Sunday, May 17, 2009

The nature of justification with regards to Mt. 12:36-37

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Mt. 12:36-37)

εκ γαρ των λογων σον δικαιωθηση, και εκ των λογων σον καταδικασθηση. (Mt. 12:37)

What is justification? With the Roman Catholics' confusion on the one side to "Protestant" infatuation with the New Perspective doctrine and Federal Vision on the other, the Church has came full circle back to the foundational doctrine of the Gospel — the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone. That RCism in her blindness cannot perceive its truth is sad, but it is tragic that those who are supposed to be children of the Reformation are falling away.

Once upon a time, students of the Bible understand that context is key. The Christan would interpret the verse in context, and while the meaning and etymology of the word in the original language may be helpful at a deeper level, they cannot and should not overturn the basic contextual meaning of the verse in context. Such is to commit an exegetical fallacy, of which the most common encountered so far is the fallacy of unwarranted adoption of an expanded semantic field or abuse of the field of lexicography, as described in D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies (Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Baker), p. 60-61. When using a reliable translation of the Bible, we can trust that we have God's Word with us, and therefore we can read the Scripture for ourselves and learn what it desires to teach us.

The historic Protestant doctrine of justification is "the gracious act of God the Father through the perfect work of Jesus Christ whereby I have been pardoned and made right before God" [James R. White, The God who Justifies (Minneapolis, MI, USA: Bethany House, 2001), p. 31. Emphasis original]. It encompasses the process of double imputation as its logical corollary, whereby our sin is counted as Christ's, while his righteousness is credited to our account, so that we are considered righteous before God and acceptable unto Him though we are still materially sinful and God is holy. This understanding of Justification flows from a look at the book of Romans, as shown by Dr. James R. White in his book The God who Justifies.

Being biblical, we know that Scripture proclaims for itself inerrancy and especially verbal plenary inspiration and authority. Since that is the case, all of Scripture must be systematized into a coherent whole, for God does not lie so contradictions cannot exist. The doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone is so explicit in Romans that the only way to avoid its teaching is either to attempt to subjugate its message using counter proof-texts as what RCism traditionally has done, or to shift the entire reading and hermeneutical framework as what New Perspectivism has done.

We have previously addressed James 2, and have exposed the exegetical fallacy involved in reading acontextually all forms of the dikaio- word groups legal justification. In Mt. 12:36-37, this fallacy seems to be involved as well. However, if so, then what exactly is Mt. 12:36-37 teaching if not legal justification? Since it alludes if not refers to the last Day of judgment, shouldn't the context be referring to justification before God in the legal sense, and thus justification has a future aspect to it as well?

To address this issue, we will look to the immediate context of the verse, and then to the larger context of the Scriptures using the Analogy of Faith (Analogia Fide).

Immediate context

The context of this passage is the teachings of Jesus regarding various sundry issues in Jesus' contention against the false teachings of the Pharisees. In the immediate context however, the teachings of Jesus in verse 33 on the good and bad tree (echoing back to Mt. 7:17-20), and verses 35 on the treasures indicate for us an emphasis on practical Christian living. This can be seen in verse 34 which states that "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks". Therefore, the entire focus of the immediate context is on the practical manifestation of Christian living.

Verses 36 and 37 should thus be interpreted in this light. The "justification" here is the manifestation of the nature of genuine faith in true Christians, while the condemnation is the manifestation of the judgment of God against sinful men.

Entirety of Scripture or Systematic Theology

When one looks at the entirety of Scripture, it can be clearly seen that justification is a one-time event when a person exercises faith in Christ, a fact defended by Dr. James R. White in his book The God that Justifies.

Jn. 3:18 teaches that condemnation is already a reality before the final judgment even now for all Man unless they are saved. The parallelism, which is very striking in the Greek, thus hints that conversely, justification in this verse is something which is a present reality in people even before the final judgment.

Putting the two lines of thought together would yield us the correct Protestant interpretation of the verses — that the words we speak reveal or manifest our nature as believers or unbelievers; whether we are righteous or unrighteousness, justified or condemned. We are not justified by our words or works as taught in Mt. 12:36-37, but we are shown to be previously justified at the final judgment.

There is therefore no future aspect of justification. God knows His people and as Sovereign, does not need to defend and contest with anyone who his justified elect are. and the validity of the justification process in any one individual. When we are justified, we have already been justified (past tense), and move along the golden chain of salvation (in Rom. 8:29; not the exact Ordo Salutis) to the next step so to speak, which chronologically is glorification. When believers stand before God, God does not have to check his "record-book" to confirm that any believer is indeed justified (past tense), but he would welcome us in without any need of assessment, giving us glorified bodies fit for our new habitat and status.

In conclusion, Mt. 12:36-37 does not teach legal justification or anything of the sort. Context matters, and when the texts are interpreted in context, the true biblical meaning always surfaces. Despite mention of the day of judgment, Mt. 12:36-37 does not teach legal justification by works at all. Amen.

9 comments:

Beng said...

I think J C Ryle put it very well i the third chapter ("Sanctification") of his book "Holiness":

Sanctification is a thing which will be found absolutely necessary as a witness to our character in the great Day of Judgment. It will be utterly useless to plead that we believed in Christ unless our faith has had some sanctifying effect and been seen in our lives.

Evidence, evidence, evidence will be the one thing wanted when the great white throne is set, when the books are opened, when the graves give up their tenants, when the dead are arraigned before the bar of God. Without some evidence that our faith in Christ was real and genuine, we shall only rise again to be condemned. I can find no evidence that will be admitted in that day, except sanctification.

The question will not be how we talked and what we professed, but how we lived and what we did. Let no man deceive himself on this point. If anything is certain about the future, it is certain that there will be a judgment; and if anything is certain about judgment, it is certain that men’s "works" and "doings" will be considered and examined in it (John 5:29; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 20:13).

He who supposes works are of no importance because they cannot justify us is a very ignorant Christian. Unless he opens his eyes, he will find to his cost that if he comes to the bar of God without some evidence of grace, he had better never have been born.

PuritanReformed said...

SB:

I agree with Ryle, but I think the language is rather slippery. While santification is necessary in salvation, it is not necessary for salvation. So the sentence "no evidence ... admitted in that day, except sanctification" is loose language. Similarly, the part on being born seems to allude to the second birth, and thus could be improved

Nick said...

You said: The doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone is so explicit in Romans that the only way to avoid its teaching is either to attempt to subjugate its message using counter proof-texts as what RCism traditionally has done, or to shift the entire reading and hermeneutical framework as what New Perspectivism has done.

Nick: I don't agree with that rendering of Catholic "tactics." For me, the reason why I reject Sola Fide is because key texts like Rom 4, Eph 2, Gal 3, and Phil 3, manifestly don't teach it. The concept of "double imputation" is simply never taught in Scripture.

You said: "Therefore, the entire focus of the immediate context is on the practical manifestation of Christian living."

Nick: And the final judgment based on your words (actions) is just as practical a teaching. If "giving account on the day of judgment" is not a legal context, then I don't believe anything can be argued to be.

You said: it can be clearly seen that justification is a one-time event

Nick: I don't believe this can be proven by Scripture. In fact, I'd say the evidence points the opposite direction, for in Rom 4 Abraham was surely justified before Gen 15:6, and David was repenting of a lost justification in Ps32. That cannot be a one time event for either. In White's book on Justification he has no reasonable response for these cases. That leads to absurd situations such as that Abraham was not justified until Gen 15:6, yet was pleasing and blessed by God earlier in his lifetime (Gen 12-14).

The passage of Jn 3:18 is saying that a unbeliever person remains in a state of condemnation in so far as the "wrath of God" is still abiding on him. It does not state anything about the future of the individual (eg if he will become believer later on). That passage is talking about the present, the Mat 12 is talking about the final judgment, two different things.

You said there is no future aspect of justification, that's contradicted by the plain reading of a judgement day where "will be justified" or "will be condemned" is mentioned. Mat 12 speaks of a future justification or future condemnation, not one that takes place previously. On top of that, you would be assigning a novel definition to dikaioo here: "declared to be already declared righteous"

You said: Despite mention of the day of judgment, Mt. 12:36-37 does not teach legal justification by works at all.

Nick: Then I honestly believe it would be impossible to prove a text ever is speaking of forensic justification, because if the final judgment is not a legal context, then nothing is. The ultimate courtroom scene uses "justify" and "condemn" in a non legal sense, that's what you're ultimately saying.

5 days ago

PuritanReformed said...

>The concept of "double imputation" is simply never taught in Scripture.

Your Bible must have ommitted 2 Cor. 5:21

>Nick: And the final judgment based on your words (actions) is just as practical a teaching. If "giving account on the day of judgment" is not a legal context, then I don't believe anything can be argued to be.

You refuse to interact with the exegesis; just saying you don't bleieve in something because it is not reasonable to you does not an argument make.

> In fact, I'd say the evidence points the opposite direction, for in Rom 4 Abraham was surely justified before Gen 15:6, and David was repenting of a lost justification in Ps32.

Whoever said that Gen. 15:6 was the time when Abraham was justified? And what proof do you have that David was repenting of a lost justification in Ps. 32?

5 days ago

PuritanReformed said...

> You said there is no future aspect of justification, that's contradicted by the plain reading of a judgement day where "will be justified" or "will be condemned" is mentioned. Mat 12 speaks of a future justification or future condemnation, not one that takes place previously.

What plain reading? Where is your proof that the tenses of a verb trump the context? Also, whoever said that Grek tenses functions in the same way as English tenses in their thinking of temporal relations?

> On top of that, you would be assigning a novel definition to dikaioo here: "declared to be already declared righteous"

Nope, that is not the definition of dikiaoo here. Don't you know that the context determines the meaning, not erely individual words and phrases? If the same tactic is used of any language even English, comprehension is impossible.

> Then I honestly believe it would be impossible to prove a text ever is speaking of forensic justification, because if the final judgment is not a legal context, then nothing is.

That's a mere assertioin, not proved by the text itself. Can you at least interact with the text and not impose your ideas on what is right and wrong into the text of Scripture?

5 days ago

Nick said...

I am sorry for getting back here late. And the way you have put up with me is a great testimony of your love for Christ.

You said: "What plain reading? Where is your proof that the tenses of a verb trump the context? Also, whoever said that Grek tenses functions in the same way as English tenses in their thinking of temporal relations?"

Nick: The plain reading is this takes place in the future, hence the day of judgement. And all the major Protestant translations I've checked say "will be" justified, so this isn't a bias of mine.

You said: Nope, that is not the definition of dikiaoo here. Don't you know that the context determines the meaning, not erely individual words and phrases? If the same tactic is used of any language even English, comprehension is impossible.

Nick: Dikaioo needs a definition here, and I've given solid evidence that the context is in reference to judgement day, a future tense, and contrasted to "condemned". The standard Protestant definition of dikaioo is "declare righteous," while the common secondary definition being "vindicated." Of all the Protestant works I've examined, those are pretty much the definitions.

You said: That's a mere assertion, not proved by the text itself. Can you at least interact with the text and not impose your ideas on what is right and wrong into the text of Scripture?

Nick: That's not my point, my point is using your standards, I dont see any passage of Scripture standing up to dikaioo in a legal context. Please, give a few examples where dikaioo is undoubtedly in a legal context.

3 days ago

Nick said...

oops, it looks like one of your responses was minimized so I missed it:

>The concept of "double imputation" is simply never taught in Scripture.
You said: Your Bible must have ommitted 2 Cor. 5:21

Nick: I don't believe 2 Cor 5:21 teaches DI, especially given Paul was well aware of the term "impute" and never used it here.

You said: You refuse to interact with the exegesis; just saying you don't bleieve in something because it is not reasonable to you does not an argument make.

Nick: My use of "believe" here is not baseless, I'm giving a reason, the "day of judgment" and contrasted to "condemn" are legal terms and thus legal context to me.

You said: Whoever said that Gen. 15:6 was the time when Abraham was justified? And what proof do you have that David was repenting of a lost justification in Ps. 32?

Nick: Who said Abraham was justified in Gen 15:6? Paul and many other Protestants I can think of (including White). If Abraham was not justified in Gen 15, then you run into serious exegetical problems (ie Gen 15:6 becomes a floating passage not related to the context). The fact is, Gen 15:6 was a historical event, when that day came in Abe's life he put his faith in God and God credited his faith as righteousness, this fact is critical for Paul's argument in Rom 4 in that Abe was justified "before" circumcision. As for David in Ps 32, Paul is clear that this was a moment of justification, thus David was getting justified here. Yet David was not converting at this point in life (he was a long time believer who had even written Scripture prior to this), rather he was repenting after falling into grave sin, thus he was recovering his justification.

3 days ago

PuritanReformed said...

> The plain reading is this takes place in the future, hence the day of judgement

So according to your reasoning, Rom. 8:29-30 teaches that all believers are glorified already? After all, all the verbs in Rom. 8:30 is past tense.

> Dikaioo needs a definition here

I am not going to repeat myself again. Please inform me why Acts 17:27-28 does not refer to Zeus.

> That's not my point, my point is using your standards,

Show me where did I say that all mention of dikaio- must refer to a legal context. If you cannot, then you are misrepresenting my position.

2 days ago

PuritanReformed said...

You said: "I'm giving a reason, the "day of judgment" and contrasted to "condemn" are legal terms and thus legal context to me. "
AND
"I dont see any passage of Scripture standing up to dikaioo in a legal context."


Please resolve your contradiction. Which one of your contradictory assertions are true?


> Who said Abraham was justified in Gen 15:6? Paul and many other Protestants I can think of (including White).

That's where you aren't reading. Protestants say that is the formal ratification of Abraham's justification, not the material ratification. Ditto for David.

2 days ago