14 March 2009

Fourth Address: Justification in Union with Christ, Derek Thomas (PCRT 2009 Sacramento)

by Dan Phillips

[This one's a little rough and a little late, as I was battling some IT battles, including a nassty Vista reboot and tangling with the network. Thanks to the wonderful, incredibly-supportive folks here at Immanuel, I'm back.]

After a good lunch break (I had the pleasure and privilege of breaking bread with the speakers, minus the departed Pastor Lawlor), we reconvened at 2pm Saturday.

After we sang the wonderful "Rock of Ages," Derek Thomas had us turn to Galatians 2:17. He then referred to the statements of the confessions as to justification and imputation. The doctrine is of the imputation, the crediting, of Christ's righteousness — as contrasted with Roman Catholicism, which insists on impartation and inwrought righteousness. Rome still affirms the Council of Trent. The evangelical understanding sees imputation as the transfer of "alien righteousness," meaning from outside of us.

Also, free grace is a hallmark facet of Reformation teaching. Calvin says that the man, by faith, lays hold of the righteousness of Christ, and is accepted as righteous in God's eyes for that reason. Cranmer called imputation the strong rock and foundation of Christian religion; anyone who denies that truth is an adversary of Christ. Luther said that this is how Christ makes His righteousness my righteousness, and my sin His sin.

Thus I am freed from my sin, and clothed with Christ's righteousness.

This is what is insisted on in Romans 3:24 and 4:4-5, and in Philippians 3:8-9 - the free imputation of God's righteousness.

Thomas thinks Paul learned of the truth of the union of Christ with His people in his encounter with Stephen on the Damascus Road, and then Jesus saying, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?" This showed the union of Christ with His people: in Stephen, Christ was persecuted. John Murray called union with Christ as the central truth in the doctrine of redemption.

We should not view it only federally, but experientially as well. There is nothing that we have, that we do have other than by virtue of union with Christ. Calvin stressed this: whatever is ours of spiritual blessing is ours in Christ, and we have nothing apart from Him. "Let us drink our fill from this fountain, and from no other." If we stray from Him, we stray fatally.

Or see Philippians 3 again, "That I may be found in Him." The faith that justifies does so only through union with Christ. It is union with Christ that saves the doctrine of justification being in reality a "legal fiction." But when men fly from that Reformed, Biblical view, they necessarily head for Rome.

The "alone" is what distinguishes Paul's gospel from the Roman dogma.

Thomas discussed the "new perspective" view that the Judaism of Paul's day as a religion of grace. But studies have confirmed the contrary, that NT era Judaism was indeed a works-righteousness religion.

Then there is the suggestion that Paul really had in mind not how to be saved, how to be right before God forensically, but who belongs to the Kingdom of God? Jews only, or Gentiles as well? This shift is partly motivated by ecumenical impulses, the desire to move the question so as to make rapprochement possible.

Again, there is the move to shift justification to eschatology alone, and consider that our good works will form part of the basis on which justification will be declare - not merely as confirmatory, but as part of the basis. In that case, present justification is only provisional. But the Reformation position is that union with Christ and justification are distinguishable, but inseparable. Calvin said that the mystical union with Christ is of the "highest degree of importance," so that Christ makes us sharers with Him of the grace with which He is endowed. John Owen says "the basis of justification is union."

It is fashionable to deny or pass over imputation. Wright says the concept is incoherent and not found in Paul. Joint statements of Lutherans and Roman Catholics leave "imputation" out altogether. Thomas quoted Wright's famous statement that righteousness is not an object or a substance or a gas that can be passed across a courtroom.

The truth is that justification brings us into existential union with Christ, through which come all the benefits that are ours in Christ as God's adopted sons.

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1 comment:

inquisitor said...

The question is whether imputation of Christ's righteousness is mentioned explicitly in the Bible.
Supporters of the doctrine, do not necessarily think so--see for example the views of D.A Carson.