The Reformation brought a much needed understanding of justification back into Christian theology. Justification is by faith alone. This idea needed to be hammered home because it had been lost in the church. Salvation was thought of to be based on a person’s own merit and you could lose that if you weren’t working hard enough. But with every theological shift in thinking (whether good or bad) it tends to swing the pendulum to far in the opposite direction. The battle cry became “justification by faith alone” but then any talk about a “future justification” or “works playing into the future justification” makes the reformed community shutter. I am in this group but I always paused at passages like Rom. 2:6 “he will render each one according to his works” or James 2:14–26 where James says we are justified by our works. I first took the idea that this are rewards in heaven because after you have been justified works play into different levels of rewards in heaven. This never made complete sense to me but I went along with it. Then my understanding came to be that works are the fruit of a justified man but this still doesn’t fully satisfy an explanation for the passages listed above. It seems that works play into a final justification somehow but I have never really come across a clear and helpful explanation. Most of the ones I have heard are part of this fear of talking about a final justification (rightly so in some cases, depending on how you are talking about it). I am still working this out for myself but I thought the following was helpful.
This is where G.K. Beale comes in. A good friend of mine recommend that I read ch. 15 “The Inaugurated Latter-Day Justification” in his New Testament Biblical Theology because he gives a good argument/explanation for understanding justification on the last day. Beale gleans much from Richard Gaffin’s book By Faith, Not By Sight. Beale helpfully calls this the twofold understanding of justification. Here is an excerpt below:
On 2 Corinthians 4:16 - This removing of the execution of the physical penalty is a final part of the eschatological, two stage, already-not yet effects of justification
- Resurrection of the “inner man”
- Resurrection of the “outer man”. (see Rom 8:10–11, 23)
Richard Gaffin refers to this double justification as “justified by faith” and “yet to be justified be sight”. In that the complete overturning of the death penalty lies still in the future, there is a sense in which the full justification/vindication from that penalty is also still yet to be carried out, though this carrying out is ultimately an effect of the earlier declaration of justification from the complete penalty of sin that comes by faith.
He then gives the following analogy that I found extremely helpful
A man has been wrongfully convicted of a crime and has begun to serve a jail sentence. When new evidence has been adduced to demonstrate his innocence, the court nullifies the former verdict and declares him not guilty. However, because of the necessary administrative paperwork, the actual release of the prisoner does not take place for another three weeks. Thus, the prisoner’s justification occurs in two stages:
- The court’s announced verdict of “not guilty”
- The subsequent bodily release from the prison, which was a punishment of the former guilty verdict that was decisively overturned three weeks earlier, the full effects of which are now carried out.
I thought the prison analogy gave a very helpful understanding of how there can be a twofold nature of justification. In my next blog post I will give his arguments for how good works play into this final justification/vidication.