The question begging to be asked is, “why didn’t the early Church formulate Justification better?” Were they ignorant of it? Were they legalistic? Did they forget to read Paul?
The answer to that question lies under water (especially if you are a Baptist). Today, if you were to pick up a systematic theology and open it up to the table of contents you would find a bountiful supply of interesting categories. These include: Theology Proper, Anthropology, Hamartiology, Christology, Soteriology, Pneumatology, Ecclessiology, Eschatology,…etc. Now, if you were to look at the Catechisms of old, like the one by St. Cyril of Jerusalem, you would find a severely reduced amount of -ology. They kept it simple; they basically had four categories in order of Paterology, Christology, Pneumatology, and Ecclessiology. They followed the basic pattern of the Apostles Creed.
Which of these four categories included justification? If you guessed Christology you would wrong. Suprisingly, it was ecclessiology. For the early Church, soteriology was included in ecclesiology. In other words, to be part of the Church was to be saved. This leads us to an even more specific doctrine where we find the early Church discussing justification; namely, we see this in Baptism.
If you read the Patristics, then you can get a feel for how important Baptism was for them. It was through this sacrament that people were united with Christ, in His death and ressurection. Baptism, though simple in act, was deep, profound, and mysterious. Somehow through this act the heavenly realities were enacted through the earthly. Just as the Spirit of God hovered over the waters in the beginning of Creation, so does It in Recreation. It is this Holy Spirit which unites all those who have faith with Christ. If one is united with Christ then he is justifed, sanctified, they have entered into the age to come, they are adopted as children, they have died to sin, renounced Satan and joined the Majestic Army of God, they have been elevated above the angels, they are annointed royal priests, they have been mortared into the temple (church) of the Living God; this list could go on ad infinitum.
The Early Church was not ignorant of justification, but they did see it within the context of a larger picture. To be justified is to be baptized, but to be baptized is to be in Christ and all His blessings. For them, justification was not an ethereal doctrine; it was wet. The reason why they didn’t systematically discuss this doctrine was because it is organically ingrained with the Church; but the Church was Spiritually ingrained in Christ. Justification is a vibrant thread in the majestic robe, which a Christian is clothed with when he enters the Church through baptism.
If you want to check out the writings of the Church Fathers then check out this link. Its incredibly edifying.