Chrysostom’s view of Justification

Chrysostom knew how to dress.  I think he is wearing Gucci.

Chrysostom knew how to dress. I think he is wearing Gucci and has a Prada halo.

John Chrysostom (347-407 A.D.) is another valuable Patristic. Unlike Origen, he has a clear definition of Justification. He writes, “What does the word ‘justified’ mean? That if there could be a trial and an examination of the things He had done for the Jews, and of what had been done on their part toward Him, the victory would be with God, and all the right would be on His side.”[1] Justification was about God’s vindicating righteousness over and against the Jews. In one sense, it is not necessarily about our justice before God.

Chrysostom also writes something akin to the Reformation doctrine of double imputation. In his commentary on 2 Corinthians, he writes about how Christ became sin on our behalves so that we may receive the righteousness of God. He uses justification verbiage when he remarks,

For this is the righteousness of God, when we are justified not by works, in which case it would be necessary that not even a spot should be found, but by grace, in which case all sin is done away. And this, at the same time that it does not allow us to be lifted up (for it is entirely the free gift of God), teaches us also the greatness of what is given. For what came before was a righteousness of the law and of works but this is the righteousness of God.[2]

Chrysostom notices a Pauline doctrine that draws near to the concept of an imputed righteousness that comes by faith alone.

Nick Needham points out that with Chrysostom, the way justification relates to a Christian after his conversion is a little complex. He states that Chrysostom falls in line with the Patristic tendency to deny the sufficiency of faith after initial conversion.[3] He gives an example of how Chrysostom comments on the parable of the wedding feast, in which there was a man inappropriately dressed; this man was called by grace and entered by grace, but he did not cloth himself correctly. This clothing is the pure life that Jesus gives by His Spirit.[4]

This idea seems to contradict his previous one. How can one receive the righteousness of God by grace through Christ’s death, but lose it when he doesn’t live perfectly after receiving it? Many of the Patristic writers live in this tension comfortably. On one hand, it is as if Christ’ death on the Cross brings one into the kingdom of God; on the other hand, Christ’s resurrection life lived out by the believer, through the power of the His Spirit, is what keeps him in the kingdom. This is a very confusing subject with the Patristics. Yet, we should acknowledge that they held justification to be by grace; although, it had complex implications.[5]

[1] John Chrysostom, Homilies of Romans 6. As you might notice this will be similar to Paul’s second use of justification as mentioned the exegetical section below.

[2] John Chrsostom, Homilies on 2 Corinthians 11.

[3] Nick Needham, Justification in Perspective, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), pp. 42-43.

[4] John Chrysostom, Homilies on Matthew, 69.2.

[5] It is important to note that I am using very broad categories for the Patristics. The Early Church was very diverse but they did seem to have some common themes such as this.


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