Saturday, April 13, 2013

On Forensic Justification and Its Relation to Regeneration

Back in November, a Facebook friend from the Eastern Church shared an interesting article in the comments of one of his status threads and asked if I had ever read it.  The article, entitled "Union With Christ: The New Finnish Interpretation of Luther," postulates an interpretation of Luther's writings in which justification is more akin to the Eastern conception of "theosis" than to the Protestant theology of "forensic justification."  Having never read the article before, I offered a few of my initial reactions, which I will reproduce below.  With a significant amount of time having elapsed since I wrote the review in question, there are a few things I would have worded differently.  As such, I'm curious to know any thoughts that others may have with respect to both the article itself and my reaction:
Lutheran (and Luther's) view of justification is a forensic one, but the document referenced is useful in reminding us that this is only half the picture. God's declaration of righteousness is not [only] a cosmic facade in the sense that Protestant theology often imagines. When God declares us righteous, we are made righteous by the "washing and renewal of the Holy Spirit." Unlike our first birth in the image of Old Adam, God's efficacious Word recreates us in the image of the New Adam. The blood of Christ that covers our sin does not only makes us "appear" to be like God's Son, but it makes us His son inherently by giving us a new heart and nature - the righteousness of Christ. This is all accomplished by the Holy Spirit's gracious work through faith. 
[However,] In the Lutheran view, the distinction between forensic righteousness and inherent righteousness must be maintained, because on this side of the Parousia our inherent righteousness is incomplete. If we are judged by our inherent righteousness, the Old Adam that still lingers within would condemn us. This is why forensic justification - the all-encompassing merits of Christ - is that by which we are judged. At the same time, as the article points out, the righteousness that makes us forensically and inherently righteous are one and the same. They are Christ.

So Lutheran theology does not negate the importance and necessity of good works. Indeed, "faith alone justifies, but faith is never alone," as I have heard it said. Without good works, faith is dead and not salvific. Ultimately, I think these thoughts are best summarized by the Blessed Reformer himself, as cited in the Lutheran Confessions (one of my favorite excerpts): "Thus faith is a divine work in us, that changes us and regenerates us of God, and puts to death the old Adam, makes us entirely different men in heart, spirit, mind, and all powers, and brings with it [confers] the Holy Ghost. Oh, it is a living, busy, active, powerful thing that we have in faith, so that it is impossible for it not to do good without ceasing. Nor does it ask whether good works are to be done; but before the question is asked, it has wrought them, and is always engaged in doing them. But he who does not do such works is void of faith, and gropes and looks about after faith and good works, and knows neither what faith nor what good works are, yet babbles and prates with many words concerning faith and good works. [Justifying] faith is a living, bold [firm] trust in God's grace, so certain that a man would die a thousand times for it [rather than suffer this trust to be wrested from him]. And this trust and knowledge of divine grace renders joyful, fearless, and cheerful towards God and all creatures, which [joy and cheerfulness] the Holy Ghost works through faith; and on account of this, man becomes ready and cheerful, without coercion, to do good to every one, to serve every one, and to suffer everything for love and praise to God, who has conferred this grace on him, so that it is impossible to separate works from faith, yea, just as impossible as it is for heat and light to be separated from fire."  [FC:SD:IV:10-12] 


  1. This is where you go off the the tracks: "[However,] In the Lutheran view, the distinction between forensic righteousness and inherent righteousness must be maintained, because on this side of the Parousia our inherent righteousness is incomplete."

    All men's righteousness is complete in Christ objectievely whether he believes it or not. This is what faith finds it's anchor in. This is why the BoC in the SD talks about universal redemption and reconciliation.

  2. I was talking about inherent righteousness, or sanctification, Joe. Sanctification is not complete until we are physically re-created like unto our spiritual re-creation.

  3. Perhaps of some interest...

  4. C'mon, Daniel. Sanctification is sanctification...which is an ongoing process. Righteousness is not an ongoing process. Either an individual is righteous (by his justification through faith) or he is not by his unbelief. What's next? Infused grace?

  5. Pastor Webber: Thanks for the link!

    Joe: "It is also correctly said that believers who in Christ through faith have been justified, have in this life first the imputed righteousness of faith, and then also the incipient righteousness of the new obedience or of good works. But these two must not be mingled with one another or be both injected at the same time into the article of justification by faith before God. For since this incipient righteousness or renewal in us is incomplete and impure in this life because of the flesh, the person cannot stand with and by it [on the ground of this righteousness] before God's tribunal, but before God's tribunal only the righteousness of the obedience, suffering, and death of Christ, which is imputed to faith, can stand, so that only for the sake of this obedience is the person (even after his renewal, when he has already many good works and lives the best [upright and blameless] life) pleasing and acceptable to God, and is received into adoption and heirship of eternal life" (FC:SD III:32).

  6. It's too bad that the Concordists didn't have to deal with an election controversy like the ones here in America over the past almost 200 years. The BoC would be much different.