Category Archives: Gospel

Romans 2: CryptoJustification

circucisionfirst

Considering Paul’s use of diatribe, what is Paul arguing in Romans 2?  Clearly he is arguing against a Jewish fleshy supremacy over gentiles.  According to Paul, being a circumcised Jew is not anymore beneficial  before God then a gentile.  He deconstructs his Jewish opponent’s arrogant stance in several ways.  Firstly, in 2:1-5 Paul says that their prideful stance makes them oblivious to their need for God’s mercy.  Secondly, in vv. 6-11 Paul appeals to the impartiality of God the judge; He gives to each person his due, to the Jew first and also the Greek.  The Jew receives no special benefit before the throne of God.  Thirdly, he exposes their hypocrisy in vv. 17-24.  Though they have been given the law and the wisdom of God they still do not obey their own teachings.  They say don’t steal yet they steal and etc.  Lastly, Paul deals with works and covenant identity.  This is probably the most controversial aspect in this chapter of Romans so I will deal with it with more care.

In v. 13, Paul writes, “It is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.”  This verse alone seems contradictory to Grace.  How can anything man does justify him before God, especially in light of the fact that Paul has already condemned the deeds of the gentiles and exposed the judgmental hypocrisy of the Jews?  Who can do the works necessary to be justified before God?  It is at this time that we need to take a closer look at the text.

In v. 12-16 Paul is contrasting the Jews and the Gentiles.  In v. 14 he writes, “For when the Gentiles, who do not have the law by nature, do what the law requires, they are law to themselves.”  Paul reiterating the fact that God is impartial. The Jews who have the law but do not obey it will be condemned.  The Gentiles who do not have the law but do the deeds of the law will be judged worthy.  The problem is what gentiles actually do the deeds of the law?  It is certainly not the idol worshipping Gentiles from Romans 1.

I believe the solution is to be found in Paul’s understanding of redemptive history and eschatology.  Paul has eschatological categories in mind in Romans 2.  He is thinking of the future judgment of God as demonstrated by his use of the phrase “on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment is revealed.”43 He also writes in vs. 16, “on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”  Paul is clearly working with an eschatological framework.

This is important to consider when answering the aforementioned question, “what Gentiles are the doers of the law?”  According to v. 15, they are the ones who “show that the work of the law is written on their hearts…”  Paul is alluding here to Jeremiah 31:33, “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” 44 The main difference between these Gentiles and both Jews and Pagan Gentiles is that they are in the New Covenant.  It is those who belong to the New Covenant that have the law written on their hearts and obey God.  It is not an obedience of the outward flesh but an inward change of the heart that bears the fruit of good works.  The Jews have the law in letter but Gentile Christians have it in their heart.45 It is the inward heart that God judges.

This is made clear in v. 16, “on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” According to Paul’s gospel, God judges the secrets (κρυπτα) of men.   What are these “secrets of men” that God will judge?  Paul makes this clear in vv. 25-29.  Here Paul is discussing the relationship of covenant identity (i.e. circumcision) with obedience of the law.  Verses 28-29 are very significant when he states, “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one secretly (κρυπτω), and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.”  The “secrets of men” that God judges are whether or not people are inwardly Jews. God’s judgment is not about ethnicity but it is about the work of the Spirit which creates a new covenant identity.  This covenant identity entails bearing good fruit.  Outside of this new covenant community it is impossible to bear the fruit of God.  Therefore, both Pagans and Jews are equally condemned outside of Christ.  Circumcision of the flesh is no benefit.

What are the implications of this understanding of Romans 2?  Firstly, justification (in this instance) is considered forensic in nature, meaning that it is God declaring his people righteous.  Secondly, works are a result of our covenant status (i.e. circumcised heart) and not the vice versa.  We do not work our way into the covenant but we are recreated into the New Covenant people through the Holy Spirit.  The New Covenant was created because of the grace of God.  Lastly, this justification happens in the future when “God judges the secrets of men by Jesus Christ.”  In the Day of Judgment, God will declare us righteous based on the ontological renewal He has worked in us through the Spirit of Christ.46

It is important to remember that Romans 2 is not a comprehensive nor systematic understanding of justification.  Rather, Paul is framing justification in a specific way in order to humble his fictitious Jewish opponent.  The status of the New Covenant members is not based on ethnicity but on the preeminent grace of God who circumcises hearts in Christ.  As we will see he continues this argument into the next chapters of Romans as he brings up how the atonement also justifies those who have faith.  We have to keep our understanding of Romans within a polemical framework.

Paul and Justification

After walking in the shadow of the Reformed tradition and the larger Ecclesial heritage, I will now attempt to probe the doctrine of justification as presented by the Apostle Paul. This is quite a pretentious endeavor because to do real justice this subject I would have to produce a lengthy manuscript dealing the entire Pauline corpus. Sadly, this would take up too much time and it is a stretch considering my abilities. Instead, I will examine how justification by faith interacts with works in Romans 2 and 3. Needless to say, this will hardly be comprehensive.

By the way, I would love feed back from anybody reading these next posts.

Reformation, Luther, Justification

Luther was a Dirty Hesher

Luther was a Dirty Hesher

In the next couple post, I will examine the two great giants of the Reformation, Martin Luther (1483-1546) and John Calvin (1509-1564). There is much in between them and Augustine to ponder, such as how Via Moderna shifted the focus of justification from state to status.[1] But, it was these two men that had that had the biggest affect on the Reformed doctrine of justification. This is why it is important to have at least a basic understanding of how they viewed this subject.  Right now,  I will specifically explain Luther’s view on the matter.

To understand Luther’s view of justification, one has to realize that his view grew and changed through out his life. Carl Trueman believes that the most significant changes happened from 1515 until 1520. He comments on how Luther’s first major formulation of justification can be seen in his commentary on Romans 4:7.[2] Here Luther likens justification to a doctor pronouncing an ill patient healthy based on the fact that he, the doctor, is capable of restoring that man to health. Is the patient healthy at that moment? No, but he is declared healthy because in the future he will be in that state because of the sure capability of the doctor. Likewise, Christ can declare us currently justified based on the fact that he can and will cause us to be justifiable. Our status changes because of faithfulness of the good doctor. It is interesting; in Luther’s early view there is a mix of both status and state with in an eschatological rubric. Our status is declared right with God based on Christ’s capability to make us right in the future.

This view dramatically changed in the next five years of his life as his theological view points matured. For Luther, status and state became bifurcated under two different kinds of righteousness. This can be seen in his sermon Two Kinds of Righteousness, where he distinguishes between alien righteousness and proper righteousness. Alien righteousness is Christ’s righteousness that is imputed to us when we have faith in Him. He writes that, “this righteousness is primary; it is the basis, the cause, the source of all our own actual righteousness. For this is the righteousness given in place of the original righteousness lost in Adam. It accomplishes the same as that original righteousness would have accomplished; rather, it accomplishes more.”[3] Just as Adam’s sin destroyed humanities status before God, so did Christ’s life and death give us a new status before Him. The second righteousness, that is proper righteousness, is a product of the alien righteousness. When a person experiences the first one then he is transformed and seeks to crucify the flesh, love his neighbor, and most importantly love God. It doesn’t accomplish anything before God but it accomplishes much before man.

For these two forms of righteousness he uses the analogy of marriage. In the marriage relationship, which Jesus has with the Church, they share all things. The Church receives His righteousness and He has taken her sin. Furthermore, Luther writes, “Through the righteousness of the first arises the voice of the bridegroom who says to the soul, ‘I am yours,’ but through the voice of the second comes the voice of the bride who says, ‘I am yours.’ Then the marriage is consummated…. Then the soul no longer seeks to righteous in and for itself, but it has Christ as its righteousness and therefore only seeks the welfare of others.”[4] For Luther, justification is entirely received from the work and person of Christ; sanctification is reactionary and is the product of being loved by Christ.

As we can see, Luther’s understanding of justification radically shifted within a short period of time.  At first, he believed justification to be a current declaration of ‘righteous’ based on Christ’s ability to make a person so.   Then, he shifts to a purely external form of righteousness based on union with Christ.  This righteousness has a freeing affect, allowing a person to love his neighbor without selfishness.

[1] Carl Trueman notes how voluntarism changed problem of sin from ontology to the relationship between God and Man. Hence the focus on status. Carl Trueman, edited by Bruce L. McCormack, “Simul Peccator et Justus”, Justification in Perspective, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), p. 81.

[2] Carl Trueman, Ibid., 75.

[3] Rev. Martin Luther, Two Kinds of Righteousness, paragraph 3.

[4] Ibid, paragraph 9.

Augustine lays the smack down on Heretics

The last pre-Reformation Church to be examined is also the most important one. Augustine (354-430) was the Bishop of Hippo and he is a giant among giants in Church History. It is well attested that his writings have had a massive effect on Church thought, stretching from medieval theology to the Reformation and even today.[1] It is only appropriate that we should look into his highly influential views on Justification because they serve as a foundation for many coming after him.

Like many of the previous mentioned theologians, Augustine never explicitly taught on Justification but there is plenty of his work to glean from. In his writing, he shares many similarities with Athanasius in that justification for him is primarily about ontology.[2] We will notice this in two of his major works dealing with this topic, On the Spirit and the Letter and On Faith and Works

On the Spirit and the Letter is an argument against the Pelagians who believe that man inherently has the ability to serve God in and of himself. Augustine attacks these Pelagians using the seemingly Protestant argument of Law and Gospel. Concerning the law, he writes that it shows the “foulness of their disease,” and that it “increased sinfulness rather than lessened it when the law entered in so that sin might abound.”[3] When the law reveals how sick a person is, it leads him to the only doctor with the power to heal, namely Jesus. He writes concerning the Gospel, “He extends His mercy, not because they know him, but in order that they may know him, and he extends his righteousness, by which he justifies the sinner, not because they are upright of heart, but in order that they may be upright in heart.” [4] He also uses Romans 2 as evidence against Pelagianism when he compares it to Old Covenant Judaism. He remarks on how Paul used the law to show that the Jews were breakers of the law because they relied on their flesh and not on the Spirit of Christ.[5]

Although Augustine sounds like a Protestant when he uses the Law and Gospel distinction to battle Pelagianism, he means something entirely different. Where  Protestants harm with the law and heal with the Christ’s death, through the imputation of His righteousness, Augustine on the other hand, harms with the law and heals with Christ’s resurrection, there by imparting His righteous Spirit. For Augustine, Christ’s death gave us a clean record but Christ’s life gave us His righteousness so that we can be justifiably righteous before God. Not on our own strength but on the strength that He gives us. Romans 5.5 is a key verse for him in that we are made right with God by Him pouring His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit; justification for Augustine is primarily transformational. We become righteous receiving the Spirit of Christ by faith.[6]

So what exactly is the justifying role of the cross for Augustine? According to him it has a dual purpose. In On Faith and Works, Augustine is arguing against Anti-Nomians. To refute them, he writes about how on the cross, Jesus crucified the record of Christians’ sins; yet, that is not the only aspect of it. He also says through union with Christ believers were crucified to the world so that they would die to sin. Faith achieves two things simultaneously for him. For Augustine, the cross makes one righteous both forensically and intrinsically. [7]

Augustine is similar to Athanasius in many ways; In fact, Augustine was probably influenced by Athanasius.  In their understanding of justification , the atonement made Christians innocent before God, but it was Love of God poured into our hearts that God that made them righteous; both of these were essential.  For Augustine, his understanding of justification was developed by his conflict with the Pelagians.  It only makes sense that he would combat them by displaying the depravity of humanity and hearkening the Grace of God which gives a new nature through the Spirit.  It is the new man, who produces the fruit of good works, that God declares to be righteous.


[1] Alister McGrath, 24.

[2] When I mention ontological changes this is what the Reformed tradition would associate with Sanctification.

[3] Augustine, On the Spirit and the Law, 9.

[4] Ibid. 11.

[5] Ibid. 13.

[6] In comparing the Law of Works vs. Law of Faith Augustine states in paragraph 22: By the law of works God says: Do what I command! By the law of faith we say to God: “Give what you command! After all, the law commands in order to remind us of what faith should do.”

[7] Augustine, On Faith and Works, 15.

Athanasius hearts Incarnational Justification

No wonder Athanasius could understand the incarnation.  Look at the size of his cranium.

No wonder Athanasius could understand the incarnation. Look at the size of his cranium.

Athanasius (293-373 A.D.) is one of the most influential theologians in Church History. He has contributed much to the Church, but his most famous work is The Incarnation of the Word of God. The purpose of this book is to answer the question, why did the Eternal Son of God become flesh? Athanasius’ answer to this question involves justification.

In The Incarnation of the Word of God, Athanasius places justification within the context of a creation, fall, and redemption. He argues that it is essential that God’s creation was ex-nihilo because it must be dependant upon God for its very existence. When mankind, who is created in the image of God, turns away from God he in fact turns to a corruptibility, which causes a movement towards non-existence: Their natural end is death and destruction. He writes,

For the transgression of the commandment was making them turn back again according to their nature ; and as they had at the beginning come into being out of non-existence, so were they now on the way to returning, through corruption, to non-existence again. The presence and love of the Word had called them into being; inevitably, therefore, when they lost the knowledge of God, they lost existence with it; for it is God alone Who exists, evil is non-being, the negation and antithesis of good.[1]

To him the primary problem of sin is corruption. To support his theology, he largely cites Paul with verses such as 1 Corinthians 15.53, “This corruptible must put on incorruption and this mortal must put on immortality.” Sin produced death and corruption through the law that Adam was given. Mere repentance is not enough to stave off the effects of sin because the problem is the actual nature of man. The problem for Athanasius is primarily ontological in nature, not forensic.

Athanasius’ solution to this ontological corruption is in Jesus’ Incarnation. Jesus, the Eternal Son of God, took on flesh and fulfilled the law by suffering total corruption on the cross on behalf of all who believe in him. For him, it is not so much about a legal verdict but about legal debts being paid off. Adam (and his seed) contractually owes God death for his sin; Jesus paid off his debt by becoming sin and dying on the cross for humanity. Jesus conquered death through his resurrection; therefore, humanity can be renewed in its very being. [2]

His understanding of imputation is that of corperate association. He likens it to a whole city being honored because of the presence a great king. If we live in his city then we share his glory. How does one enter into His glorious city? We are received into the city through faith.[3]

A good summary of Athanasius’ view on justification is that Christ, the Eternal Son of God, died as a pure and spotless lamb to settle humanities debt by fulfilling the curse of Adam. Through His resurrection, humanity can receive a new nature in which they can live in the world as true humanity was always meant to. Though his view contains forensic elements to it (i.e. legal debt), justification is primarily about the ontological renewal of the image of God.

[1] Athanasius, The Incarnation of the Word of God, 1.4.

[2] This can be seen in 2.9 when he states, “For this reason, therefore, He assumed a body capable of death, in order that it, through belonging to the Word Who is above all, might become in dying a sufficient exchange for all, and, itself remaining incorruptible through His indwelling, might thereafter put an end to corruption for all others as well, by the grace of the resurrection. It was by surrendering to death the body which He had taken, as an offering and sacrifice free from every stain, that He forthwith abolished death for His human brethren by the offering of the equivalent.”

[3] Ibid. 2.9.


Justification Under Water

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.

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.