Justification, The Future Become Present

George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1993), pages 483–484:

Justification, which primarily means acquittal at the final judgment, has already taken place in the present. The eschatological judgment is no longer alone future; it has become a verdict in history. Justification, which belongs to the Age to Come and issues in the future salvation, has become a present reality inasmuch as the Age to Come has reached back into the present evil age to bring its soteric blessings to human beings. An essential element in the salvation of the future age is the divine acquittal and the pronouncement of righteousness; this acquittal, justification, which consists of the divine absolution of sin, has already been effected by the death of Christ and may be received by faith here and now. The future judgment has thus become essentially a present experience. God in Christ has acquitted the believer; therefore he or she is certain of deliverance from the wrath of God (Rom. 5:9) and no longer stands under condemnation (Rom. 8:1). …

Justification is one of the blessings of the inbreaking of the new age into the old. In Christ the future has become present; the eschatological judgment has in effect already taken place in history. As the eschatological Kingdom of God is present in history in the Synoptics, as the eschatological eternal life is present in Christ in John, as the eschatological resurrection has already begun in Jesus’ resurrection, as the eschatological Spirit is given to the church in Acts (and in Paul), so the eschatological judgment has already occurred in principle in Christ, and God has acquitted his people.

Adoption: Legal and Relational

Michael Horton, in his book Covenant and Salvation: Union with Christ, makes the point that the believer’s spiritual adoption carries both a relational emphasis and also a forensic/legal emphasis. “Before orphans can enjoy the love and care of a new family,” he writes, “they must be legally adopted” (248). Good point. Sometimes folks like us—who rightfully emphasize the forensic side of justification—can view God as a distant and impersonal Judge who does no more than declare the wicked innocent in a cold courtroom. Innocence and righteousness before that Judge is a gift of incredible grace, but it’s not the whole story. Justification entails a relational aspect that can go neglected. This harmony between the legal and the relational aspects of salvation is a harmony displayed in spiritual adoption. “Adoption, like justification, is simultaneously legal and relational” (247).

Justified

Here are two favorite quotes regarding how we can be assured of the reality of God’s justification.

The first is from Geerhardus Vos in his Grace and Glory: Sermons Preached in the Chapel of Princeton Theological Seminary (Solid Ground, 2007):

“Among all the realities of the invisible world, mediated to us by the disclosures and promises of God, and to which our faith responds, there is none that more strongly calls into action this faculty for grasping the unseen than the divine pronouncement through the Gospel, that, though sinners, we are righteous in the judgment of God. That is not only the invisible, it seems the impossible; it is the paradox of all paradoxes; it requires a unique energy of believing; it is the supreme victory of faith over the apparent reality of things; it credits God with calling the things that are not as though they were; it penetrates more deeply into the deity of God than any other act of faith.” (135)

The second is from Robert Kolb and Charles Arand in the The Genius of Luther’s Theology: A Wittenberg Way of Thinking for the Contemporary Church (Baker Academic, 2008):

“Those who see this form of forensic justification as merely a legal fiction do not share Luther’s understanding of the power of the Word of God. The reformer knew that from the beginning of the world, God determined reality by speaking. Therefore, he was certain that God’s word of forgiveness created a new reality in the life of the sinner. The reformer could not explain the mystery of evil and sin continuing in the lives of those God had claimed as his own in baptism. But he did not doubt that when God said, ‘Forgiven,’ the reality of human sinlessness in God’s sight was genuine and unassailable. God’s children must live with the mystery of the continuing sin and evil in their lives as they engage in the battle against their own sins. But they have no warrant to doubt that God has established the mightier reality of their innocence in his sight. And what he sees is real because he determines reality.” (154-155)