Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Biblical (Small "o" orthodox) Understanding of Justification

The teaching of justification by faith is a "cardinal" teaching that definitively and historically separates biblical Christianity from all the other belief systems. In those branches of what is called "Christianity" there are many trying to work their way to God. This is true in the case of the Orthodox groups. 

The understanding of the doctrine of justification is very important in light of the recent events this past Sunday (April 9th) with Hank Hanegraaff announcing that he, his wife and two sons have been inducted into the Eastern Orthodox (Orthodox hereafter) Church, departing from the historical Evangelical faith. Of course this sent Facebook and other social mediums buzzing on both sides of the discussion; one claiming victory in that they have "the Bible Answer Man" in their camp, while others are scratching their heads with a lot of questions on why the "Bible Answer Man" has defected from the "faith once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).

Having not posted in a while, I could not let this go. In fact I see more blogging material for us in days to come. That being said, I believe we will be seeing potential cause for confusion for many in the church, who have placed themselves at the feet of the "Bible Answer Man" for many years.  Unfortunately the "Bible Answer Man" has moved into a realm that cannot be deemed biblical.  As one of my colleagues, Rob Bowman has stated at the end of his response on the Religious Researcher website,


"Hanegraaff’s defection from evangelicalism after three decades as an influential evangelical teacher is likely to have damaging repercussions for years to come. Those of us who remain convinced evangelicals need to answer this and other challenges by speaking the truth in love."[1]

Folks, this is a truth battle for Christ and His ecclesia (called out ones - church). So the reason I am
addressing the view of the doctrine of justification as a first posting is because I see a MAJOR fundamental difference between the Evangelical view of the doctrine of justification opposed to a "heterodox" view held by the Orthodox. The purpose of this posting is not to be exhaustive, but I just hit the high points that will move you to research this further for yourselves.

What is the problem?

Going back into my systematic theology notes, resources,  and checking out a few Orthodox blogs, I stumbled across a blog which seems to present the Orthodox (though not orthodox [2]) view of justification as, the term which,

"deals with how a person comes into and maintains a right relationship with God. Ultimately, this is made possible by the cross of Christ, by which He made expiation for our sins, granting us forgiveness and bringing us into a right relationship with God. Justification is accomplished at baptism and maintained through a life of obedience to God and confession of sins."[3]

The problem I see with this statement is that it is not consistent to what the New Testament presents both prescriptively and descriptively. The Bible is totally clear that that only in Christianity, man is redeemed ("saved") as a result of grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Only when we get back to the Bible do we see justification is by faith alone, apart from any works that man does in order to try and appease the God who graciously completed the full work of salvation.

The biblical meaning of justification

In addressing the contrasting views between the biblical view of justification as opposed to the Orthodox groups' view of justification, it is important to define our terms. The biblical understanding of the word "justification" is dependent on the concrete activity of God, where God declares or  pronounces and treats one as righteous. For the Christian, justification is the act of God not only forgiving the believer's sins but imputing to him the righteousness of Christ.  

The Bible states in several places that justification comes only through faith (e.g., Romans 5:1; Galatians 3:24). 

What is the source and means of justification?

There are essentially two responses to this question. In review of the definition of justification in the above quote, the Orthodox view puts the onus on man's works, teaching that justification "deals with how a persons enters into and maintains a right relationship with God." This view is totally the antithesis of the biblical view and provides no Scriptural support. 

The biblical view of justification is not earned nor maintained through our man's works. As Bible believing Christians we  are covered by the righteousness of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8Titus 3:5). The Christian, being declared righteous by God, is thus freed from the guilt of sin.

The Orthodox confuse justification with sanctification, by stating that justification is "accomplished at baptism and maintained through a life of obedience to God and confession of sins." Staying justified before God is contingent upon one's obedience from baptism all through out the person's life. This is not what the Bible teaches. 

The biblical position on is that justification is an instantaneous legal act of God which He thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ's righteousness as belonging to the believer upon being declared righteous in His sight. it is  is a completed work of God at the time of salvation, as opposed to sanctification which is an ongoing process of spiritual growth in becoming Christlike (the act of “being saved,”. 1 Corinthians 1:181 Thessalonians 5:23). Sanctification occurs after justification.

Why is this Important?

Understanding the doctrine of justification is important for a Christian. First, it is the very knowledge of justification and of grace that motivates us to do good works and enables our spiritual growth; thus, justification leads to sanctification. Also, the fact that justification is a finished work of God means that as Bible believing Christians we have the assurance of their salvation. In God’s eyes, believers have the righteousness imputed to them which is necessary to gain eternal life.

Once a person is justified, there is nothing else he needs in order to gain entrance into heaven. Since justification comes by faith in Christ, based on His work on our behalf, our own works are disqualified as a means of salvation (Romans 3:28). 


Conclusion.

There exists vast religious systems with complex theologies that teach the false doctrine of justification by works, the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches being just a couple that can be mentioned here. Therefore, they are teaching “a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all” (Galatians 1:6–7).

Without an understanding of justification by faith alone, we cannot truly perceive the glorious gift of grace—God’s “unmerited favor” becomes “merited” in our minds, and we begin to think we deserve salvation. The doctrine of justification by faith helps us maintain “pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3). 


Holding to justification by faith keeps us from falling for the lie that we can earn heaven. There is no ritual, no sacrament, no deed that can make us worthy of the righteousness of Christ. It is only by His grace, in response to our faith, that God has credited to us the holiness of His Son. Both Old and New Testaments say, “The just shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4Romans 1:17Galatians 3:11Hebrews 10:38).

A Closing ThoughtBecause of Hank Hanegraaff's departure from the Evangelical faith, it is my opinion, for what it is worth, that Hank Hanegraaff should step down as President of CRI. The Christian Research Institute's statement for its existence "to provide Christians worldwide with carefully researched information and well-reasoned answers that encourage them in their faith and equip them to intelligently represent it to people influenced by ideas and teachings that assault or undermine orthodox, biblical Christianity. The Orthodox Church's view of the doctrine of justification is anything but historical, let alone biblical.  
Notes

[1] Rob Bowman, Evangelical Apologist Hank Hanegraaff Converts to Eastern Orthodoxy.

[2]  By the term "orthodox" I am referring to that which is conforming to what is generally or traditionally accepted as right or true; established and approved. The opposite of "orthodox" is heterodox, mentioned earlier where something is not conforming to orthodox beliefs. 

[2] Eric Jobe, The Ancient Faith blog

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