What is Justification... from the Early Church Fathers.

Discussion in 'Other Christian Denominations' started by bound, Dec 3, 2007.

  1. bound

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    How is Justification defined in classic Christian teaching... based on Sacred Scripture, Ancient Ecumenical Consensual Teaching and the Protestant Confessions?

    I hear a lot of fellow orthodox and catholics belittling Justification and in doing belittling the Sacred Scriptures and the Apostolic Traditions which are the very ground of our faith.

    What is Justification? Justification is the declaration of God that one who trusts in Christ's atoning work, however sinful, is treated or accounted as righteous. This credited righteousness is received by faith.

    This is not to be viewed as if it were merely a legal fiction, or as a fantasy imagined in God's mind, or as a human hypothetical conjecture. This uprighted relation with the holy God comes about as a decisive, merciful divine act, an actual event in history that occurs on the cross.

    Justification is the reversal of God's judgment against the sinner, in which the sinner is declared to be no longer exposed to the penalty of the law, which is ultimately spiritual death, but restored to divine favor. Justification is that divine act by which one stands now in the right relation with God. It is an act of God's free grace through which the sinner is absolved from guilt and accepted as righteous on account of the Son's atoning work.

    Justification is the pardoning act of the supreme Judge of all, by which he pardons 'all' the sins of those who trust in the pardoning work of Christ in our place on the cross. In this way the righteousness of Christ is applied to the believer.

    It is not that the law is blandly relaxed or dishonestly set aside. Rather, the law is declared to be fulfilled in an even stricter sense: by the Judge himself, his own sacrificial offering of himself as he himself fulfills the requirements of the law for us! This happens by imputing or crediting to the believer by God himself the perfect righteousness of his representative and guarantee: God the Son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 10:3-9). Justification is not the forgiveness of a man without righteousness, but a declaration that he possesses a righteousness that perfectly and forever satisfies the law, namely Christ's righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 4:6-8). The sole condition on which this righteousness is imputed or credited to the believer is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is at the same time truly man and truly God.

    Justification is the opposite of condemnation. One is justified who is viewed as right with the Judge, the law, and the Lawgiver (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, IV). The justifying Judge declares that all the requirements of the law are entirely satisfied. The person justified is declared to be entitled to all the advantages and rewards arising from the perfect obedience to the law (Rom. 5:1-10).

    Hence this simple formula is often heard in Protestant teaching on justification:

    its Source: God.
    its Nature: a gracious act.
    its Elements: pardon and acceptance.
    its Scope: all believers.
    its Ground: the imputed righteousness of Christ.
    its Condition: faith alone.

    Justification does not result from higher commitment to greater ideals or more advanced actualization of good character or better performance of the demands of the law. It is solely due to a declaration of God's merciful attitude toward the sinner whose life is hid in Christ.

    Early Eastern Voices on Justification:

    Key textual evidence from Origen, John Chrysostom, and Theodoret of Cyrrhus show that leading eastern patristic writers anticipated standard classic Reformation teaching on justification.

    The leading biblical interpreter from the great school of Antioch, Theodoret of Cyrrhus, in his fourth-century commentary on the epistles of Paul, reflected on Ephesians 2:8, "For by grace you have been saved through faith," in this way: "All we bring to grace is our faith. But even in this faith, divine grace itself has become our enabler. For [Paul] adds, 'And this is not of yourselves but it is a gift of God; not of works, lest anyone should boast (Eph. 2:8-9).' It is not of our own accord that we have believed, but we have come to belief after having been called; and even when we had come to believe, He did not require of us purity of life, but approving mere faith, God bestowed on us forgiveness of sins" (Interpretation of the Fourteen Epistles of Paul). A thousand years before Luther.

    A generation before Theodoret, John Chrysostom had expressly stated: "So that you may not be elated by the magnitude of these benefits, see how Paul puts you in your place. For 'by grace you are saved,' he says, 'through faith'. Then, so as to do no injury to free will, he allots a role to us, then takes it away again, saying 'and this not of ourselves.'.... Even faith, he says, is not from us. For if he Lord had not come, if he had not called us, how should we have been able to believe? 'For how,' [Paul] says, 'shall they believe if they have not heard?' (Rom. 10:14). So even the act of faith is not self-initiated. It is, he says, 'the gift of God' (Eph. 2:8c)." So writes Chrysostom at the end of the fourth century (Hom. of Ephesians 2:.

    In asking why boasting is excluded, Origen commented on Romans 3:28, "For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law." "If an example is required," remarked Origen, "I think it must suffice to mention the thief on the cross, who asked Christ to save him and was told, 'Truly, this day you will be with me in paradise' (Luke 23:43).... A man is justified by faith. The works of the law can make no contribution to this. Where there is no faith which might justify the one who does them, because faith is lacking, and faith is the mark of those who are justified by God" (Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans). So was justification by faith alone understood before the Reformers? The texts make this undeniable. These examples make it clear that justification teaching was rightly understood among the eastern patristic writers in a way that classic Reformation writers would have every reason to respect.
     
  2. Matt Black

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    Good OP

    I think that whilst most of the ECFs, when they speak soteriologically, stress the importance of being 'in Christ' or 'putting on Christ' and by this they invariably mean coming into His Church, which is His Body; this I believe is the basis for much Catholic and Orthodox (and to a degree Anglican) soteriology. That said, there are nuggets of sola fide such as those quotes referenced by you and, indeed, I would be remiss here and a bad Anglican if I didn't point you towards Cranmer's homilies on this subject; his sermon on salvation is particularly good here. For instance, Cranmer does reference the ECFs thus:

    It's worth also looking at his subsequent homily on a True and Lively Faith to put the above in context. I do not think though that Cranmer, or indeed the ECFs, are talking about two mutually exclusive soteriologies here; they are not contradictory but complementary; it is not an either/or - we must both have faith and put on Christ.
     
  3. Heavenly Pilgrim

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    HP: It would appear to me that you are presenting a literal payment for a lucky few. I do not believe that is what happened, nor do I believe that is in line with Scripture. On the cross, Christ was the substitute sufficient for the sins of the entire world, yet no sin in particular was directly atoned for. Christ made a satisfaction to the penalty the law demanded for sin, that God saw as sufficient to forgive individual sins at such a time as the individual themselves would fulfill certain conditions, i.e. repent and exercise faith.

    As I understand you, you are presenting either a limited atonement or a wasteful one. Either Christ only suffered for a select few, or he suffered far more than he needed to due to the fact not all will be saved. If the latter is the case, some of His sufferings again were meaningless, not able to succor its intended object.

    The next problem I see is that you claim forgiveness is once for all, which at least in my mind conjures up the notions of antinomianism. It is as if though once a believer, is forgiven, such a one has been given a blanket pardon for all future acts of sin, again a very unbiblical notion at best.

    Possibly I have not understood you correctly or you might desire to change things around a bit.


    Salvations bridge was built on the cross, but the day of ones salvation is today.
     
    #3 Heavenly Pilgrim, Dec 4, 2007
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  4. Andre

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    I am going to politely disagree with the OP on a number of fronts. I believe, following arguments of NT Wright, that we are actually justified on the day of judgement in accordance with the content of our entire life lived:

    To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.

    All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.

    I am aware that a primary way to "handle" these verses on the traditional reformed view is to argue that Paul is talking about a path to "works-based" justification that precisely zero people will take. For reasons I will not go into in the present post, I think that such arguments are highly implausible.

    Second, I do not believe that Paul teaches any kind of "imputation" of God's righteousness to people, at least not in the book of Romans. I believe that when Paul refers to the righteousness of God in Romans, he is almost always referring to God's covenant faithfulness - that is to God's own inherent righteousness, not a righteousness that He imputes to us.

    I am not saying that we are not indeed given a "righteousness" through the atoning act of Jesus, I am merely saying that when Paul uses the phrase "the righteousness of God" in Romans, he is almost always referring to "something about God" and not "something about us" or "something we get".

    Having said all this, I will also claim that we are indeed justified by faith in the present - justification has a present and a future dimension. How can this work? In very brief form: When we place our faith in Christ in the present, the future verdict, which will be "works-based" is assured, since the Spirit will given to us and ensure that we do the works that will justify us in the future in accordance with what I think is the rather clear teaching of Romans 2:7.

    A lot more could be said in defence of what I admit is a rather non-mainstream view, but this post is already long enough. This "present - future" view of justification may seem inordinately complex, but it is the best way I can presently see to take all the relevant texts seriously.
     
  5. Heavenly Pilgrim

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    HP: Over all a good post:thumbs:

    That in the final sense of justification you are right. We now, by faith, look to that day with confidence if we repented of our sins and looked in faith to Christ and hav had the testimony of the Spiriit that we have been born again. We can have a full assurance that when we stand before God and give an account of our lives, we will be found to be in Him, Christ as our Advocate Redeemer pleading our case once for all before God Almighty.



    HP: He has, He does, and He will, grant to us eternal life.



    HP: Mt 7:21 ¶ Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.



    HP: This whole notion of imputation is skewed. When God imputed sin to one he simply is judging ones actions as sinful and applies the penalty of the law to us. Imputation is a judgment for past actions, or the application of a substitutionary sacrifice made in regard to past actions. No where does the idea of imputation convey future pardon of forgiveness for acts not yet done. Imputation has nothing at all to do with some blanket covering for future acts of rebellion and sin. No one can reasonably squeeze the word ‘all’ hard enough to drip out any such notion, and if they do they stumble over the words ‘sins that are past’ that clearly define the parameters of the word ‘all’ in reference to sins forgiven and pardoned.





    HP: I believe you open yourself up to undue criticism by your ‘works-based’ comment. Yes, we will give an account for our works, but you must take into account that our works are not the grounds of our salvation, then or now, but rather are always thought of in the sense of not without which not that for the sake of. We will not be found in Christ for the sake of our works, for regardless of our works we all were sinners. NO amount of works can atone for one sin. I know you know this, and I also know that you do not believe, at least from what I have gathered, that works can or will save you, so it may be wise to let others shoot the ‘works based’ salvation tag at you unfairly rather than for you to be so kind as to load their gun to shoot you with it. :)

    Works of man are always thought of again in the sense of ‘not without which’ not 'that for the sake of.' We are NOT saved or going to be saved, justified or going to be justified, with our works being thought of in the sense of being the grounds of our justification, but neither will any man be found in Christ apart from works consistent with and judged as righteous by God in that last judgment day.



     
    #5 Heavenly Pilgrim, Dec 4, 2007
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  6. Andre

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    Hello HP:

    Perhaps my language skills are not up to snuff, but I simply cannot make sense of this distinction of yours: " ‘not without which’ not 'that for the sake of.' ". Can you possibly express this in other words?

    Let me start by saying that only relatively recently have I come to believe that the "you are saved by a one-time sincere confession that Jesus died for your sins, no matter what you then do, and you cannot then fall away" position. I believe that this is essentially what most North American evangelicals actually believe. So I am still trying to come up with a "new" position to replace it.

    Let me be clear: Try as I might, I cannot seem to sweep Romans 2:7 (or certain teachings of Jesus, such as the parable of the sheep and the wolves) under the rug. To me, there is no denying the following: the granting of eternal life with God is based on what we do (huge, asterisk here).

    Here is what I mean by the asterisk: Jesus' death, at the very least "pays the price" for sins one has committed in the past as well as for future sins not committed "with a high hand" - I will assume you will know what I mean by this. In respect to the "sins in the past" part at least, I think you and I agree.

    Now, when God condemned sin in the flesh of Jesus, the power of sin was broken and we are given the Spirit. The Spirit then works in us to produce the fruit that will justify us at the last day. Are these "our" works? Not in any reasonable sense. Instead, they are the works of the Spirit. So I will respond vigourously to those who will characterize this position as "justification by moral self-effort". That would be a misrepresentation of the position I am describing.

    But I am curious, how can you take Romans 2:7 and 2:13 to mean anything other than that God will grant eternal life based on the content of how one has actually lived one's life?
     
  7. Matt Black

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    Take another look at Cranmer's Homily on 'A True and Lively Faith'
     
  8. Heavenly Pilgrim

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    HP: Andre, you have exhibited a very kind and soft approach. Possibly some what you have to offer will rub off on me, or least we could hope. Thank you. :thumbs:

    I am in an ever learning process of developing better ways to communicate ideas. I realize that some of what I say may be confusing to the listener and prone to misunderstanding. With that said I believe in my spirit that the distinction I have attempted to communicate concerning the senses in which the formed intents and subsequent actions of man are involved in salvation, and the sense they are not, is one of the most important distinctions that we can make and understand. As you know, I have expressed it by the two concepts, one being ‘that for the sake of,’ and the other, ‘not without which.’ Let me post once again the prison illustration and see if that does not help. I believe that the closest thing we have to recognize the concept of salvation in our present world is to somehow relate the grace showed to us in salvation by God to that of receiving a pardon. Pay close attention to how one receiving a pardon must in fact exhibit certain formed intents and subsequent actions, yet nothing the prisoner can do, in another sense, is the grounds of his pardon.

    A man goes to prison for life, being justly condemned and sentenced by a judge for a specific crime. Can such an individual ‘merit’ a pardon by the performance of good works while in prison? Can such a criminal perform good works to such a degree that the governor is forced to grant this man a pardon based merely on the ‘merit’ of the performance of such good works? Absolutely not. You cannot then consider any intents or actions as the grounds of his pardon, not could you say that he in any way could ‘merit’ a pardon. IF he is granted a pardon it cannot be said that in any sense his pardon was ‘for the sake of’ anything the prisoner had done or could do.

    Just the same can the governor, if he so pleases, pardon such a criminal? Of course he can. Still, there is something the criminal MUST do, there is an attitude that MUST be reflected by the criminal to receive a pardon IF the governor is indeed fair and just. . If the prisoner is to receive a pardon it still can be said that there must be attitudes that are tied inseparably to intents of the heart, this very initial intent being none other than a ‘work’ in one sense of the word being something the prisoner must do. The governor MUST witness from the criminal a repentant attitude and a change of heart towards his former criminal behavior if the governor is even to consider such a pardon for the criminal. Here we see that the intents and actions of the prisoner indeed do play a part in a pardon, though again, not in the sense of 'that for the sake of.' The sense that the intents and works of the prisoner are involved in a pardon can only be seen in the sense of 'not without which,' not 'that for the sake of.' Nothing the prisoner can or will do can merit a pardon, but just the same neither will he receive a pardon without repentance and an assurance of future behavior is garnered.

    What kind of governor would pardon a criminal from prison who had not exhibited true remorse for his crimes? Would not the governor have to be satisfied in his or her mind that IF they pardoned such a criminal that they would not return to commit the same crime or one of like heinous behavior upon society again and that such a criminal possessed and exhibited a true change of heart and attitude towards their former behavior? There are indeed certain conditions that the criminal must meet, works that such a one must of necessity do in order to have the opportunity for a pardon if such an opportunity is offered. These works on the part of the prisoner are again, in no way meritorious in nature, and in no way force the governor to grant such a one a pardon on the account of any or all of their works. Just the same, there are definite conditions or works one must do in order for the governor to consider the pardon. These works are thought of in the sense of ‘not without which,’ not ‘that for the sake of.’

    It can properly be stated that one is not pardoned due to any works (in one sense of the word ‘works’) in the sense of ‘that for the sake of’ of the prisoner, but just the same it can be said ‘without works’ (in another sense of the word, that being in the sense of ‘not without which’) one will never see the opportunity to receive a pardon.

    Can you see how that works can be thought of as necessary for a pardon, or in the sense of “not without which,” yet at the same time no amount of works can be thought of as “that for the sake of” or forcing the governor to pardon the criminal on the account of works performed by the criminal?

    Such I believe is the case in our salvation. We indeed will be judged by our works, but our works are not the grounds of our salvation. There is no amount of works that can coerce God into granting us a pardon, but just the same no man will be found in Him without works consistent with their faith. Nothing we do is meritorious, nor can anything we do be seen of in the sense of ‘that for the sake of’ our salvation. Nothing but the blood of Christ can atone for a single sin. Just the same, God does command us to repent and be obedient to the end, bearing fruits of righteousness and holiness, ‘without which’ no man shall see the Lord.
     
    #8 Heavenly Pilgrim, Dec 5, 2007
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  9. Matt Black

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    :thumbs: Amen to that
     
  10. Andre

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    I carefully read your post and I am still not sure that we see things exactly the same way. I would say that I agree with all the criteria and conditions you express about "receiving a pardon". But I do think that the Scriptures teach that if we do not "persist in doing good" (as per the wording of Romans 2:7) we will not receive eternal life. Eternal life is not granted otherwise - I think Romans 2 makes this quite clear.

    Now I would hasten to add, and to use your terms, "our formed intents" may be mechanism by which the Spirit acts to ensure that we indeed do "persist in doing good". You seems to hold the same position that I do when you write: "God does command us to repent and be obedient to the end, bearing fruits of righteousness and holiness, ‘without which’ no man shall see the Lord."

    This last sentence of yours seems to cash out to: if you do not "walk the walk", you will not be justified. I agree with this. But, as I hope I have made clear, I think it is not really "me" who does the walking that ends up justifying me, but rather the action of the Spirit in me. So I still maintain there is a future judgement at which we will be given eternal life based on the works exhibited in our lives. However, we can be assured in the present that those who place their faith in Jesus will indeed receive a favourable verdict in this respect.
     
  11. Heavenly Pilgrim

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    HP: But neither is it granted ‘for the sake of’ anything we do. The things we are commanded to do are conditions of salvation, NOT the grounds of salvation. We are saved for the sake of the mercy of God. The first thing that must happen before any and all efforts by man in response is a sacrifice for sins had to be made. Nothing we have done, can do, or will eve accomplish a pardon from sin nor will it ever atone for one sin. So we are not saved ‘for the sake of’ or on the account of our obedience, but neither will we be saved apart from our obedience as you rightly point out. We are NOT saved by our works, but neither will we saved apart from our works.


    HP: Every moral act of man starts with the formation of an intent in the heart or either selfishness or benevolence. The intents of the will are the product of man being the first cause in them, Certainly God influences our wills, but if it is a moral issue in which we are praised or blamed, no coercion can transpire. Man must be free to choose and form intents as a first cause of them for morality to be predicated of them. The heart of morality lies in theses formed intents. It is in the will, antecedent to the doing, that the morality of the action is formed and properly predicated.



    HP: I see us in great agreement. Our disagreement seems to lie more in semantics than in substance.



    HP: There is somewhat of a mystery involved in how the will makes its choices. If you eliminate man’s role you end up with determinism and in the process destroy moral accountability. Just the same, God is indeed at work providing influences upon our will, without which we would not choose the good. There is no innate goodness, in and of ourselves, that would motivate us to benevolence apart from the influences of God upon us. So we do nothing apart from God, yet God has created us to be the first cause of our moral intents and as such responsible for them. Again, deny man as a first cause and you lay at the feet of the Creator any subsequent evil as well as good.




    HP: I know what you are saying here and again in a sense I would agree with you, but would you receive less false accusations of ‘salvation by works’ if you stated it this way? At that judgment eternal life will be granted to those that have exercised themselves in godliness and good works. That is not to say that good works or proper actions in any way merit ones salvation, but neither will anyone be saved apart from them. Our works are always thought of in the sense of not without which, not that for the sake of. Nothing but the shed blood of Christ has any power to atone for one sin, yet no one will be found in Christ in that day whose works are not found to be consistent with their faith.

    Maybe in retrospect, your words are better and more concise than mine, and I should not try always to stave off false comments with my lengthy explanations.:)
     
  12. Heavenly Pilgrim

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    Has anyone else but me came to the conclusion that Early Christian fathers make boring debate partners? :smilewinkgrin:
     
  13. Andre

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    Well said. I entirely agree.

    I agree with this entirely - it seems that we are on the same wavelength after all.
     
  14. Heavenly Pilgrim

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    HP I have always felt that we were not far apart as I have read your posts. I just thought ‘possibly’ you were opening yourself up to unfair accusations of 'salvation by works.'

    In reality, it doesn’t matter how we express ourselves, we will be falsely accused one way or the other. Oh well, it comes with the territory. :)
     
  15. BobRyan

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    You are correct to see this "FUTURE justification" as that which Paul speaks to in Romans 2.

    But there is another kind of Justification that Paul mentions in Romans 5 -- "PAST" justification.

    "Having BEEN Justified by faith we HAVE peace with God" Romans 5:1.

    So Paul speaks to BOTH forms.

    Indeed those arguments are totally without merrit because in Romans 2 Paul presents BOTH succeeding AND failing cases -- not just failing ones which would have been the case of necessity if his point was to insist that there is NO SUCCEEDING case.




    We see it in 2Cor 5 "That we might become the righteousness of God in him".

    Christ appears to teach it in the parable of the wedding feast and John appears to teach it speaking of the white robes given to the saints.

    in Christ,

    Bob
     

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