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Justification: Who Gets The Glory?

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Imagine you’re about to win first place in a marathon. As you coast through the final 100 yards you’re met with cheering crowds and a photo finish as you cross the finish line. You go into the record books as the fastest runner to ever win a marathon. You’re a hero and an inspiration to everyone. Your face is in all the papers and on cereal boxes. However, there’s just one problem-you didn’t really win the race. In fact, though you could’ve sworn that you had at least ran the last few yards of the race, in reality you never ran at all. Someone actually carried you through. That someone is the real winner.

There are only two outcomes when we finish the race of life. We finish as winners or we finish as losers. There’s no award for participation. The race is also one that no one can possibly win on his own. That’s because dead men can’t run.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

Christ wins the race for us. He carries us through the finish line. The only winners are those who are justified on the basis of his life, death and resurrection as received by faith alone. While all Christians agree that Christ is the source of righteousness, there are three major views in the church on the ground of justification.

The Roman View

In the Roman Catholic view of the ground of justification the sinner is justified on the basis of his own inherent righteousness. which is essentially infused into his heart in regeneration. God declares us righteous because we have been made genuinely righteous in ourselves.

The Arminian View

All protestant Christians agree that sinners are justified by faith. The difference between Arminians and Reformed Christians lies in the understanding of faith itself.

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

For the Arminian, faith is counted as righteousness because it is in itself actual personal righteousness, being obedience to the gospel as God’s new law.

The Reformed View

To understand the Reformed view of justification it’s helpful to understand a few scriptural terms for to justify. The Old Testament uses two different terms of the same word: hidsdik and tsiddek. Regularly these terms designate a divine declaration respecting man. In the New Testament, the word dikaio-o has the same meaning. From the study of these words it is quite evident that in Scripture to justify does not mean to make but to declare righteous. The Biblical idea that we are declared righteous rather than made righteous is the key to the Reformed understanding of justification as opposed to the Roman and Arminian views. The idea that we are made righteous is not only foreign to Scripture, it is also a danger on two points:

The argument [by the Reformers] against both Romans and Arminians was that by finding the ground of justification in the believer himself they ministered to human pride on the one hand, and on the other hand robbed the Son of God of the glory which he was due. It is not enough…to say that without Christ our justification would be impossible; one must go on to say that it on the ground of his obedience, as our representative and substitutionary sin-bearer, and that alone, that righteousness is reckoned to us, and sin cancelled.

The Reformed view of justification may summed up as as the legal act of God by which he declares the sinner righteous on the basis of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. This justification is received by faith alone. Faith is the gift of God wrought in the sinner unto justification as a means to carry the declaration and the means by which man appropriates Christ’s gifts.

The question is: Who gets the glory? In the analogy of the race, both the Roman an Arminian views are likened to the runner winning the race after receiving performance enhancing drugs. Man gets the glory-however falsely he may obtain it. Additionally, if the runner is dead how can this possibly enable him to even run the race? We win the race because it was he who did all the running.

Those whom God effectually calleth, He also freely justifieth: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous, not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness, but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on Him and His righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.
Rom. 8:30; Rom. 3:24; Rom. 4:5-8; 2 Cor. 5:19, 21; Rom. 3:22, 24-25, 27-28; Titus 3:5, 7; Eph. 1:7; Jer. 23:6; 1 Cor. 1:30-31; Rom. 5:17-19; Acts 10:43; Gal. 2:16; Phil. 3:9; Acts 13:38-39; Eph. 2:7-8.

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Joshua Ambrose

Joshua Ambrose is a restless disciple of Christ and sometimes whimsical mischief-maker. When not writing about theology, he writes about philosophy, history, economics, finance and basically anything that involves being a good neighbor in a way that honors his Lord.

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