What is “Justification”?

The following is my manuscript from the Dropping Keys dinner held at the Liberate Conference (last week). I’m posting “as is” because it will be insynch with the recording that Dropping Keys will post of the whole event. But here is my breif “teaching” about Justification.

What is “Justification”?

In talking about justification, there are two things I want to talk about.

The first is language.

How we actually speak of justification is very important because the event of justification occurs because something has been said, a word has been spoken, which has been heard by a hearer. So language, what we say, becomes crucial. Too often we speak of justification in shorthand: I’m justified. The problem there lies in that fact that “to be justified” isn’t a particularly Christian thing. You can be “justified” by works. Don’t panic, stay with me for a minute.  If you’ve ever been promoted at work, it’s probably been “justified”–you worked hard, you earned it. I work out 6 days a week, when I go to eat a cookie, it’s “justified.”  If I were to NEVER EVER do what was required of me at work or in school, I’d fail and that failure would be “justified”.

So what IS special about justification when Christians speak of it is not particularly the word “justified”, but the über important prepositional phrases that follow: “by faith” and “in Christ”.  Once you throw “faith” into the mix, justification is on a radically different ground than what we were just talking about. And then add: “in Christ” and now you’re square in the middle of Gospel territory. You aren’t just justified; you are justified by faith in Christ.

But what does that mean? It means that trying to achieve a right standing before God cannot be done through obedience to the law or good works because the means by which you stand right before God hinge on having “faith”—that’s all you need.

And don’t worry; faith itself is no work of your own, but a gift, from God himself that boomerangs back to its proper object, God himself. But it also means: that by the power of the Holy Spirit, who has opened your eyes to see and ears to hear the truth, have uttered an “amen” a “so be it” in agreement to this: that Jesus Christ–fully man and fully God– was born and lived the life you couldn’t and can’t, that he died the death that you deserved, that he was raised to give you life (in the fullest) that you don’t deserve, that he ascended into heaven to give you both assurance and hope that death and sin have neither power over you nor can they ever separate you from the love and favor of God, and that He is seated at the right hand of God, perpetually interceding for you and proclaiming your absolution.

That’s what we’re saying when we say: I’m justified by faith in Christ. It’s one of the smallest creedal statements I know of; when we say it we are, for all intents and purposes, rejecting any notion that there is another way to be justified, to be right before God. Those two small prepositional phrases make a huge difference, don’t they, like the difference between life and death.

How does “justification” impact me and my life?

But still, that’s kind of abstract, isn’t it? I mean, it’s up here, heady; how does this “being justified by faith in Christ” affect my daily existence? What happens to me or for me when I’m justified?

And this is my second point I want to make, this is what we refer to as the “event” of justification. It is an event, something actually happens in time and space for you, the hearer. Something is taken and something is given.  What’s taken from you when the gospel of the justification of the sinner by faith in Christ is proclaimed and heard? Your works. Being justified by faith necessitates that you cannot also be justified by works (what we just considered above). This is surely very good news. And worthy of full attention! But it’s only the tip of the iceberg; the event of justification is WAY bigger than we realize.

Too often our dialogue stops at what’s been taken from us. The cessation (the stopping) of works is important, but a vacuum is created if there is nothing there to take the place of the thing that was taken; and that vacuum will suck just about anything into it. Thus, we should incorporate in our dialogue about the event of justification what is given to us alongside what is taken. What’s given to you is Christ himself. But that’s too abstract. In that Christ has given himself to you you’ve been given the gift of the present.

We are hurled from the past to the future in the blink of an eye, over and over and over, through out all of life. When you think about time, there is no “present”; there’s a present era, an idea of the present, but no actual, concrete: this here and now is the present. Time doesn’t stop long enough to allow for a present.

Take a moment and think about it; there’s no present.

We run from the past and strive toward the future, exhausted, because there’s no possibility for rest. We run from mistakes made in the past eager to promise that we’ll never make them again in the future; even when we’ve had success in the past, we’re terrified of the future because the future demands we do it again…and again…and again. And so we are in this exhausting collision course between the past and the future.

But by being justified by faith in Christ apart from works, means that your past can no longer haunt you (you’ve been absolved by faith in Christ) and your future is silenced because it’s secured in Christ (because you will be absolved by faith in Christ and nothing can separate you from the Love of God, NOTHING).

The event of justification, that word of absolution heard (perpetually) by the hearer, parts space (like God did through Moses parting the sea) and stills time (like Jesus did the tumultuous stormy waves with one word) and the hearer is brought into the present (which was created out of nothing). And this gift of the present in Christ by faith in Christ is given to you everyday; this is what is actually given to you daily.

And it is here, in the event of justification, in the gift of the present where there is real rest, where there is peace; where you can locate a “here and now” existence, where access to knowing others and yourself materializes; where there is a place to pause, to breath, a place to live, a place where works are given back to you but now they are under your dominion rather than in domination over you; where condemnation is exterminated; a place where you can be utterly and truly free, free to laugh and mourn, free to confess and to be forgiven, free to be loved exactly as you are.

In the event of justification, you, the sinner–justified by faith in Christ–have been brought into the verdant and fertile garden of the present and you have been given life and freedom to its fullest.

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