Romans - Lesson 15

Justification (Part 1)

Justification, as per classic Reformation doctrine, is a forensic declaration of right standing before God, separate from moral righteousness emphasized by Roman Catholicism. This theological stance underscores justification's basis in Christ's righteousness imputed to believers, achieved through faith alone and by grace alone. Despite its historical acceptance, contemporary challenges, including academic inquiry and ecumenical dialogues, prompt a reassessment of this traditional understanding. 

Lesson 15
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Justification (Part 1)

Romans 3:20

A. The New Perspective

B. the Jewish Covenant, the Torah and Paul

C. What’s the Point?

D. The Individual Believer vs the Community

E. Justification and Spirit Obedience

F. E.P. Sanders and 1 st Century Judaism

  • This lesson offers a deep dive into Paul's Letter to the Romans, revealing its pastoral aims, Paul's intentions to visit Spain, Jerusalem, and Rome, and its relevance to early Christian dynamics and theological inquiries about the Law in Christ's time.
  • This lesson offers a fresh view of Paul's theology, focusing on Romans. It emphasizes the first-century context, highlighting Gentile inclusion and unity in Christ, challenging traditional views. Gain insights into Paul's message and its relevance today.
  • Explore the book of Romans for modern faith conflicts: balance tradition with contemporary practices, learn from history, and grasp Paul's ministry and Gospel's complexities.
  • Follow along with Dr. Moo as he begins a thorough review of Romans 1:2-5. You will learn how Paul emphasizes Jesus' earthly life, resurrection, and his appointment as the Son of God in power. This lesson examines the interconnectedness of faith and obedience, underscoring that while faith initiates salvation, genuine faith inherently entails obedience to Christ as Lord, maintaining a balanced Christian life.
  • By delving into Romans 1:16-17, you'll understand the Gospel extends beyond individual salvation, encompassing God's reign over creation and His establishment of justice. The Gospel challenges worldly powers, offering hope and transformation to all who embrace it.
  • Listen along as the class discusses questions and answers revolving around Romans 1:16-17.
  • In Romans 1:18-28, you learn that all people are held accountable by God, having knowledge of Him through natural revelation but some turn away. This passage highlights the manifestation of God's wrath against sin, the exchange of truth for falsehoods, and the absence of excuses for humanity's actions, ultimately emphasizing God's fair judgment.
  • Listen in as the class and Dr. Moo discuss aspects of Romans 1:18-28.
  • The lesson discusses Romans 2:1-11, it highlights the use of the diatribe device and the transition from focusing on Gentiles to Jews. It underscores the Jewish belief in their special status and their potential misunderstanding of God's judgment. The lesson reviews the focus of the text on key themes such as judgment, righteousness, and the relationship between faith and good deeds.
  • In this lesson, you'll review the significance of the Law, notably the Law of Moses, in God's judgment. Paul stresses that mere knowledge of the Law isn't sufficient for righteousness; obedience is key. The primary message is that salvation ultimately relies on God's grace and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as human efforts and consciences alone cannot secure salvation. This lesson highlights the importance of understanding these concepts in interactions with people of different religious beliefs.
  • The key takeaway in this lesson is that while being a Jew comes with a great heritage, it doesn't guarantee salvation. Obedience to God's law is crucial, and reliance on religious heritage or rituals won't save you. The lesson emphasizes the universal human condition of being under the power of sin, and people cannot be declared righteous in God’s sight by observing the Law or by the works of the Law. Only through faith in Christ are we made righteous.
  • This lesson explores the New Perspective on Paul, emphasizing that the Law was for Jewish covenant status, not just salvation. It promotes a holistic faith view, balancing vertical and horizontal aspects, Spirit-led obedience, and 1st-century Judaism diversity, enriching Pauline teachings in the church.
  • In exploring Romans 3:21-26, you'll gain insights into the relationship between righteousness, faith, and salvation. Paul highlights God's righteousness, which is accessible to all through faith in Jesus Christ. By weaving together themes of righteousness, faith, and inclusivity, Paul challenges conventional Jewish and Gentile perspectives, emphasizing the continuity of God's salvation plan while underscoring the centrality of faith in Christ for all believers.
  • In this lesson, you will gain insights into the potential challenge in translating Romans 3:23-24, particularly the term "all" and its connection to the debate on universalism in evangelicalism. Dr. Moo stresses the importance of coherence in biblical interpretation and explores the themes of God's righteousness, faith, and grace in justification. The lesson reviews the cultural background of redemption, drawing parallels with the Greco-Roman slave market and emphasizing the need to understand both the problem of sin and the Gospel solution.
  • Embarking on this lesson, you'll gain insight into the historical development and contemporary challenges surrounding the doctrine of justification. Through exploring classic Reformation principles and contemporary reassessments, you'll understand the tensions between Protestant and Roman Catholic perspectives, particularly regarding the infusion of righteousness and the role of grace.
  • The lesson explores the intricate connection between faith and works, justification, and sanctification in contemporary theological discourse. It delineates divergent views on justification, with scholars like Piper advocating for the preservation of biblical distinctions amidst modern theological trends. The lesson examines key questions regarding the meaning, basis, time, and means of justification.
  • Students in Dr. Moo's class ask multiple questions about justification.
  • By studying Romans 3:27-4:25, you gain insight into Paul's theology, where faith, exemplified by Abraham's righteousness, transcends works and ethnicity, emphasizing the universal scope of salvation through Christ.
  • Hear the questions the students ask regarding Romans 3:27–4:25. And discover Dr. Moo's answers to the questions posed.
  • In Romans 5 – 8, you gain insights into profound theological concepts like justification, identity in Christ, and the tension between present reality and future hope, guiding you to embrace your changed identity and hope for future transformation amidst life's trials.
  • Students as deep questions about Romans 5-8. Hear what Dr. Moo presents as answers to their questions.
  • Through Romans 5:1-11, you'll review the contrast between the Old and New Realms, understanding the essence of living in grace, finding hope amid suffering, and experiencing the assurance of eternal security rooted in Christ's sacrifice and God's love poured into believers' hearts by the Holy Spirit.
  • In Romans 5:12-21, Paul contrasts Adam's sin with Christ's redemptive grace, emphasizing humanity's hope and victory over death through union with Christ, while various interpretations of original sin underscore the universal need for redemption and Christ's pivotal role in restoring humanity to God.
  • Listen to the thorough questions the students ask regarding Romans 5:12-21.
  • The students ask excellent questions of Dr. Moo in this insightful discussion on Romans 6:1-14.
  • Through this lesson, you will gain a deeper understanding of the theological implications of Christ's death and resurrection as explained in Romans 6. You will explore different interpretations of Paul's language regarding the old self and the new self, considering the implications for the Christian life. Ultimately, you will be challenged to recognize your identity in Christ and to actively live according to that identity, rejecting the slavery of sin and embracing servitude to God.
  • Hear the questions the students ask of Dr. Moo regarding Romans 6:1-23.
  • In diving into Romans 7, you'll explore the Law's role in Christian life. Paul's discourse clarifies the distinction between law and gospel, emphasizing the Torah's significance in understanding divine commandments.
  • Class discussion on Romans 7:1-6
  • In Romans 7:7-12, Paul explores the Law's role in intensifying sin and contrasts it with Christ's liberation. His narrative prompts reflection on individual experience and collective identity, enriching understanding of Christian faith.
  • The class discusses the previous lesson on Romans 7:7-12.
  • This lesson covers interpretations of Romans 7:13-25; whether Paul's description is of pre- or post-conversion struggle with the Law.
  • In Romans 8:1-22, discover the Spirit's transformative power over sin, leading to a life free from condemnation, intimacy with God, and anticipation of future glory amid present sufferings.
  • Explore the theological insights on environmental stewardship, emphasizing Christian responsibility in light of Romans 8:19-22.
  • Gain insights into Romans 8:23-27, understanding destined glory despite present suffering. The Spirit intercedes, bridging current and promised futures, offering assurance amid weakness.
  • Romans 8:28 offers profound insights into the nature of God's providence and the believer's journey of faith. Beyond its surface meaning, the verse challenges misconceptions about 'good' and underscores the transformative power of God's grace. It invites believers to trust in God's unfailing love amidst life's trials, anchoring their hope in the assurance of His sovereign care and redemptive purposes.
  • Romans 9:1-5 highlights Paul's profound concern for Israel's salvation and the theological complexities surrounding God's promises. Reviewing salvation history, you'll learn that God's offer of salvation for both Jew and Gentile, fits within the Old Testament narrative.
  • Paul discusses Israel's role in God's plan, emphasizing grace over race. He illustrates divine choices and sovereignty, sparking debates on salvation.
  • Discover diverse views on election, Israel's struggle with faith, and the significance of overcoming theological narrowness in Romans 9:30-10:21. Gain insights into law versus faith in attaining righteousness and the importance of engaging deeply with Scripture for a comprehensive understanding.
  • Gain insights into faith versus works, Christ as the culmination of the Law, and the inclusivity of righteousness through Him. Embrace unity in Christ, transcending cultural divisions, and embodying love and holiness.
  • Gain insight into contrasting righteousness by law vs. faith in Romans 10:5-13. Accessibility of salvation through Christ bridges Old and New Testament teachings, emphasizing unity and continuity.
  • Gain insights into Romans 10:14-21, emphasizing faith, preaching, and Israel's reception of the message. Dr. Moo highlights Paul's use of Old Testament quotes and God's ongoing relationship with Israel, revealing the significance of faith and salvation.
  • Gain insight into Romans 11:11-15. Paul discusses Jewish rejection, Gentile salvation, and Jewish inclusion, aiming to provoke Jewish envy. The phrase "life from the dead" hints at spiritual renewal or future resurrection.
  • Gain insights into the Olive Tree analogy in Romans 11:16-24. Understand humility, faithfulness, and the purpose of warning passages in Scripture.
  • Discover the mystery of Israel's salvation in Romans 11:25-32. Paul reveals unity of Jews and Gentiles, challenging arrogance and emphasizing God's inclusive love.
  • Gain deeper understanding of Christian-Jewish ties, navigate theological challenges, address Israel-Palestine tensions, and embrace God's inclusive grace.
  • Gain deep insights into Romans 12:1-2: True worship extends beyond rituals, urging sacrificial living and transformation in response to God's mercy.
  • In Romans 12:3-8, Paul stresses humility, unity, and diverse gifts within the body of Christ, urging faithful stewardship for the edification of the body of Christ.
  • Gain insights into love's complexity in Romans 12:9-21. Paul urges sincere affection, alludes to Jesus' teachings, and prompts contemplation on love and judgment.
  • Gain insights into balancing submission to authorities with obedience to God. Understand the context of Paul's exhortation to Roman Christians and the complexities of submission, emphasizing humility, unity, and love in the Christian life within God's sovereignty.
  • In Romans 14:1-15:13, you learn about the division in the Roman Christian community, the concept of adiaphora, the balance between liberty and love, and Paul's emphasis on mutual acceptance and avoiding spiritual harm through personal conviction and respect for others' practices.
  • In Romans 15:14-16:27, you explore Paul's extended conclusion, his ministry to the Gentiles, his request for prayers regarding his journey to Jerusalem, the roles of Phoebe and Junias in ministry, and the diversity of the early Christian community.

Dr. Douglas Moo, from Wheaton College Graduate School, offers an exegetical examination of the book of Romans. This course was recorded during a D.Min. seminar at the Carolina Graduate School of Divinity in May 2012.

Please note that the audio mp3 file numbers on downloaded files are two greater than each lecture number beginning with number 15.

Dr. Douglas Moo 
Justification (Part 1)  
Lesson Transcript


Justification (Part 1)

Let me proceed in a slightly different way.  Feel free to continue to bring in your observations from your reading of Wright and Piper. I want to move through my own presentation on justification briefly and then talk about its implications. 


A. Classic Reformation Doctrine

Here first of all is my understanding of what I would call a classic Reformation doctrine. As you look back to the Reformers and those who followed the Reformers and walked along in their footsteps, as time progressed, this was the sort of the developed Reformation understanding.

One, justification is forensic; it involves entirely God’s declaration that a person is in right relationship. It is not a moral righteousness. This was something the Reformers wanted to stress in contrast to Roman Catholicism of their time. 

Second, justification is before God. Here, this is a kind of individual focus of the Reformation emphasis. We talked about that a little bit yesterday.

Third, justification is on account of Christ; God justifies people not on the basis of anything they are or do, but on the basis on what Luther called an “alien righteousness,” the righteousness of Christ imputed to that person. We had a brief discussion yesterday about imputation which is a very debated issue these days, not only among Wright and Piper but many others are debating it and talking about it. This is a kind of developed doctrine of the Reformation that did have a place for what we would call Christ’s righteousness imputed to us. 

So, when God looks at me as a person who is in Christ, He looks at me in light of Christ’s righteousness given to me and justifies me on the basis of that righteousness that Christ Himself earned that I could never have earned myself.

Four, justification is through faith alone, a well-known emphasis, and is by grace alone

This was the view of justification I was taught when I was in seminary just after the earth cooled. Probably the basic outline of justification that most of you have picked up somewhere along the line. It is the very traditional doctrine that 25 or 30 years ago when I was in seminary there really wasn’t a lot of discussion about it. We were taught this and there wasn’t a whole lot of debate. Now, that has changed quite dramatically in recent years. I want to first of all, look a little bit at why that has changed.


B. Contemporary Reassessment

Academic: The “New Perspective on Paul” 

First, there is the academic pressure; we have already talked adequately about that with the New Perspective and some of the work that Wright is doing. You have read him, so you understand that pressure from as it were the more academic side of things to say: let’s go back and read Paul against his first century Jewish context. When we do, maybe the traditional idea of justification doesn’t hold water quite as much as we thought. 

Ecclesiological: Ecumenical Dialogue

Second, most of you will be aware of what we might call the ecumenical pressure; we live in an era that is strongly emphasizing a desire for unity among Christians. An entirely appropriate emphasis of course, no one can read the New Testament and miss the concern for the unity of believers in Christ. The question is of course how far that is to extend. That is a debated issue, obviously. 

But here there is a sense in which people are saying the doctrine of justification was developed during the time of the Reformation need not separate us anymore. One of my former colleagues, Mark Noll along with a co-author Carolyn Nystrom wrote a book with the provocative title: Is the Reformation Over? That is, have we moved now to the point as Protestants on one hand and Roman Catholics on the other, that while we still have some differences, maybe they aren’t all that serious? For Noll and Nystrom, they would want to argue that justification may be a doctrine that doesn’t need to divide Roman Catholics and Protestants the way it used to. 

Here, one would appeal for instance to the 1999 consensus reached by major Lutheran and Roman Catholic theologians. This was a very significant agreement because it constituted an agreement between World Federation of Lutheranism, the official governing body for Lutheranism in general, and the Roman Catholic Magisterium, the official teaching body of the Vatican. In that document, which is on justification, it’s called the Joint Declaration on Justification, you can google it and find it very easily, the Joint Declaration on Justification. It basically they say we pretty much agree on justification.

What is somewhat remarkable about that document is that I think it is fair to say that in order to reach an agreement, the Lutherans gave up some things, but the Roman Catholics gave up a lot more. A lot of the Roman Catholic Biblical scholars I respect and read are talking about justification in terms that Martin Luther would probably have been pretty happy with. Roman Catholicism in its official stance has moved quite a way. 

Obviously, you have these official groups that say this, it doesn’t mean that all Lutherans or Roman Catholics agree, by any means. But there is this pressure to revisit the doctrine of justification and ask questions whether it needs to separate believers anymore. And there is the pressure to come to agreement. And the concern obviously in the desire to come to agreement, do we sacrifice something that is Biblically important in order to reach agreement with somebody? That becomes the key question.  

Cultural: Distaste for Doctrine

Three, another factor in all of this I think is that we live in an era which doesn’t have much of a time for doctrine. We live in a time where there is an emphasis on living out the Christian story. In a postmodern world there is considerable emphasis on narrative and stories. There is considerable emphasis on community; there is a deep concern among a lot of young Christians I know to be living the Gospel. They get a little impatient with older folks like me talking about what we believe in terms of doctrine. They are a bit impatient about that; they don’t want to say, let’s not get hung up on the doctrine, let’s go out and be Christians. Let’s live as Christians; let’s get out there and affect society and do the work of evangelism, get involved in social justice, and so forth. So, let’s do the work of being a Christian and not get hung up on the ins and outs of doctrine, which is sterile, intellectual, and not all that helpful for what it really means to be a Christian. 

Practical: Christian Lifestyle:

Finally, there is throughout the development of this Protestant teaching on justification (we talked about that yesterday a little bit) a concern that an emphasis on justification by faith alone breeds superficial Christianity. You emphasize that we are put right with God by faith alone; that thatsecures our ultimate standing with God; where then is a significant place for discipleship, for doing the work of the Christian life? It is argued that this undercuts. You can see this debate occurring in almost every generation since the Reformation. Emphasis on justification by faith alone leads to a push back by some other Christians who say but if we keep saying that in those terms, we are undercutting the Christian life. The Wesleyan movement itself was a bit of an attempt, not to leave justification by faith alone, but to say look what justification by faith alone has led to. It has led to Christians who are superficial, they go to church, but they have no true vital Christian life. We need to restore that; we need to right the balance again. You see this happening virtually in every generation. There have been a whole series of books written in the last decade making this point also.


C. Two Differing Points of Roman Catholicism: 

Can you explain the infusion of grace in the Catholic understanding of justification, the infusion of righteousness?  I know it’s a big dividing line between the Reformers and the Catholics, and I don’t understand what they are talking about.

Dr. Moo: 
The traditional Roman Catholic doctrine differed from the Protestant view in two essential aspects. 

First, the official Roman Catholic - and you have to say that because even at the time of the Reformation there were a variety of Roman Catholic views; there wasn’t just one monolithic Roman Catholic view - but in terms of the official standard Roman Catholic view of the time, justification was considered a broad category, including both our right standing with God and our transformation into the image of Christ. It involved, not just a righteousness imputed to us, a standing that is forensic, or judicial only, as Luther and Calvin were arguing, but it also involved the infusion of God’s righteousness, an actual moral transformation. Arguably, that goes all the way back to Augustine who seemed to have that broad and more encompassing view of justification. The issue of is justification forensic only involving imputation of righteousness or does it also involve an infusion of righteousness, that was a key matter of debate. 

The second issue then was where grace was to be found. In the Roman Catholic system, justifying grace is found in the sacraments and closely tied then to baptism especially. Whereas, of course, Luther and Calvin in their different ways wanted to make God’s grace much more significantly involved in human experience leading to faith. 

So, some infant would be baptized and hence justified and given the capacity to be righteous, and then what? As he grows up, then he either adheres to that, or walks away?

Dr. Moo: 
That is exactly right.  The way you continue to reclaim, as it were, your righteousness is s by a continuing participation in the sacraments again: mass, penitence etc. which maintains that status that you were given as an infant.


D. Further Explanation on the Lutheran - Catholic Joint Agreement: 

Comment: If I am understanding correctly what you’re saying, really a lot of the ecumenical dialogue to try to bring Catholics and Protestants together has kind of moved the needle on the spectrum between imputed and imparted righteousness where a lot of Protestant folks are saying we need to start saying that imparted righteousness is a part of it as well.  I guess what I find confusing, is that in my understanding, it has never been that you stop at one.  The fruits of imputed righteousness have always been that we start to walk for God. And yet you’re saying that there has always been a necessity that doctrinally we say that you will be changing your lifestyle, you will be changing your actions, if you’re actually justified by God.

Dr. Moo:   
A couple of points on that.  First, in terms of the definition of justification; the movement has been more toward the traditional Reformation view. The tendency has been for Roman Catholic theologians - I think just faced with the Biblical evidence, to be honest - to agree with Protestants saying that yes, justification is entirely a forensic thing. There has been a move more in that direction. 

Where there continues to be significant debate is this point on the sola, the only, the Latin phrase used at the time, sola fide. That is the real sticking point. The joint declaration says that we agree – Lutherans and Roman Catholics - that a person is justified by faith. For someone who doesn’t know the history, they can say oh, this is great, they all agree! 

But anyone who knows Reformation history is going to say that no one ever debated on whether justification is by faith. Everyone has always agreed that justification is by faith. The issue is, is justification by faith only, or is it justification by faith plus baptism, or faith plus works, or faith plussomething else? 

The problem in the documents, and I’m betraying my own view now, is that they are sort of papering over the key issue. You can get people to agree on a vague enough statement and think that you have reached agreement, when in reality, the fundamental differences remain. That is a really important issue here.

The other point I want to make in terms of what you said, and we’ll talk about this in a moment, Calvin and Luther were as strong as anyone in arguing that true Christianity is marked by people who are faithful in what they do; works follow faith. But what was the key to them was to keep justification and sanctification distinct from each other. This was again the difference between the Protestant view, wanting to keep those neatly separate, and the Roman Catholic view that wanted to blur them quite a bit, and view them as sort of working together in a more significant way.

I was thinking about this, being the United Church of Christ, we have a concord with some other denominations saying that say we accept one another’s baptism, we accept one another’s ordination, even though we understand baptism, and ordination, and communion differently, we have agreed to accept one another’s understanding of that. Sounds like some similarity.  

Dr. Moo: 
There is some similarity, yes, that is exactly right.


E. Christians Are No Longer Interested in Theological Fights: 

Can you touch a little bit on the distaste for doctrine, the reassessment kind of matter. For instance, we include hymns versus all the contemporary things that are going on.  How do we? Are we like Paul, kind of tiptoeing around? Doctrinally I think it is really key, but how does it flesh out in terms of bridging all that? It’s very much needed

Dr. Moo: 
Obviously, I’m referring to groups, like the Immersion Church, as it’s been called. A lot of the young people I work with at Wheaton, particularly the undergraduates at Wheaton, are fired up in wonderful ways to go out and really do some serious work for Christ. They want to go out into tough neighborhoods and be a witness there to help people, to address issues of poverty and homelessness, AIDS, all of these plagues that we are familiar with. 

But again, as I said, they aren’t as interested in figuring out what the truth of the Gospel is. They are skeptical because they look at earlier generations; they look at their parents, they look at older folks. They look at a Wright and a Piper who spend all their time fighting about doctrine and they say I’m not interested in those fights. I am not interested in the niceties of doctrinal formulation. I just want to go out and be a Christian and live the Gospel. Can’t we just all get along? is their motto, I would say.

I think that there is no question that we who are in a more traditional mode (I include myself here) can sometimes be guilty of number one, getting into unnecessary fights; that is a key concern that I have. It seems that one of the ways Satan tries to blunt the effectiveness of a Christian witness is by dividing us, and getting us fighting, getting us squabbling over stuff that maybe we don’t need to squabble over. 

But two then is doctrinal preaching or teaching that is dry or unrelated to life. I think that is what God is calling us to do; we, who have a concern, that yes, Christians need to understand what justification is. It is an important thing for them to know. We have to teach it effectively and make clear why it is important for people to understand it and know it. We have to teach doctrine well, call it whatever we want: Christian truth or whatever language we want to use. I don’t know if that is getting at your question?  I think we have to do it, and we have to do it well. We haven’t always done it well. 

Isn’t it more so that the church responds to culture, more so than culture responds to the church? [unclear] A similar perspective on worship which affords more convenience rather than conviction? More works than transformation? 

Dr. Moo:
I think so. I think as Christians, we need to speak to the issues of our day. We need to bring Christian truth to bear on issues like same sex marriage, for instance. This is very much in the press in recent days obviously. But as we do that, at the same time, we have to stand back sometimes and say but our job also is more fundamentally to inculcate a Christian world view in my people that will prepare them to meet whatever issues they might face. This is again where to me, patient careful expository preaching of the Word can be an effective thing to do, where you say for the next two years I’m going to preach through the Letter to the Romans. What am I going to preach this Sunday? Well, I happen to be in this paragraph of Romans, so that is what I’m going to preach this Sunday. 

That is one way to keep us from simply preaching our own fads, our own hobby horses, or always simply to be preaching what we think meets the needs of people. We are then I think, better stewards of the Word of God, and by doing that, we hold ourselves accountable in a sense, to proclaim what is there in the Word rather than our own ideas or simply reacting always to culture. 

In other words, the vision to build a congregation who have a thoroughly Christian mind set which then can enable those Christians to go out and face all sorts of things. There is no way we are going to have time to preach on all the issues that all our people face every Sunday, because they are facing all kinds of different things.  But we can do is to try to build them up in a way that gives them a thoroughly Christian orientation to life, the values of the kingdom that then they can translate into all of the areas that they need to be addressing.