Sunday, 7 August 2011

Compare and Contrast

I'm just looking at this evening's sermon, on Deuteronomy 9, and find myself comparing these two statements.

Never mind with whom they originate (though Google will give it to you in a couple of tics). My question is whether they are compatible:

“... by the Spirit those who are already justified by faith have their lives transformed, and the final verdict will be in accordance with that transformation, imperfect though it remains.”

“We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings ...”

I personally think they are saying two quite different things - but I may be wrong.

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  1. My two cents: they're saying two different things because the first expresses the whole reality of salvation (justification, sanctification, and glorification) and the second only expresses one aspect (justification). Or, another way of putting it, the second says what the first contains in "by the Spirit those who are already justified by faith."

    Thanks for the post.
    -Jason Ingalls+ (soon to be of Cambridge, England)

  2. The first quote has been discussed before on this blog before and there were problems over just what the words actually meant.

    That quote seems to have justification (as traditionally is meant by that word) 'in accordance with' the Spirit's transformation of those that are justified by faith (is that a different meaning of 'justified' at play in that quote?). Which is fairly vague.

    I don't think the first one, is necessarily in direct conflict with the latter, but it could be. Certainly if the former is talking about the basis for being accounted righteous then they are.

    If they aren't in direct conflict with each other the first quote is saying something like "we can know the final verdict towards those who are justified by faith by looking at the Spirit-produced transformation of them" and isn't talking about grounds for being justified, but evidences of that.

  3. The first appears to say that the verdict is in accordance with the transformation wrought by the Spirit on those who have been justified.

    But that's not right. The verdict is that I am justified by faith. Of course, my sanctification may be lacking, and there may be a verdict on that. But that does not change the crucial verdict.

    David Brock

  4. Tim Keene of Streatham said
    The first comment seems like something that NT Wright could have said. He distinguishes between justification in the here and now and justification at the end of time (although NTW might bridle at the reference to the end of time; perhaps the last judgment). If so then the first remark applies to the second kind of justification. This can then be compatibilised with the justification by faith language we Prots are more comfortable with by recollecting that we all accept that justification without works is an illusion and does not save. Also if the remark does come from NTW then he is likely to be commenting on Rom 2 and if we dismiss his explanation we need to find another one for Rom2. This has always been difficult for Prots.

  5. I'd say that it depends on context for the first quote. "In accordance with" has been interpreted to mean "on the basis of", but that's not how everyone use it. Some use it to say, "we are counted righteous in the present on the basis of faith - this will never be taken away - and, by the work of the Spirit, our changed lives will - imperfect they still may be - demonstrate that we are 'in Christ' on the last day." In this sense, the final "verdict" (though I'd prefer to say, final "salvation") is in line with works.

    However, due to the complexity of the ideas and the explanation required for the first statement, I much prefer to stick with the second.

  6. I am always reluctant to draw conclusions from a single sentence, taken out of its context.

    I assume the problem that some see is a concern that the words "in accordance with" in the first quote might mean that the "verdict" derives from the "transformation", and not from the "justification".

    But there is an alternative orthodox meaning: that the writer is placing the emphasis on what we can observe (the fruits of sanctification) rather than what we cannot (justification); and saying that the final judgment will be in accordance with the former, even though it owes nothing to the former but derives entirely from the latter.

    I wouldn't comment further unless I was able to read it in context.

  7. Rt Rev Dominic Stockford8 August 2011 at 09:11

    I just had to look up the first one - and wasn't surprised at the author.

    The second one says we are saved by Christ alone.
    The first says that we are saved because of something that has happened to us.

    Bit of a difference there - and a very significant one.

    I DO like the Prayer Book expression of doctrine.

    "We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies."

    NT Wright's statement cannot honestly be squared with that.

  8. It depends whether the first statement's 'in accordance with' means 'on the basis of' or 'consistent with the evidence of'. We instinctively think 'basis' but Wright thinks 'evidence'.

    Remember Wright views justification as a statement of who are the people of God more than how we become the people of God; evidence rather than basis lies at the heart of his view of justification.

    Alex Greaves expresses it well. Tim Keene is right too about Roms 2. We may add James 2.