noted in Canon IV.
If any one saith, that man’s free-will moved and excited by God, by assenting to God exciting and calling, nowise cooperates towards disposing and preparing itself for obtaining the grace of justification; that it can not refuse its consent, if it would, but that as something inanimate, it does nothing whatever and is merely passive: let him be anathema.
Further Luther emphasized over and over again that justification is by faith – that is, wholehearted trust in the God of mercy and grace. Canons XI and XII state:
Canon XI: If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favor of God: let him be anathema.
Canon XII: If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified: let him be anathema.
In each case Luther’s position is presented in such a way as not to do justice to his full teaching.
A few of the canons are aimed at old-fashioned Pelagian teaching which both Roman Catholics and Protestants condemned:
Canon I: If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ: let him be anathema.
Canon II: If any one saith, that the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, is given only for this, that man may be able more easily to live justly and to merit eternal life, as if, by free-will without grace, he were able to do both, though hardly indeed and with difficulty: let him be anathema.
Canon III: If any one saith, that without the prevenient inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and without his help, man can believe, hope, love, or be penitent as he ought, so that the grace of justification may be bestowed upon him: let him be anathema.
Here, at least, there was agreement.
From two leading Protestant theologians came replies to the dogma of the Council of Trent. John Calvin, the Genevan reformer, produced Acta Synodi Tridentini cum Antidoto and Martin Chemnitz, the Lutheran theologian, wrote Examen Concilii Tridentii. Chemnitz was well aware that there was a disagreement over what dikaioun means. Is it the same as justificare?
The papalists simply argue that the word justify properly signifies a movement, a change, from unrighteousness to righteousness, as when in natural movements one quality is driven out and another is brought in. For they want to treat the composition of the word “justify” (justificare) according to the analogy of the words sanctificare (“to make holy”), vivificare (“to make alive”), calefacerex (“to make warm”), frigefacerex (“to make cold”), etc.6
The papalists are wrong. The Greek verb dikaioun has a forensic meaning of, “to declare righteous.”
Further, Chemnitz pinpointed the central issue as relating to the formal cause: Is it God’s work in us or God’s work outside us?
It is regarding the good works of the regenerate, or the new obedience, that there is now the chief controversy between the papalists and us, namely, whether the regenerate are justified by that newness which the Holy Spirit works in them and by the good works which follow from that renewal; that is, whether the newness, the virtues, or good works of the regenerate are the things by which they can stand in the judgment of God that they may not be condemned, on account of which they have a gracious and propitiated God, to which they should look, on which they should rely, in which they should trust when they are dealing with that difficult question, how we may be children of God and be accepted to eternal 1ife.7
While insisting that the regenerate do produce the fruit of righteousness by the help of the indwelling Spirit, Chemnitz insisted that the indwelling righteousness of God’s work in us is not the formal cause of justification. It is the mediatorial righteousness of Christ by which we are justified.
What was not explicitly stated at Trent and what was never therefore seriously discussed in the sixteenth century is the later Roman Catholic understanding of justification as a making righteous arising from the effectual declaratory word of the Lord by which a sinner is declared righteous. This understanding was explained by Cardinal John Henry Newman in 1837 and has been restated by both Hans Küng and Michael Schmaus. We shall note this when we discuss Roman Catholic theology in a later chapter.
Notes: Chapter 7
1. The definitive study of the Council is Hubert Jedin, A History of the Council of Trent, two volumes, 1957, 1961.
2. Op. cit., Jedin, A History of the Council of Trent, Vol. 2, p. 171.
3. For the canons and decrees in Latin and English see op. cit., Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, Vol. 2.
4. A. von Harnack, Dogmengeschichte, Vol. 3, Tubingen, 1932, p. 711.
5. Op. cit., Jedin, A History of the Council of Trent, Vol. 2, p. 309.
6. M. Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, Part 1, St. Louis, London, Concordia, 1971, p. 470.
7. Ibid., p. 481.
Next Section Toon Home