Category Archives: The Cross

Romans2: Diatribe called Quest

The Epistle to the Romans is Art!  It is many things: a letter, pastoral care, deep theological truths, Apostolic witness, God’s revealing love…; yet, this content is all weaved together into a masterful piece of literature.  God has given His beautiful Word to the Church, through the medium of beautiful whispers.

Paul,a master rhetorician, uses many tools when composing Romans; one of these is Diatribe.  Diatribe is a rhetorical technique where one creates a dialog with with a fictitious opponent. In this dialog, there is a back and forth questioning between the two people.  This rhetorical technique is advantageous because it highlights the strengths of one person’s views and the weakness of the others.

This is significant because Paul begins using this technique in Romans 2.1-4 when he states,

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who do such things. Do you suppose, O man–you who judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself–that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
(Rom 2:1-4)

As we can see, Paul goes on the offensive as he attacks his opponent(s); but, who is his opposition?  Are they legalistic Christians or Pagans?  I think Paul gives us some clues.  Firstly, he attacks his opponent by vocatively addressing him as “O man” (ἄνθρωπε).  In my opinion, he ties his opponent to the greater HUMANity that has been fallen since the beginning.  This fallen humanity is specifically mentioned in Romans 1.18-32.

Although Paul’s opponent is certainly part of the greater humanity, I do think he has something more specific in mind.  In 2.17 he states, “What about you? You call yourself a Jew; you depend on the Law and boast about God…”   His “adversary” is a Jew.  This point is pertinent to one trying to understand Paul’s presentation of the Gospel in Romans.  The Gospel that he is giving to the Gentile Roman church (1.13) is not a situationless truth; rather, it is a polemic against a contemporary Judaic world view.  The question being answered in Romans is not, “what is the gospel?”  Instead, the question is “how does Paul’s gospel trump the Judaic belief system?”

With this in mind, I hope to show how Paul uses Diatribe to demonstate the importance of justification.

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.

Calvin in the Sun


animatedcalvinandhobbes

Calvin held justification in high regard as well. He called it “main hinge on which religion turns.”[1] He essentially agrees with Luther on the idea of justification being legal in nature. He states, “He is said to be justified in Gods sight who is both reckoned righteous in God’s judgment and has been accepted on account of his righteousness.” Furthermore he writes, “we say that it consists in the remission of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.”[2] According to Calvin, our justification is only by Christ’s death that we a have the forgiveness of sins and acceptance by God. Again, Calvin strongly concurs with Luther on this point.

Surprisingly though, the relationship between justification and sanctification is remarkably different for Calvin and Luther. Where Luther sees a logical priority between justification and sanctification, Calvin sees them simultaneously applied to the believer by union with Christ. Where Luther uses the analogy of a doctor or marriage, Calvin uses the analogy of the sun. He notes that the sun sheds its rays upon the earth and these rays give both heat and light. The light does not give heat and the heat does not give light yet they are from an inseparable in source.[3] For him, this is the perfect analogy because in union with Christ believers receive both justification and sanctification but they do not overlap. He beautifully remarks about the “double grace” that we receive by faith, “that being reconciled to God through Christ’s blamelessness, we have in heaven instead of a Judge a gracious Father and secondly, that sanctified by Christ’s spirit we may cultivate blamelessness and purity of life.”[4] Anthony Lane summarizes this concept of Calvin well, calling it “double justification.” By Christ’s death and resurrection God is satisfied but by Christ’s Spirit in the believer God is pleased.[5] For Calvin, our works matter before God; they are pleasing. It also means that there is a correlation between our works and our justification. A true Christian who is justified by the blood of Christ will be bear the fruit of sanctification. As I will discuss in a later post, I think this is a reason why Calvin was more sympathetic towards the contemporary Catholic views.


[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3.11.1.

[2] Ibid, 3.11.2.

[3] Ibid, 3.11.6

[4] Ibid, 3.11.1

[5] Anthony N.S. Lane, Justification by Faith in Catholic-Protestant Dialogue (London: T&T Clark, 2002), pgs. 33-36.

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.