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Posts Tagged ‘Atonement’

How important is the concept of the justice of God? Is it possible we emphasize it too much in Reformed circles? What about the relational of filial aspects of God’s character?  Don’t those come to bare against a strict legal/justice understanding of the way God relates to his children?

Of course, all these questions operate under the assumption that God’s justice is somehow at odds with his relational dealings with man. It construct a false dichotomy which is neither right nor safe.  But perhaps one of the most powerful ways to avoid this false-dicotomy is to realize the beauty in Christ’s fulfillment of God’s justice.  Charles Hodge, that great Princeton Theologian, speaks of this glorious truth:

This is the corner-stone, and the whole fabric falls into ruin if that stone be removed. That God cannot pardon sin without a satisfaction to justice, and that He cannot have fellowship with the unholy, are the two great truths which are revealed in the constitution of our nature as well as in the Scriptures, and which are recognized in all forms of religion, human or divine. It is because the demands of justice are met by the work of Christ, that his gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and that it is so unspeakably precious to whose whom the Spirit of God have convinced of sin. – Hodge, Systematic Theology, 2:492, cited in The Law is Not of Faith, p. 64.

That this justice is “revealed in the constitution of our nature” is an outstanding statement and a most penetrating observation. It is only then, when the law of God (written on our consciences and in Scripture) comes to bear with its mighty weight upon our souls through the convicting power of the Holy Sprit, that the beauty of God’s justice fulfilled on our behalf breaks upon us. It is only then that the concept of justification begins to mean something to us. It is only then that we are awakened to the beauty of Christ’s suffering upon the cross and no longer want to put confidence in the flesh. It is only then that we can truly worship and glory in Christ.

Accordingly, the chief design of Christ’s satisfaction “is neither to make a moral impression upon the offenders themselves, nor to operate didactically on other intelligent creatures, but to satisfy the demands of justice; so that God can be just in justifying the ungodly.” – D.G. Hart, quoting Charles Hodge, in The Law is Not of Faith, p. 64.

Do we need the concept of God’s justice? Why yes we do. It is absolutely good, true, and beautiful.

And this is why we must boldly preach both the law and the gospel.

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As J. V. Fesko points out, understanding our “theology (proper) as it is realized in Christology, […] has a world of implications for our soteriology, especially the doctrine of justification.”

There are some who would argue that the concept of justification is just a metaphor. And since metaphors are merely meant to tell us something about how God relates to us, they are contextual and don’t necessarily signify an actual reality. And since justification is likewise a metaphor (they say), it is not essential nor necessary to our understanding of salvation and may be readily interchangeable with other metaphors — say theosis.

Fesko takes this idea to task in his book, Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine:

Scholars have long noted that Christ’s resurrection was his justification. Geerhardus Vos explains that “Christ’s resurrection was the de facto declaration of God in regard to his being just. His quickening bears in itself the testimony of his justification.” There is nothing metaphorical about the resurrection of Christ. It was an event that occurred on the plane of history and is a prophetic declaration of the church’s own resurrection on the final day. As Multmann observes, “The raised body of Christ therefore acts as an embodied promise for the whole creation. It is the prototype of the glorified body.”

Because soteriology, and more specifically justification, is inextricably bound with Christology in the concrete reality of the incarnation, one cannot make the claim that justification is but one metaphor among many other legitimate images of redemption. One can easily see the problems with construing justification as a metaphor when it is compared with its theological antonym, condemnation.

There was nothing metaphorical about Christ’s condemnation by the Pharisees and his subsequent justification by his resurrection. Likewise, there is nothing metaphorical about the condemnation that lies over the unbeliever. For the one who places his faith in Christ and is justified, the condemnation is removed–he is transferred from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of Christ, and therefore Paul can say, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Or, glossed in parallel fashion, “There is therefore now justification for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Prior to the believer’s justification, he is at enmity with God; after his justification, he is at peace with God (Rom. 5:1). If atonement and justification are merely metaphors that compete with other images such as union with Christ, then one must come to the conclusion that sin is also a metaphor: propitiation is God’s metaphorical way of dealing with a metaphorical problem. The glaring problems is, of course, that sin and death are not metaphorical, and neither is the wrath of God, which Christ placates by his crucifixion, which is a propitiation. To place justification, or any other element of the ordo salutis for that matter, into the category of the metaphor does violence to the message of Scripture and destroys the gospel. – Fesko, J. V., Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine, (P&R Publishing, 2008), pp. 64-66.

Oh man!

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