Monday, April 11, 2011

The Law Justified Christ

Someone going by "Todd" (profile not available) wrote:
Your first counterargument is that "Christ fulfilled the law. The law didn't condemn Christ, it justified Him." I'm going to ignore the bizarre phrasing that the Law justified Christ, which hints at all sorts of problems. But more to the point, you seem to completely miss who the Law is for. Is it for God? Or did God give it to us sinners? You'd think the answer would be obvious, and yet you feels the need to point out that Christ was not a sinner. Duh. When Lutherans say "the Law always accuses", we are not talking to Jesus, we are talking to fellow sinners.
I answer:

It's a pity Todd ignored it. It's an important point, something that Todd may not understand. Justification is a declaration of righteousness. As to those who are under the law, the law declares all (except Christ) to be sinners. The law accuses them.

This is why works righteousness as means of salvation is not just wrong, it's stupid. Scripture puts it this way:

Romans 3:19-20
Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
The way that law could, in theory, justify someone is by the person perfectly obeying the law.

Romans 2:13
(For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
Christ was justified in this way: he obeyed the law perfectly. This use of the term justify is found not only in the New Testament, but in the Old Testament:

Deuteronomy 25:1
If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment, that the judges may judge them; then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked.
That is the role of judges: to declare the righteous and the innocent.

Moreover, the idea of justifying God is similarly to be found in the Old Testament:

Job 32:2
Then was kindled the wrath of Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the kindred of Ram: against Job was his wrath kindled, because he justified himself rather than God.
Notice that what Elihu wanted was for Job to declare God righteous and for Job to declare himself to be a sinner. But Elihu felt as if Job had declared himself to be righteous.

David provides us with a positive example:

Psalm 51:4
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.
See this similar New Testament example:

Luke 7:29
And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John.
So, you see, if one gets too immersed in justification by faith, one may miss the broader context of justification as a declaration of righteousness.

We actually see the idea of an imputed righteousness (negatively) in the Old Testament:

Isaiah 5:23
Which justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him!
What is remarkable here is that unjust judges are being blamed for accepting a bribe to declare a guilty person as not being guilty.

Later in Isaiah, however, we see that something similar (though proper and legitimate) is going to take place in Christ:

Isaiah 45:25
In the LORD shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.
Isaiah 53:11
He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.
This gospel message is later explained by the apostles:

Acts 13:39
And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.
This is, indeed, the critical point that struck home with Luther as it should also with you:

Galatians 2:16-17
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid.
Roman apologists (and not just them) love to try to tell folks that the law here means simply circumcision and the ceremonial laws. But Paul goes on to explain the imputation of Christ's righteousness rather than our personal righteousness, explaining it this way:

Galatians 2:18-21
For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.
In short, therefore, recall that we are justified by faith. We trust in Christ for our righteousness - not in our own works or in the works of some other creature, whether Mary, a martyr, or a saint. In Christ we die to the law. In that dread transaction, our sins are laid to his account, and though the law justified him, we are declared righteous, he is declared unrighteous, and he is crucified for us. We take his death for our sins, and we therefore live. Thus, our righteousness does not come by the law, but by the grace of God in Christ. The law no longer accuses us (as I explained in my previous post), because we are no longer under the law.

Paul beautifully explains it this way (by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit):

Galatians 4:3-5
Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: but when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
-TurretinFan

12 comments:

c.t. said...

I have pretty good discernment for how on-the-mark biblical doctrine (Federal Theology) needs to be worded, and I must say I kind of squint my eyes and tilt my head when I read "the law justified Christ." Perhaps unrelated, but I get the same feeling whenever I come across someone stating that Jesus was justified by faith (a more obviously wrong statement usually put forward by Federal Vision types these days).

Obviously salvation is by works: either our own (good luck with that) or Jesus' (appropriated by faith). Jesus (the second Adam) fulfilled what Adam failed to fulfill. But I don't see the connection where it's necessary or right to say that Jesus was 'justified'. Jesus was never a fallen man. He was the only 100% innocent man after the fall of Adam in the Garden.

I'll stand corrected if I'm missing something.

c.t. said...

We could say that Jesus' *probation* was *vindicated* (as Adam's was not for obvious reasons), but justification implies the presence of transgression and the guilt and pollution of original and active sin resulting from transgression. Jesus was not born with original sin, and He never actively sinned. He was born innocent and died innocent. His active work (his following the law to a 't' in his life as the God-man) had meaning because of Jesus' status as the *federal head* of the elect (just as Adam in the Garden was the federal head of humanity). As our federal head (those of us who have saving faith in Him) He didn't need justification, he just needed to fulfill what Adam failed to fulfill, then He needed to pay the price for our fall which was death, His passive work. His death had meaning because He was 100% innocent, the unspotted Lamb, the only man who could be sacrificed as 100% innocent, the only sacrifice that could be for all time for all the elect.

I know, TF, this is all basic for you, but I'm just going through it because saying Jesus was justified just sounds off...

c.t. said...

Or maybe the Bible is saying Jesus was justified 'in the Spirit' (not 'by the Spirit') (1 Tim. 3:16), not to God the Father, but to accusers and unbelievers.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"Someone going by "Todd" (profile not available)"

Here's his website:

http://www.toddstadler.com/

I've been informed that he's a Lutheran in the WELS denomination.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Todd, comment on prior thread: "When Lutherans say "the Law always accuses", we are not talking to Jesus, we are talking to fellow sinners.

What's more bizarre is that what you meant by "the law didn't condemn Christ" was that, specifically, Pontius Pilate didn't condemn Christ. ....

I think you're playing loose with the word "condemn" -- and, you may notice, also conflating it with "accuse". But they are different words."

versus

Melanchthon, The Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Part 6, Article III: Of Love and the Fulfilling of the Law :

"But since they are accounted righteous, the Law cannot accuse or condemn them, even though they have not actually satisfied the Law."

Melanchthon totally dismisses any concerns about conflating "accuse" and "condemn" by flatly stating:

"the Law cannot accuse OR condemn them"

(1) For those accounted righteous

(2) Even though they haven't actually satisfied the Law.

Turretinfan said...

C.T.:

You wrote: "We could say that Jesus' *probation* was *vindicated* (as Adam's was not for obvious reasons), but justification implies the presence of transgression and the guilt and pollution of original and active sin resulting from transgression."

Actually, justification just entails a declaration of righteousness. I think you may have already recognized that with your 1 Timothy 3:16 reference.

Here's another:

Luke 7:29 And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John.

For us sinners, justification requires an alien righteousness (Christ's). This transfer is described this way:

1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:

He received the punishment of the unjust, they received the declaration of righteousness that he earned through obedience.

-TurretinFan

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"It's a pity Todd ignored it. It's an important point, something that Todd may not understand."

If he didn't understand it, then that would explain why he ignored it.

People tend to ignore things they don't understand.

todd said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
todd said...

One reason I don't have a Blogger profile is because I hate Blogger. One reason I hate Blogger is because of the way it deals with comments.

As an example -- and by way of explaining my multiple-comment posting yesterday -- I have, in the past hour, written a reply on this thread. I posted it, Blogger accepted it, and I saw it show up on the main post page. I refreshed a short while later, and now my comment is gone.

Has it disappeared? Is it in some spam quarantine somewhere, waiting for TFan to release it? I don't know. I saved a copy of my reply, so I can resubmit it, but I'm not really sure what's going on.

Todd said...

I'm not sure why you consider this a response to my earlier comment as such, since it ignores almost all of what I wrote, and instead focuses on that which I said I was going to ignore. Which is to say, this is more a new can of worms than dealing with the old one -- and I do hope you will reply at some point to what I did choose to focus on. But hey, it's your blog.

Anyhow, you begin, "Justification is a declaration of righteousness." I'm with you so far!

You continue, "As to those who are under the law, the law declares all (except Christ) to be sinners. The law accuses them." I find the latter sentence interesting, coming from you, given the context in which I entered this discussion.

Anyhow, you then go on to give many, many examples with which I really have no issue, so I'm not sure what your larger point is, except to clarify what was apparently a largely semantic issue between us.

I think some of this may stem from the translations we each are used to reading (you the KJV, me the ESV or one of the NIVs). Several of the KJV verses you cite -- particularly those involving God being justified -- are not translated in my versions with that word. So perhaps it is a question of what one is accustomed to reading. I cannot competently speak to the underlying Greek or Hebrew words.

Anyhow, As C.T. (who apparently shares more in common with you, theologically) said, "I must say I kind of squint my eyes and tilt my head when I read 'the law justified Christ'" and "saying Jesus was justified just sounds off..." This was my complaint, as well.

After all, while Jesus certainly followed the Law perfectly, one cannot ignore that, as God, the Law came from Him. Similarly, as a holy, perfect, sinless God, he was, is, and ever will be declared righteous -- before the Law existed, and when it is no longer needed in the world to come. Which is to say, Christ is not only justified by the Law. He is, simply, just.

In contrast, the bulk of justification talk I have encountered concerns the declaration -- contra the actual evidence, as it were -- of sinners as righteous.

But, again, none of this really tackles the main issues raised on the other thread by either me or you, so I don't really get the emphasis here.

Nick said...

It seems there is an equivocation going on with this subject.

Normally, when we say someone is 'justified', it means their sins were forgiven. This obviously didn't apply to Christ. Thus, it would turn heads to hear "the Law justified Christ".

Even Calvin says clearly that Justification is essentially a forgiveness of sins, and does *not* mention any imputation of a 'positive righteousness' of the Active Obedience sort in his Institutes (3:11):

"Let us now consider the truth of what was said in the definition—viz. that justification by faith is reconciliation with God, and that this consists solely in the remission of sins."

"“He has made him to be sin for us who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him,” (2 Cor. 5:19-21). He here uses righteousness and reconciliation indiscriminately, to make us understand that the one includes the other."

"in the Epistle to the Romans, he proves, by the testimony of David, that righteousness is imputed without works, because he declares the man to be blessed “whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered,” and “unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity,” (Rom. 4:6; Ps. 32:1, 2). There he undoubtedly uses blessedness for righteousness; and as he declares that it consists in forgiveness of sins, there is no reason why we should define it otherwise."

"Luke states that he concluded in this way: “Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins, and by him all that believe are justified from all things from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses,” (Acts 13:38, 39). Thus the Apostle connects forgiveness of sins with justification in such a way as to show that they are altogether the same"

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.v.xii.html

c.t. said...

>Normally, when we say someone is 'justified', it means their sins were forgiven. This obviously didn't apply to Christ. Thus, it would turn heads to hear "the Law justified Christ".

I was going to add... When I was looking at classic commentaries on the 1 Tim. 3:16 passage what came across from them was a similar uncomfortableness in wanting to say Jesus was justified without making the distinction between fallen man and God Himself. Jesus being justified 'in the Spirit' is different from being justified by God like a fallen man by faith is justified.