Soteriology: The Doctrine of Salvation – Part 11
by Jonathan Hamilton
This time we’ll cover three more big terms: Imputation, Justification, and Sanctification.
Basic meaning: to charge or credit an account (to lay, or to reckon it to someone’s account); it is a commercial transaction
It works in three directions;
1: Adam’s guilt was imputed to his descendants.
2: Our sins were charged against, or imputed to, Christ. Imputation explains how it is that Christ could be our substitute. Isaiah 53:4,5,11; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24
3: Christ’s righteousness was credited to us. Which raises the question: Was it his divine or human righteousness that was credited to us?
Active Obedience of Christ
Romans 2:5-11 is a favorite passage of Roman Catholic theologians because at first blush it seems like works salvation. How is it not teaching that? If you are the person that persists always in well doing, you don’t need to be saved. It’s not a description of someone who is saved by good works, it’s a description of a man who doesn’t need to be saved. How many men like that have ever lived? One. Jesus Christ. All others fall into category B: contentious, etc.
But suppose we got rid of your sins, category B person, would you now be qualified for eternal life? No. Now you’d just be zeroed out, and God isn’t in the business of admitting zeroes into Heaven. You’ve got to have something positive. Where are you going to get it? The answer is you get it from the only Man who ever did always and only what was good. This is why it’s important that Jesus actively obeyed His Father, so that His righteousness could be credited to your account. I am standing here dressed in the righteousness of Christ. The imputation of the active obedience of Christ is what saves you. And there’s no hope without it.
Paul goes on in verses 12-16 in this vein. Though we are not under the Law, there is an appropriate sense in which we can say that Christ kept the Law on our behalf, and it is His moral standing that is imputed to us. And you cannot argue that only Christ’s “passive” obedience on the cross is what saves us, because that act itself is the greatest example of the active obedience in history (Hebrews 5). And Heb. 5:8 isn’t just talking about His sufferings on the cross. I think that the Romans and Hebrews texts require us to view the righteousness imputed to us by Christ to be the righteousness He gained in His human nature. [Side note: The book of Hebrews is the book of Romans re-written to a different audience; it’s written by a rabbi. Who else could have written an entire NT book and not even bothered to sign his name?]
Justification is fundamental. It is foundational to all other benefits of salvation. Without it, you can’t have them. It’s not surprising then, that justification is the core of the book of Romans. Justification includes forgiveness, but it goes beyond forgiveness.
Definition: Not merely being cleared of wrongdoing, but hearing the judge say, “You did the right thing.” It is a declaration, a pronouncement. It is legal. It is forensic. It has to do with your standing, with your state.
As a righteous judge, God has to judge us guilty. He has to condemn us. When He justifies us, He’s declaring us to be righteous. How can God declare someone to be righteous who is a sinner? And here is where you have the defining difference between Protestant and Roman Catholic theology.
RCC: God can’t pronounce you righteous until you actually are righteous. Therefore, it’s all about getting you to a point where God can rightly declare you righteous. This starts with your baptism. But baptism can only take care of past sins. So as soon as you commit another sin, you’re in trouble. Grace, according to RCC theology, is God giving you the ability that you need to perform saving acts. He does not pronounce you righteous until you actually are righteous.
Gospel Theology: We acknowledge that God cannot just ignore sins, which would be a violation of His righteous character. And He cannot justify us on the basis of our own righteousness, which is actually something that condemns us, rather than commends us, according to Isaiah. The best things we do are all tainted by sin. So how can God declare us righteous? God’s pronouncement is based upon imputation. You can’t have justification before you have imputation. 2 Cor. 5:21 puts forward the two sides of imputation very clearly.
So how does justification work? See Romans 3:23-4:8. We understand grace to mean “gift;” freely given. God sent Christ – not to make salvation possible so that we can earn it – God sent Christ to provide salvation for us. There is no cost to us, it has already been paid through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. The only condition that God attaches to salvation is faith. Properly speaking, remember, faith is simply the occasion of our appropriation. We’re not doing anything, we’re simply receiving what God has done. We don’t trust in our faith to save us, we trust Christ to save us through faith. Faith is not a work. (Remember our compartments discussion). Any attempt to mix faith with works invalidates faith. In Eph. 2:8-9 the whole thing, all of salvation, is a gift. Even the faith is a gift. It’s not about works! God gets really upset when we try to add our works, because it is such an insult to Christ. It’s the most insulting thing we can do toward Him.
What’s the significance of justification?
It is the primary manward act of God in salvation. It’s the main thing that God does when He saves us. And it is foundational to all the other benefits of salvation. He couldn’t give us all the other benefits if He didn’t first declare us to be righteous in Christ. Also, justification includes forgiveness.
Forgiveness: God entirely remits the penalty for sin. God separates the sinner from the sin in His own mind. He takes the guilt of the sin away from the sinner so that He never again sees the sinner in connection with his sin. If you have been justified, God never sees your sin. The basis of forgiveness is the blood of Christ. God doesn’t merely overlook our sins, He couldn’t. But He has already judged our sins on the cross in the Person of Christ. How does God forgive? Ephesians 4:32 says He forgives for Christ’s sake. God forgave me freely and this is how I’m supposed to forgive others. He also forgives completely. He does not just forgive the sins we committed prior to Christ. Let’s look at Hebrews 10:
Verse 1: The Law isn’t the reality, the law is an image. The sacrifices were offered year after year after year, continually. But because they are only pictures and not reality, those sacrifices could never make the people who offered them perfect (the complete forgiveness of sins). And there’s a reason:
Verse 2: Suppose you’re going up to the tabernacle or temple one year and the priest offers your sacrifice and you discover that with this sacrifice all of my sins have been wiped out (past, present, future). Would you still need to offer a sacrifice next year? Of course not.
Verse 3: In fact, that never happened in the OT. It served as an object lesson that your sins hadn’t been taken away. I’m going to have to come back next year and sacrifice again. All of this was never intended to save, it was intended to remind you of your need for a savior.
Verse 4: It was impossible for animal blood to take away your sins.
Verse 5: On the one hand God didn’t desire more OT sacrifices. The function of Messiah coming into the world was not to perpetuate the sacrificial system of the OT. On the other hand, what God did want mandated special requirements for His Messiah. He had to add to His deity a full human nature.
Verses 6-9: In 9, he’s distinguishing a first and a second. The question is, what is the first and what is the second? The first is the burnt offering system. The second is God’s will. He takes away the first to establish the second.
Verse 10: The will of God was that we should be set apart through the once-for-all sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Verse 11: Think of the Tabernacle. Imagine you’re coming in through the opening in the curtain at the end of the Tabernacle. You’re walking in, there’s rock and sand under your feet, and you come through the barrier. What do you meet first as you come in the Tabernacle? There’s a laver there. And then there’s a brazen altar. And then as you pass the altar, you’re going to come to the Holy Place. It’s closed off. If you could go through, what would you find there? On one side the table of the Bread of the Presence, on the other the menorah. In front of you is the altar of incense. And behind that, another curtain. And what’s in there? The Ark of the Covenant. And what does it look like? A box, covered in gold, with a cherub on each end. And what’s between the cherubs? The Shekinah. Suppose you lift the lid, what would you find inside? The tablets, the rod that budded, and a pot of manna.
Where are the chairs?
There aren’t any. Why? The priest’s work is never done. While the priest is there he’s not resting, he’s working. He’s not allowed to sit down because he’s actively engaged in the ministry that God’s appointed for him. So he goes in every day, and stands there, and offers sacrifices over and over and over and none of them could ever take away sin.
Verse 12: But, THIS MAN, the Messiah, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down. That’s one of the most important expressions anywhere in Scripture. He sat down. The work was complete. It was over. There was nothing else to do. That means that the sacrifice had been offered once for all. And if that’s what it is, then there’s no other sacrifice to be offered.
Verse 13-14: God’s will has occurred perfectly. We are made perfect forever. Nothing else needs to be added. Nothing else could ever possibly be added. Do we need a separate priesthood? Yes! What is our separate priesthood? It is Christ! If His sacrifice only remits sins up to a point, then I’m in trouble because there’s no other sacrifice that can be offered. That’s bad news. The good news is that there’s no other sacrifice that needs to be offered. It’s over. It’s done. It is finished!
(This would be a good place to pause and offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God through Christ.)
1: There is an eternal aspect to sanctification (prospective).
2: There is also a sense in which, if I have been saved, I have been set apart from the penalty of sin. This looks a lot like justification. And in this sense, sanctification is a forensic act (positional sanctification). In the order of salvation it is subsequent to justification, and it builds upon sanctification. It describes my standing (position), not my state (practice).
3: Usually when we use the word sanctification, we are talking about a present ongoing work in which we are being set apart from sin in the power of holiness (progressive sanctification). Christ’s work is the basis for this as well, so it is grounded in the Gospel. It is not that we become sinless, but that we do sin less. The problem with this term is that there is no clear NT passage that uses the word sanctification in this sense. Interesting, isn’t it? John 17:17 is the closest thing we have to a possible description of progressive sanctification. The concept is there in the NT, it’s just never labeled sanctification when we see it talked about this way. It really is growth.
Perfect sanctification is future, when we will be delivered from the presence of sin. This is one aspect of our glorification.