Salvation: Justification and Modern Challenges

Posted: January 19, 2009 in Uncategorized

Cambridge New Testament Professor Simon Gathercole has probably set forth the strongest challenge to N.T. Wright and the other adherents to the “New Perspective on Paul” (or NPP).  Gathercole’s doctoral dissertation, written under NPP leader James Dunn, is entitled “Where is Boasting?” and asks the simple question of Wright and others, “If justification is God’s ongoing (not once and for all) declaration that a person is in the right covenant community and the way members of said community remain in is to keep the commands of the covenant then how can Paul say that there is no room for boasting?”  (Rom. 3:27). 

Obviously, if we are even an equal partner in being righteous (which is semi-palagianism even if they deny it) then we have room for boasting and we define ourselves by what we do (or what we don’t do) just as the Pharisees did, which is the heart of legalism.

The Bible is clear that justification is a legal declaration that we are “in the right” (to use Wright’s one phraseology) once and for all and that said declaration comes to us entirely by God’s grace not on account of any merit ourselves.  Indeed, even faith is wholly a gift from God (Eph. 2:8). 

We were all once enemies of God (not just members of the wrong covenant community) (Rom. 5:10) because we have all sinned or rebelled against God, who is the only pure, right and good thing in existence (Rom. 3:10-18).  Because we have all committed this crime and it is the ultimate evil then we all deserve the ultimate punishment…an eternity in hell (Matt. 25:46). 

Yet, mercifully, Jesus pays the penalty for our sins by submitting to the torture and death we all deserve (Rom. 3:25).  Jesus also grants us his own right standing before the father (2 Cor. 5:21).  Thus, followers of Jesus are not judged by our own lives but by Christ’s and, as such, there is certainly no room for boasting.

Moreover, to paraphrase Tim Keller, this removes the possibility of legalism because we now live in gratitude for what has been done for us rather than an exhausting daily attempt to earn that which cannot possibly be earned.

Tomorrow, we hit Grudem’s chapter on the doctrine of adoption.

Until then, grace and peace.

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