JUSTIFICATION

I feel as if I must re-introduce my career in theology again in order to make a point. As a graduate of Whitefield Theological Seminary with two M.A. degrees (straight A’s by the way), one thing I do know is Reformed theology. As a Preterist, I have sought to remain within the framework of Reformed thought as much as possible. However, when one considers that we place the end of the Millennial judgment (Rev 20.11-15) and the Second Coming at the conclusion of that “generation” of Christ’s contemporaries (A.D. 70), this, as we have always taught at RCM, significantly changes a few aspects of Reformed soteriology. However, and I wish to stress this, it changes it for the better. Hence, when Preterist theology was seen as something that actually enhanced our salvation in Christ, that motivated me (and several others) to do more work in this area.

I have already presented two lectures at Ward Fenley’s conference on “Sanctification” using Gordon Clark’s book Sanctification as a guide. I also wrote a paper. These lectures and the paper are located on the web (maybe someone can source them). In brief, it was shown in a Reformed understanding that progressive sanctification is unanimously viewed as “heading towards” the Second Coming and glorification in the ordo salutis. Yet, if we place the Second Coming in the past, this must mean that sanctification as a process was temporary and unique in that “transition generation” or, to use Larry Siegle’s term, “transformation generation.” What the Tradition has done is take that process out of its exclusive first century context and made it the context of 2000 years.

Second, there are some who still want progressive sanctification to work after the Second Coming! Not only is this completely novel and unheard of, but it entirely goes against the traditional exegetical framework that is, as I have judged, correct. That is, the framework is: justification, sanctification, resurrection, glorification. The Second Coming, or parousia, is what brings this process to an “end.” All that we have done is take that process and put it into its proper first century context. If one is a Full Preterist, this is what one must do. This, on one hand, gives credence to the traditional framework, and, on the other, recognizes the biblical position of the Second Coming within that generation.

Therefore, I defined sanctification, for us living in the “age to come” now, as that which is entirely complete. In the traditional view, the “age to come” is life in eternity and comes at the end of the world. Surely, “in heaven” and in the “age to come” Christians are not still being sanctified! Here, the traditional view is again, correct. However, since we view the “age to come” as already here, it is perfectly logical to insist that we are not longer, as a Church, as the Wife of the Lamb, no the Bride, are “being sanctified.” We are the Wife. The Marriage has already happened. We have been purified, made clean, and are entirely “spotless and without wrinkle.” The “perfection” of Christ has entirely been applied to the Church. Good news, indeed.

Naturally, coming out of a “progressive sanctification” view, Preterists have wanted to question the relationship between God and the Christian who occasionally struggles with sins. That this fact that we still struggle with sins (not, “the Sin”) means that we must still somehow be under the influence and dominion of sins. This paper is not meant to get into that, and one must see my other lectures or paper. This can be dealt with, though, suffice it to say. In fact, it can be decidedly, logically, and theologically dealt with in a manner that preserves the evil of “sins” and the perfected work of Christ applied to us by the Spirit at the same time. For references to the true understanding of the Reformed doctrine of sanctification, consult Clark, Hodge, Turretin, and Calvin – and the Westminster Confession, which spells it out clearly.

This paper will be my formal, theological treatment of the doctrine, “justification by faith.” I have never written on this before publically in such a manner. Yet, because of the false accusations of some brothers, this paper has become necessary to write. I believe the accusations are misguided, and misinformed. My basic these is this: that there is a connection between justification in Paul and the Final Judgment. They are inseparably linked. If the Final Judgment never happens, whatever our pre-Judgment justification is, is not complete or “full.” Reformed theology is entirely in agreement with this statement. But, like sanctification, we believe that the Judgment has already occurred. And, what is strange, is that the loudest cry of our accusers is from a man that believes that this Judgment has already taken place, too! We find this impossible to do on two fronts: the traditional framework disallows it, and two, Paul explicitly denies it.

Since I consider myself a student of the works of Gordon Clark, devouring everything he has written over the last two decades, I must start with definitions. If we cannot define our terms, then we do not know what we are talking about. If we consult “righteousness” or “justification” in the lexicons and dictionaries, we find, “This is God’s righteousness, into which we are set. It is a conjunction of judgment and grace which God demonstrates by showing righteousness, imparting it as forgiveness, and drawing us into his kingdom, as the last judgment will fully manifest” (Kittel’s – dikaiosune). This shows the connection between the last judgment (Rev 20.11-15). Gottlob Shrenk wrote this entry, and also penned, with Gottfried Quell, a supplement to Kittel’s entitled, Righteousness (Adams and Charles Black: London, 1951, Bible Key Words from Gerhard Kittel’s Theologisches Worterbuch zum Neuen Testament series).

In that work, Shrenk and Quell further wrote that Paul “continued to associate justification with the Last Judgment…the divine absolution of sins, made effectual by the Cross and accepted by faith here and now, is expected to reach its final consummation in acquittal at the Last Judgment” (64). The verse they consider are, “For I know nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord (I Co 4.4). Justification takes on one’s whole life. “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified (Rom 2.13)” The future tense here bears this out. “since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith (3.30). Again, note the future tense.

Continuing with their analysis, they wrote, “Hope is an outstanding characteristic of righteousness. The experience of salvation in the present is a pledge of salvation in the future, for justification is grace bridging the gap and inaugurating the world to come….what remains of earthly life is interim….Judaism put justification at the end of the world, and was not sure of it; the Christian actually has it now. History offers it, and faith takes hold of it. Imputed righteousness foreshortens time and points to fulfillment, thus producing hope that is beyond comparison with the vague uncertainty of the Jew. The believer, who has found immediate absolution at the Cross, looks forward to the Last Judgment with confidence” (49).

Here, Gal 5.5 is quoted, “For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.” Further verses are given, “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified (Gal 2.1); “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies” (Rom 8.33). No one will bring an accusation at the Final Judgment. None can be brought.

I might add, too, Rom 4.24, “but also on ours, to whom it is about to be reckoned — to us believing on Him who did raise up Jesus our Lord out of the dead…” The Greek reads ??? ?????? ?????????? and if we follow Dana and Mantey, the word ????w is followed by the infinitive which makes it “more emphatic in force, and contemplates action as more imminent. Robertson (J.A.T. – me) calls it “a sort of halfway station between the futuristic present and the punctilliar future” (A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, MacMillan, 1955, 191). Righteousness, or “justification” was, in some sense, although already obtained, was “about to be” imputed to those who believed. Hope is mixed with the present reality, but the fact remains, Justification is, in some sense, connected to the Final Judgment.

Turning to more Reformed sources, we start with Herman Hoeksema (Reformed Dogmatics, Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1985). “God does not grant the fullness of salvation in Christ to the sinner in a single act….the process of salvation continues throughout the whole life of the elect sinner” (446). Even justification is connected to the Final Judgment in Hoeksema, “And, finally, we shall be justified publically, before all the world, in the revelation of the righteous judgment of God” by connecting this to Rom 8:23, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (503). The Final Judgment brings about the “fullness of salvation” and the end to the “process of salvation.” We do not seek to overthrow this framework.

John Murray, esteemed Reformed theologian, wrote the classic, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied (Eerdmans, 1955). There we find that Murray also speaks of the “the whole redemptive process” under “the redemption” quoting Luke 21.28 and Rom 8.23, which end with the “eschatological consummation” (46). Justification inaugurates this process, even though it itself is not a process, but judicial act. Nonetheles, the full benefits of being justified are played out in the Final Consummation. When the “hope of righteousness” is not longer a hope. It’s a full reality.

Recently, in a conversation with Kelly Birks, Dave Green posted these comments from the Reformed scholar, Herman Ridderbos, “”It is incontrovertible . . . that righteousness is spoken of both in a real present and in a real future tense” (Paul: An Outline of His Theology, 165, n. 29).

“Just as the adoption of sons, righteousness can be represented as a benefit already obtained as well as still to be expected [at the Parousia]” (ibid., 166).

” . . . [R]ighteousness is not only a matter that has already been revealed, but is also still to be awaited as a future gift of God [at the Parousia] (Gal. 5:5)” (ibid., 178). The brackets reflect the context. I looked up these references. Ridderbos wrote, “this future righteousness is not another than that which has already been revealed. It is the same thing, but one can speak of it both in the present and in the future sense” (166). Justification is not loosed from sanctification and the coming glorification. It’s is certainly distinguished from those ideas (lest we fall into Romanism). However, the connection between these categories are inseparable. Justification is carried through sanctification (the justified and those who are being sanctified), and glorification (the just ones are those who will be glorified). This is the whole process spoken of above. Justification is not to be confused, ever, with sanctification and glorification. Those things are the outworking of justification – the fact that one is justified will bring him unalterably and assuredly through the sanctifying process unto glorification, when the fullness of righteousness is worked out. They are to be distinguished, but they cannot be radically separated, either. God’s future judgment has already come into the present, for Paul, so that God was already judging his elect in Christ as “righteous” through their faith. But, this assumes that what was already at work in the present, will have its full manifestation secured in the future judgment. Justificaton, then, linked to the Final Judgment. Justification is not a “process”, but sets into motion a “process” that climaxes at the parousia. It is inseparably tied to the process. Justification is by faith alone, but nobody ever stated that “justification alone” saves us. There is more to the process that must be accomplished in terms of the full outworking of what Ridderbos and Murray saw as “salvation.”

Alister E. McGrath wrote the well received Iustitia: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification. He also penned, Christian Theology: An Introduction (Blackwell, 2007). I will quote him at length here:

“In dealing with Paul it is tempting to adopt a simplistic approach to the chronological question [eschatological dimension] just noted. For example, one could attempt to force justification, sanctification, and salvation into a neat past – present – future framework, as follows:

1. Justification: a past event with present implications (sanctification).

2. Sanctification: a present event, dependent upon a past event (justification), which has future implications (salvation).

3. Salvation: a future event already anticipated and partially experienced in the past event of justification, and the present event of sanctification, and dependent upon them.

But this is clearly inadequate. Justification has a future as well as past (Romans 2.13; 8:33; Galatians 5:4-5), and appears to relate both to the beginning of the Christian life and its final consummation. Similarly, sanctification can relate to a past event (I Corinthians 6:11) or a future event (I Thessalonians 5:23). And salvation is an exceptionally complex idea….Justification language in Paul appears with reference to both the inauguration….and its final consummation” (329,330).

We can see here, then, that Justification is clearly linked, at least in these scholars’ minds, to the Final Judgment. It is not a nice, neat little ordo that is found in the Bible, and that has been taught to us in a nice, neat little package. Even some (not all) within the Reformed camp acknowledge this truth. And we agree with them wholeheartedly.

If we turn to the great John Calvin we find him commenting on Gal 5.5: “that is; after embracing the testimony of the Gospel as to free love, we wait till God openly manifest what is now only an object of hope” (Institutes, 3.2.43). He was speaking of “faith” and “hope”, then quoted I Pe 1.5 where “we are kept by the power of God through faith until salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time.” It is the “hope of salvation” (ibid.). We, as Preterists, see the verse in Peter as fulfilled. Salvation has already been revealed in our past history. The fact that Calvin, though, connected Gal 5.5 with this verse is telling. It’s eschatology.

We can also turn to Calvin’s successor in Geneva, the venerable Francis Turretin, who expressed the same sentiments of Hoeksema already quoted, stating that on the Last Day “our justification will be fully declared” (Elenctic Theology, Volume 2, 687). We note the word “fully.” Although before the Parousia the justification of the elect was secured and indeed obtained through the imputation of God in applying the salvation of Christ, there still was a “hope” and a connection to the “full” manifestation of this justification with all rights and privileges obtained entirely, lacking nothing.

With this, then, I conclude that whatever link or connection justification has to the Final Judgment, we believe that it has, in its fullness of salvation, been completed. That Christians are not in a relationship, regardless of their believing that they are, with God that “hopes” for righteousness. They are, upon the apprehension of God, and upon that free gift and ability to trust in God, immediately and entirely justified in the fullest measure of that term possible. They are sanctified in the same measure, and are also glorified by their union with the Glorious Body of Christ. This is how God sees the Church today, post judgment, and how He relates to the Church today. The Gospel and salvation are not realities in which the believer enter into a “struggle” that is in tension between “already” and “not yet.” He does not enter into a relationship with God in which he is being “put to death” and “made alive.” In Christ, upon believing the Gospel, the sinner is immediately and entirely “declared” righteous. He awaits no future standing before God to hear this declaration. He has already heard it. He has passed from death to life. The Church, the Body of Christ, has filled up the measure of His suffering, death and resurrection. We have ascended to the heavenly realm. We have entered into the Holy of Holies, and we, with unveiled faces, have been transformed by the mighty working His power through the accomplished work of Christ in “salvation.” We have not only come to Mount Zion, but we have entered into Mount Zion. And not only this, but the Church has entered into the Temple, into the throne room in Mount Zion, to the Holy of Holies, where He is. Where He is, there we are. We see these truths, these “things unseen” by the “knowledge of the son of God” that has been revealed to us through His Holy Apostles and Prophets. We believe in their message. And by that know we are fully, entirely saved to the uttermost. We lack nothing. We have all things. This, Christ has accomplished, and this is what we proclaim.

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