alien righteousness

Orthodox Presbyterian Church’s Report on Justification – Present Justification

This is a very helpful work commended for Study by the Seventy-third General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, regarding Justification, the vital doctrine of a standing or falling church. Carefully written up in response to the Federal Vision and New Perspective on Paul.

It is available for free here:

Here is the section on present Justification repudiating future Justification:

4. Present and Future Justification

There is the last issue that we must explore, namely the question of pres- ent and future justification. As we saw above, one of the features of Wright’s understanding of justification is that he divides it into present and future categories. Once again, commenting on Rom 8:3–4, Wright argues: “What is spoken of here is the future verdict, that of the last day, the ‘day’ Paul de- scribed in 2:1–16. That verdict will correspond to the present one, and will follow from (though not, in that sense, be earned or merited by), the Spirit- led life of which Paul now speaks.”196 Elsewhere he writes: “The whole point about ‘justification by faith’ is that it is something which happens in the pres- ent time (Rom 3:26) as a proper anticipation of the eventual judgment which will be announced, on the basis of the whole life led, in the future (Rom 2:1– 16).”197

Wright believes, then, that present justification is a declaration in view of one’s obedient submission to Jesus as Lord, whereas his future justifica- tion is the declaration on the final day which is based upon the Spirit-led life of the believer. Wright argues, therefore, that the ground of one’s present justification is faith in Christ, whereas the ground of one’s future justifica- tion is the believer’s Spirit-produced works. If anyone is in doubt that this is Wright’s view, his own words clearly demonstrate it. Writing on Paul’s ground of hope at the final judgment, Wright states:

This is why, when Paul looks ahead to the future and asks, as well one might, what god [sic] will say on the last day, he holds up as his joy and crown, not the merits and death of Jesus, but the churches he has planted who remain faithful to the gospel. The path from initial faith to final resurrection (and resurrection we must remind ourselves, constitutes rescue, that is salvation, from death itself) lies through holy and faithful Spirit-led service, including suffering.198

Wright’s view seems to have more in common with the Qumran commen- tary on Hab 2:4 than Paul (cf. 1QpHab 8:1–3; Rom 1:17; 3:28). Dunn holds to a similar view regarding present and future justification.199 This construc- tion, however, goes against the very principles that Paul sets out regarding the ground of justification and the place of works.

The Scriptures do not speak of two justifications. For example, Paul writes that “we have now been justified by his blood” (Rom 5:9a). Paul’s use of an aorist participle dikaiwqentej and the adverb nun indicate that justifi- cation is an accomplished reality.200 Nowhere does Paul state that there is a second justification to follow. The absence of a second justification is evident when Paul goes on to state that, “For if while we were enemies we were recon- ciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Rom 5:10). Douglas Moo points out the parallel between vv. 9 and 10:201

verse 9 We have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.

verse 10 If while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

This parallel reveals that justification is a present reality pronounced over the sinner who believes in Christ. The “now” adds the fine distinction of the con- tinuing “just” status of those who are acquitted. Now in vv. 9–10 there is a future element of which Paul speaks, but he does not use the term “justified” but rather the phrase, “shall we be saved.”

Paul’s use of the future passive verb swqhsomeqa reveals that there is a future aspect of our redemption, or our salvation, not that there is a future or second justification.202 As Joseph Fitzmeyer observes, “A favor still greater than justification itself will be manifested to the Christian in the eschatologi- cal salvation that is to come.” He goes on to state that, “Justification is subor- dinated to salvation, and the latter is regarded as something begun but still to be consummated or brought to its full expression (10:9, 13; 11:14, 26); yet that consummation is guaranteed.”203 Clearly we see from Rom 5:9–10 that there is one justification and it is grounded upon the work of Christ. That there is one justification has been upheld by the historic Reformed witness, which is manifest in the creeds of the Reformed church.204

Our doctrinal standards do not speak of a second justification, but rath- er in terms of an open acknowledgement and acquittal on the day of judg- ment: “What shall be done to the righteous at the day of judgment? A. At the day of judgment, the righteous, being caught up to Christ in the clouds, shall be set on his right hand, and there openly acknowledged and acquitted” (WLC 90, emphasis added; cf. WSC 38). Note how John Flavel (c. 1630–91) explains WSC 38 and how justification relates to the final judgment: “How does Christ’s acquittance now, differ from that at judgment? A. They differ in respect to publicness; this is secret in the believer’s bosom, and that open before men and angels.”205 So, it is fair to say that the Reformed church has recognized that our future salvation will include the declaration at the resur- rection and final judgment that openly confirms our justification, in distinc- tion from its secret reality in the present. But the Reformed church does not affirm that there are two separate justifications.206

The Reformed church has historically rejected notions of a second justi- fication, not only because the idea is unscriptural, but in contrast to the Ro- man Catholic doctrine of justification: Rome teaches that the first justifica- tion is by faith in Christ and is conferred in baptism ex opere operato, the sec- ond justification is based upon the believer’s sanctification.207 This teaching is reflected in the decrees of the Council of Trent: “Having, therefore, been thus justified … they, through the observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, faith co-operating with good works, increase in that jus- tice which they have received through the grace of Christ, and are still further justified.”208 In other words, the second justification is the declaration that a person is actually righteous, based upon one’s faith cooperating with good works. Against this backdrop, we can see why the Reformed church has re- jected the idea of two justifications.

In view of these considerations, we may conclude that Wright’s NPP un- derstanding of future justification is antithetical to Scripture and at odds with the historic witness of the Reformed community. In fact, regarding future justification, Wright’s view has more in common with the Roman Catholic view than it does with the historic Reformed view because his view of future justification is based upon the Spirit-produced works of the believer.

5. Summary

We have seen that Wright is correct to say that justification is covenant- al, forensic, and eschatological. Though he is formally correct with the use of these categories, he is materially incorrect. Justification is covenantal, not in the sense of first-century Judaism, but in terms of the fulfillment of the first gospel promise (Gen 3:15) and the broken covenant of works. Justification is forensic, but judgment is oriented towards the throne of God, not the world. And justification is eschatological, not as the ecclesiological definition of the people of God, but rather as the inbreaking of the eschaton with the salvation of God’s people. Lastly, the Scriptures neither speak of a second justification in the future nor place the ground of justification in the believer’s Spirit-pro- duced works, but in the finished work of Christ alone.

F. Concluding Observations

In our critique of the NPP, one should come to the same conclusion that Alister McGrath has reached: “If Sanders or Wright is correct, Martin Luther is wrong.”209 The truth of McGrath’s statement has been demonstrated in this survey. While one may appreciate aspects of the NPP, there are certain elements that are incompatible with the system of doctrine contained in the Scriptures. One might argue, for example, that Reformed interpreters have sometimes relied upon a caricature of the Judaism of Paul’s day rather than a careful analysis of primary sources, and in this respect appreciate the NPP. To say, however, that righteousness is covenant membership and that the works of the law Paul opposes for justification are ethnic or national markers, con- clusions that Sanders, Dunn, and Wright hold in one form or another, has the effect of locating the doctrine of justification within an entirely different matrix from that in which it has been traditionally understood. McGrath is therefore accurate: if Sanders or Wright is correct, then Luther, Calvin, and the historic Reformed understanding of the doctrine of justification is incor- rect.

This general conclusion means that the following points are out of ac- cord with Scripture and our doctrinal standards:

1. “Righteousness” defined as covenant membership rather than mor- al equity, or adherence to a moral standard.

2. “Works of the law” for justification understood as boundary markers identifying Israel as God’s covenant people.

3. Justification only as vindication.

4. A second or future justification that has a different ground from one’s justification by faith.

5. Shifting the ground of justification from the finished work of Christ to the Spirit-produced works of the believer.

6. Denial of the imputation of the active and/or passive obedience of Christ.

7. Compromising the self-authenticating and self-interpreting nature of the Scriptures by giving the literature of Second Temple Judaism undue interpretive weight.


196 Wright, Romans, 580. 197 Wright, Fresh Perspective, 57. 198 Wright, Fresh Perspective, 148.

199 Dunn, Romans 1–8, 104–5; idem, Theology of Paul, 467, 488. 200 Thomas Schreiner, Romans, BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 262–63.

201 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 309.

202 Moo, Romans, 310–11.

208 Council of Trent, Session 6, Chapter 10, in Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (1931; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 2.99.

209 Alister E. McGrath, “Reality, Symbol and History: Theological Reflections on N. T. Wright’s Portrayal of Jesus,” in Jesus and the Restoration of Israel, ed. Newman, 169.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: