Over at P.OST theologian, Andrew Perriman, has posted an article in which he looks to faithfully summarise what justification is within the actual biblical framework. Perriman works within more of a narrative-historical framework, seeing Scripture as first and foremost a historical document rather than a systematic textbook.
He begins by summarising the usual understanding of justification:
The classic doctrine of justification is roughly that God declares righteous—and will declare righteous at the final judgment—the sinner who has faith in Jesus. There is nothing that we can do to make ourselves right with God—no works of any religious or moral “law”. The righteousness of Jesus may be transferred or “imputed” to us, but even then, it’s never really ours; it remains, in effect, on loan. Justification does not mean that we are right. It means that we have Christ’s rightness.
But, as expected, Perriman begins by challenging this notion, particularly with these words:
A preliminary and rather obvious point needs to be made first. Justification does not mean saying that someone is in the right when they are not. It means saying that someone is in the right when their rightness or righteousness has been challenged or denied in some way. To give a simple example, God tells unrighteous Israel: “learn to do good; seek judgment; rescue the one who is wronged; defend the orphan, and do justice to (dikaiōsate) the widow” (Is. 1:17 LXX). The widow is not in the wrong but she is a victim of injustice. To do justice to her is to give her what is rightfully hers.
And, near the end of his article, Perriman shares a clear and concise understanding of how justification is being used within the New Testament framework:
This is not a matter of abstract metaphysics. It has to do with the concrete experience of the early communities of Jews and Greeks who believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Justification by faith meant that sooner or later historical events would demonstrate that they had been right all along to believe in the promise of God and to act on the basis of that promise.
I appreciate these thoughts, as it looks to take the teaching of the New Testament out of the abstract and make it real in the life of the community of Christ today. And so he offers some thoughtful questions for us to think through:
I would suggest, then, finally, that for believers today a “doctrine” of justification should address not the purely soteriological question of how we are saved in some absolute forensic and personal sense, but much more practical challenges regarding the identity and purpose of the church: Are we right to hold to our beliefs when secular culture is doing its best to persuade us that we are in the wrong? What sort of faithfulness is required if we are ever to be vindicated, shown to be in the right, for continuing to confess Jesus as Lord from the social and intellectual margins of the western world?
You can read the full article here.