Friday, February 25, 2011

A Portion Excised from an Already Too Long Essay

Christ’s first advent sweeps forward two correlated acts of God from the Last Day—resurrection and judgment.[1] Paul’s gospel orients everyone to Christ’s cross, as the display of God’s wrath against sin (Rom. 3:21-31), and his resurrection, as God’s vindication of his Son (Rom. 1:4; 4:25; 1 Tim. 3:16), both indivisibly as the advance visitation of God’s courtroom of the Great Assize at the end of the age. The gospel message does not transport humans into the future courtroom of heaven to hear God’s verdict of condemnation or justification. Rather, the gospel announces that with the coming of Christ, God has revealed the verdict of his Last Day courtroom in advance in the crucifixion and resurrection of his Son: wrath and justification. So, believers, in union with Christ in his death and resurrection, enter the new creation, ahead of time, by way of mutual crucifixion in Christ—the world to believers and believers to the world (Gal. 6:14-15). In the gospel, God announces that he has already thrust his verdict—condemned or justified—forward from the Day of Judgment, which has not yet come, into the present with the advent of his Son (cf. John 3:16-21).[2]

So, according to Paul’s gospel, each of the diverse and rich imageries he employs—whether salvation or eternal life or resurrection or justification—portrays God’s saving power in Christ as piercing the darkness of this present evil age as revealed light emanating from the Last Day back into time, featuring Christ Jesus whose crucifixion is God’s demonstration of his righteousness by subjecting him to wrath in order to judge sin in advance of the final judgment and in order that all who are in him might be justified (Rom. 3:21-31). His death is God’s judgment of sin for all who believe. His resurrection is life for the same ones (Rom. 4:25), for his resurrection is God’s justifying declaration of Jesus Christ to be the Powerful Son of God (Rom. 1:4; cf. 1 Tim. 3:16; Acts 13:33), securing God’s justifying verdict for his people, already being proclaimed in the gospel in advance of the Last Day.

For Paul, justification is singular with discernible but indivisible aspects or phases, both now and not yet. He agrees with other New Testament writers that salvation, the kingdom of God, redemption, eternal life, resurrection, adoption, forgiveness of sins, justification, et al., are terms that depict two inseparable but distinguishable phases of both already and not yet. No more division exists between present and future aspects of justification than between first quarter and last quarter phases of the moon. It is the same and singular moon with distinguishable and discernible phases or aspects. Likewise, whether Paul speaks of justification now or not yet, it is the same and singular justification with distinguishable aspects, one present, the other future.

[1] See especially Vos, The Pauline Eschatology, 73ff, 261ff.
[2] N. T. Wright is at his best when he makes this same argument: “The bringing of the future verdict forward into the present world is rooted, grounded, rock-bottom established on the brining of the Messiah forward into the-present, more specifically, on the extraordinary, unprecedented and unimagined fact of the resurrection itself coming forward into the present. The Messiah is not simply a figure who will emerge at the very end. Resurrection is no longer simply a last-day event in which God will raise all his people. Messiah and resurrection are middle-of-history events in which God has come to inaugurate his kingdom, his sovereign, saving rule of all creation. In and through the Messiah, God has dealt with the whole problematic fact of idolatry, sin and death and so has begun, in the Messiah’s resurrection, the new creation which is the great new Fact standing in the middle of time, space and human culture” (Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision [Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2009], , 215).


  1. The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. - F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The Crack-Up" (1936)

    Concepts, like individuals, have their histories and are just as incapable of withstanding the ravages of time as are individuals. But in and through all this they retain a kind of homesickness for the scenes of their childhood. - Soren Kierkegaard

    Beginning with Jesus and moving to Paul, the logic of the traditional teaching about justification derives from the belief that everyone sins. Because God is absolutely good, it's impossible for a less-than-good sinner to be "God's friend". Since the perfectly good can't tolerate the imperfect, we bring in the theologians and philosophers and philosophical-theologians (Augustine, Luther, Kant & Kierkegaard, et al) and fierce debates between Christians of differing parties ensue. As seen in this post, such is the nature of the doctrine of justification, that it becomes ever more elaborate and intricate.

    For better or worse, as a Pastor of a small local church, I have found that most Christians are not in the least interested in arguing the doctrine of justification.

    I appreciate your thoughtful elucidation of the gospel. Thank you!

    It's about Jesus! Ron

    PS. As you may have concluded, there is nothing in my comments that merit a response. I simply felt compelled based on several circumstances and personal acquaintances to make one of my unconventional remarks.

  2. Thanks for stopping by to read my blog, Ron.

    Though it may be that nothing in your comments merits a response to you, there are a couple of things that warrant comments for the rest of my readers, I think.

    I confess that I had not come upon Fitzgerald's statement earlier. But, now that I have, I do believe that the quote attributed to him warrants a comment because I do not want readers to suppose that my blog entry is promoting happy contentment with contradictory assertions.

    "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." Flattering, though this may be, I take no flattery from it because I do not "hold two opposed ideas in [my] mind at the same time" in any of what I posted in my blog entry.

    I firmly believe in the law of non-contradiction. I also believe that Jesus believes in the law of non-contradiction. I still believe that two antithetical propositions cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense. I still believe that Y cannot be non-Y. This is crucial for understanding what I am affirming in my blog entry.

    As I state in my entry above, Christ’s first advent sweeps forward two correlated acts of God from the Last Day—resurrection and judgment.
    Therefore, all the biblical imageries that portray salvation in Christ, whether salvation, eternal life, resurrection, judgment, justification, et al., have their framework of already come but not yet consummated fully oriented to the two-phase coming of God’s Son. Thus, his coming with two distinguishable phases locates, determines, and defines the already and the not yet aspects of salvation, of eternal life, of resurrection, of judgment, of justification, et al.

    Christ Jesus is come already; not yet come is Jesus Christ. It is self-evident that in order for these two statements to be truthful, the second affirmation cannot mean that Jesus Christ has “not yet come” in precisely the same way and in the same sense that the first statement asserts that he “is come already.” Such an assertion would be irrational. The Scriptures are not irrational but they do present Christ’s two-phase coming in riddle-like form that beckons belief that leads to understanding.

    Jesus presents such a riddle when he announces, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (John 5:25).” Because, Jesus has “life in himself” and authoritatively claims, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 5:26; 11:25), he issues his riddle: Resurrection is come already; not yet come is resurrection. It is a riddle, but it is not contradictory.

    Second, it may be true that most Christians are not at all interested in engaging the mind concerning justification or any number of other biblical matters. Yet, is this not a commentary upon the poverty of the church brought about, at least in part, by the pulpit's vacating itself of doctrine? As a teacher-preacher, I do not expect those who hear me will rise higher in their interest if I accommodate them where they are. If my students are slothful, sluggish, and content with low-level thinking, as a teacher, should I accommodate them or should I elevate them? I think the answer should be obvious.

    Thanks for the provocative comment.


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