Stage 4. Post 3. Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision
The N.T. Wright Project = 4 books. 2 weeks. 1 bishop. 1 man.
Wright spends the majority of the second half of the book on exegesis of Pauline epistles. Due to Wright’s experience in exegesis, it is much more appropriate for us to reflect on his conclusions from his observations rather than the exegesis itself. First, Justification is about the one single family of God. Wright states, “Justification…always has in mind God’s declaration of membership, and that this always referred specifically to the coming together of Jews and Gentiles in faithful membership of the Christian family” (p. 116). The biblical idea of justification is comforting to all humanity regardless of culture, race, or gender. In this sense, Galatians 3 is at the heart of justification. Christians across the whole world should declare that, through the work of Jesus, everyone is invited to be part of God’s people.
Second, justification is based on the life of the Christian. In the future, God will justify those who have shown by their actions that they are part of God’s people. This is slightly discomforting, but Wright states, “Yes, ‘good works’ will undoubtedly include ‘moral behavior.’ But Paul is more interested…about the face of the church in the world, about Christians shining in the world as lights in a dark place” (p. 171). In this sense, Romans 2 is at the heart of justification, as Wright explains, “Possession of the Torah…will not be enough; it will be doing it that counts” (p. 184). The Christian must examine his or her life to be sure it is filled with the fruit of the Spirit. One must continually evaluate if he or she is a light to the world. In this sense, justification is a call to holiness.
Third, justification is all about God. As Wright puts it, “God’s oracles, God’s faithfulness, God’s truth, God’s vindication, God’s victory, God’s righteousness, God’s justice, God’s judgment, God’s truth (again) and ultimately (Romans 3:7) God’s glory” (p. 199). This gives the Christian hope since it is based on the faithfulness of Christ (p. 203). Jesus Christ was the representative for God to the world, where Israel failed to do so. As Wright correctly states, “Through the representative Messiah…the result is that, though in his forbearance God had previously ‘passed over’ sins, not dealing with them as they deserved, the cosmic moral deficit has now been put right, displaying God’s faithfulness and justice to the world” (p. 204). Thus, justification is all about God’s faithfulness to his covenant to put the world the back to rights, as he so desires it.
Fourth, justification is by faith. One must not think that Wright is proposing works-righteousness. One is justified in the present by his or her faith. One might ask, “Who are God’s people?” To this, Wright responds, “They are those who keep the Torah—but whose Torah-keeping consists of faith” (p. 211; emphasis original). Faith is the basis on which the future verdict is shown in the present. In this way, faith carries a sense of faithfulness. N.T. Wright states, “The present verdict gives the assurance that the future verdict will match it; the Spirit gives the power through which that future verdict, when given, will be seen to be in accordance with the life that the believer has then lived” (p. 251). Justification is seen in the present by faith in the future action of God.
Ultimately, in my opinion, N.T. Wright’s view of justification carries much more weight than the one proposed by John Piper and others. Wright’s view of justification carries a sense of mission, holiness, and faith. As far as mission is concerned, it understands that God, through Jesus, is calling all people, regardless of lines of demarcation, to himself. A hurting, divided world needs to hear the message of reconciliation. Wright’s view of justification carries a sense of holiness, in that, it understands that God is concerned if his people are properly representing him. Unfortunately, the traditional Protestant view shrinks justification into individual salvation, which many believe is granted based on mental ascent to a set of doctrines. If this is the case, one simply “mentally ascends” and has no need for moral transformation. Lastly, the biblical view of justification relies heavily on faith—faith in the work of God through Jesus Christ. As stated before, it’s all about God. The Church must never forget its reliance on God’s faithfulness. When the Church is unfaithful (as it often is), God remains faithful to his covenant. Therefore, Wright concludes his book by reminding his readers of a crucial point, “The Risen Son is the fixed point in whose orbit we move, the one who holds his people by his power and sustains them by his love, the one to whom, with the Father and Spirit, be all love and all glory in his age and in the age to come” (p. 252). The Church must never forget its call to mission, holiness, and faith, and, if it holds on to the proper view of justification, it will be followed closely be these things. Score 9 out of 10
Do you agree with me that NTW’s view carries more weight? Or am I missing something here?
Wright, N.T. (2009). Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision. IVP: Downers Grove.