(Note: This is an abridged version of a much longer post. If you’d like to read the full post, click here.)
Justification. What do you know about it?
It’s a fancy theological word that causes some people’s eyes to glaze over. Others are oblivious to its meaning. Still, others get very passionate about it.
I have made this particular subject a topic of study for many years. In fact, I think I have probably studied this topic more than any other topic. This doesn’t make me an expert on it at all, of course, but it simply reveals how important I think it is.
My views on the how, the when, the who, and so forth, have been somewhat of a roller coaster. I have also preached and written on it a great deal, both on this blog and for the magazine I edit, also called New England Pastor. I would dare say that more articles in that journal have probably been on this single topic than any other.
The reason I have “wasted” so much time and ink on it is because I have come to realize that one’s views on justification affect every view in theology. It is, to some degree, a systematic starting point and a defining concept.
There are many, of course, who think the topic can get too nuanced and semantical. This may be true, to some extent. However, as I have written elsewhere (in a post titled “Does God Care What is Said About Him?” on my Bangor Daily News blog), theology is not an exercise in the abstract that is irrelevant to life. Theology is about a Person; a Person who wishes for us to come to a more accurate and deeper understanding of Who He is – for the purpose of loving Him and others more. Christ’s ultimate wish is that we would be rooted and grounded in His love, and that we would love one another. But this cannot be done apart from theology, as if we could simply make up our minds to become more loving. If this were the case, our theology may as well be that of the Dark Ages, when Christianity as a whole subscribed to such dark doctrines as purgatory.
As I’ve studied the topic, I have come to subscribe to a brand of justification – which is to say, how God interacts to and relates with sinners – called “universal justification.” There are very few people who agree with this teaching. This breaks my heart. Not only do I find it to be completely true from a biblical and theological perspective, but I find that it gives a much richer and more beautiful picture of God – a picture that, perhaps as no other can, is capable of truly reconciling a sinner’s heart fully to God. This is, after all, what Paul essentially says in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, “For the love of Christ compels us because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died. And One died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.”
At the risk of writing a mini-dissertation, I would like to explain to you what this teaching is and how one arrives at it from a biblical perspective. Like I said, most people disagree with it, and will often present many texts (and Ellen White quotes) to counter it. This is fine. I don’t hold it against them. However, as I have studied the topic more I have come to realize that such individuals object to the teaching because they miss the proverbial “forest for the trees” and approach the topic with faulty presuppositions.
For a while, I struggled with whether the teaching was accurate or not, seeing those same trees as obstacles. It was only when I stepped back and saw the bigger picture – saw the whole forest – that the whole teaching became coherent, logical, and biblically sound.
What is the “forest” I am talking about, and those presuppositions that one must approach this subject with? They are, as far as I can tell, three-fold. Unless people who are discussing this topic can agree on these presuppositions, then it will be just an exercise in firing isolated Bible verses and Ellen White quotes at each other that will have no larger framework.
These are those three presuppositions:
1. The godhead has faith in humankind. Faith is one of God’s essential attributes and it is the basis for our justification.
2. God, the Universe, and the Bible, all think corporately first, individually second. The Bible is saturated with this concept from cover-to-cover and it finds its ultimate fulfillment in the corporate acts of Adam and the second Adam, Christ.
3. God creates reality; humans merely acknowledge it. Simply put, our belief or disbelief do not create or negate what God has already done.
These three presuppositions are critical when discussing the topic of justification. Without them, a person simply wanders aimlessly with no real compass. Sadly, I find that many do not recognize these biblical realities and are, therefore, unable to deal with the tensions the Bible presents when it comes to the topic of justification.
(This is simply an abridged version of a much longer posting on the topic, providing the biblical evidence for the three presuppositions. To read that, click here.)