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Justification Through New Creation

Justification Through New Creation

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Published by akimel
by Frank D. Macchia
by Frank D. Macchia

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Published by: akimel on Oct 11, 2013
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JUSTIFICATION THROUGH NEWCREATIONThe Holy Spirit and the Doctrine by Whichthe Church Stands or Falls
FRANK D. MACCHIA
J
ustification by grace through faith alone has become for manyProtestants the
articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae
—the article bywhich the church stands or falls. Martin Luther never used thisphrase, although it does capture the importance that he gave the doctrine.Luther wrote, "We must learn therefore diligently the article of justification, as I often admonish you. For all other articles of our faith arecomprehended in it: and if that remain sound, then are all the rest sound."
1
Without going into the technical problems involved in discerning whatLuther meant by this statement, I quote him here only to note theimportance that justification has been granted in the Lutheran traditionand, to an extent, in other Protestant traditions as well. In the light of thisimportance, many welcomed the signing of the recent
Joint Declarationon the Doctrine of Justification
(31 October 1999) by the Vatican and theLutheran World Federation with the hope that a renewed, ecumenicalunderstanding of the doctrine could be achieved. Some, however, havebeen somewhat disappointed that the
Declaration
did not proceed muchbeyond negotiating sixteenth-century conflicts. In particular, the
Declara-tion
reveals the lack of a role for the Holy Spirit in justification beyond thelimited confines of the individual life of faith, despite the affirmation of atrinitarian foundation for the doctrine in Article 15. If justification is tooffer a liberating word in an increasingly graceless world, the doctrinemust be reworked precisely at its point of neglect, namely, at the relation-
Frank D. Macchia is Associate Professor of Theology at Vanguard University in CostaMesa, CA and author of 
Spirituality
and 
Social
Liberation:
The Message
of 
the Blumharts
in the Light of 
Wuerttemberg
Pietism
(1993).Martin Luther,
A
Commentary
on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians
(Philadelphia:Quaker City, 1874), 364.
202
 
 Justification through New Creation
203ship between justification and the work of the Spirit as the giver of new
life.
What follows is an attempt at outlining the directions that such arethinking of justification may take to open the doctrine to the full breadthof the Spirit's work in and through Christ to make all things new.
THEFORENSIC MODEL IN LUTHER AND BEYOND
Luther was a child of the Middle
Ages,
convinced that God burned withholy wrath against sinful humanity. The gracious God seemed out of reachfor Luther, because the reality of sin was inescapable, even for believers.How can believers escape God's wrath? The answer came from Christ asmediator who provided the basis on which God would accept sinners.Luther stated the fundamental problem at the base of justification in thisway:For God cannot deny his own nature; that is, he must needs hate sin andsinners: and thus ... does of necessity, for otherwise he should be unrighteous and love sin. How then can these two contradictions stand together: Iam a sinner and most worthy of God's wrath and indignation; and yet theFather loves me? Here nothing comes between except Christ the mediator.
2
As a person still burdened with sin, Luther sought assurance in the faceof judgment in the word of pardon through Christ alone. There would benothing in himself that could account for this word because he was asinner. Rather, he found his justification before God
extra nos
(apart fromourselves) through the alien righteousness of Christ that was imputed tohim by grace through faith alone. We thus have Luther's unique contribution to the history of theology in the west: We are
simul Justus et  peccator 
(simultaneously just and sinner). We are sinners whose justification is dependent exclusively on Christ's imputed righteousness thatovercomes God's wrath and wins God's favor for
us.
For example, Lutherdisagreed with the "Papists" who reasoned out of Aristotle that "righteousness is essentially in us," responding that grace is outside of us "in thegrace of God only and in his imputation."
3
Are we to assume, therefore, that Luther held to a notion of justificationthat was unrelated to our actual transformation as sinners toward therighteous and holy life? Not at all. In the sense that Luther still regardedhimself as a sinner in need of Christ's perfection, his translation to thekingdom of Christ's righteousness is something "separate from us" andimputed to us. But Christ's righteousness imputed to us is not whollyoutside the actual experience of the believer in the here-and-now forLuther. He wrote
in
Article
23
of his
Disputation Concerning
Justification,
"For we perceive that a man who
is
justified is not yet a
 righteous
 man, butis in the very movement
or
journey toward righteousness."
4
This "journey
2
Ibid., 320.
3
Ibid., 319.
4
Martin Luther, "The Disputation Concerning Justification," in
Luther's Works,
ed.Helmut T. Lehmann (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg, 1960), 34:152.
 
204
Theology Today
toward righteousness" obviously includes a foretaste of new life and thevictory over sin and death in the here-and-now. Indeed, this justificationwon by Christ alone sustains and heals us throughout life until finalrighteousness is achieved beyond this earthly life. As Luther wrote, "Dailywe sin, daily we are continually justified, just as a doctor is forced to healsickness day by day until it is cured."
5
As the Finnish interpretation of Luther has shown us, the living Christ in union with the believer by faithis the cause of justification as an eschatological reality in which wepresently participate by the grace of God.
6
Luther himself stated, "SoChrist, living and abiding in me, takes away and swallows up all evilswhich vex and afflict
me.
This union or conjunction, then, is the cause thatI am delivered from the terror of 
the
law and sin, am separate from
myself,
and translated into Christ and his kingdom."
7
In Christ, we are slain in order to be reborn with his righteousness byfaith. In Luther's words from Articles 29 and 30 of the
DisputationConcerning Justification,
Christ's ultimate and perfect righteousness"slays the whole world," which means that it is "too great to allow anyreckoning or consideration of our work."
8
Faith must therefore involveGod's act of imputing Christ's righteousness to us, "for, after faith, thereremain yet certain remnants of sin in our flesh."
9
In faith, "we have thefirst fruits of the Spirit, but, because faith is weak, it is not made perfectwithout God's imputation."
10
In other words, the imputation of Christ'srighteousness is required to bring about justification because the downpayment of the Spirit and the corresponding act of faith are penultimateand fall short of Christ's ultimate perfection and glory. Christ's righteousness imputed to us serves as a bridge for Luther between participation inChrist through the life of faith, which is still weak and imperfect, and theultimate justice and perfection as an eschatological reality. This finalrighteousness, which Christ has won for us and which is imputed to us, isconnected implicitly for Luther with the final, new creation "in whichrighteousness shall dwell." He stated concerning our eschatological existence
as
justified sinners, "In the meantime, as long as we live here, we arecarried and nourished in the bosom of the mercy and long-sufferance of God, until the great day. Then shall there be new heavens and new earth,in which righteousness shall dwell."
11
5
Ibid., 191.
6
See the essays in Carl E. Braaten and Robert
W.
Jenson, eds.,
Union
with
Christ:
The New
Finnish Interpretation
of Luther 
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998). See also Veli-MattiKärkkäinen, "Deification and a Pneumatological Concept of Grace: Unprecedented Convergences between Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, and Pentecostal-Holiness Soteriologies"(paper presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, Springfield,
MO,
March 1998).
7
Luther,
Galatians,
267.
8
Luther, "Disputation," 156.
9
Luther,
Galatians,
315.
10
Ibid., 316.
1
Martin Luther,
Lectures
on the
Romans,
ed. Hilton C. Oswald, in
Luther's Works,
ed.Helmut T. Layman (St. Louis: Concordia, 1972), 25:263.

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