Galatians - Lesson 8

Justification in Galatians

The meaning and implications of the doctrine of justification. One notable distinction is whether you are justified apart from your works, according to your works or on the basis of your works.

Douglas Moo
Lesson 8
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Justification in Galatians

I. Justification by faith

II. Galatians 3:15-18

A. Importance of the doctrine of justification

B. Background

C. Language of righteousness

D. In Galatians, justified and righteous refer to status

III. Reformation view of righteousness

A. Justification is forensic

B. Justification is before God

C. Justification is on account of Christ

D. Justification is through faith alone

E. Justification is by grace alone

F. Discussion of reformation views

1. Forensic

2. Before God

G. Reformation antitheses

III. N.T. Wright

  • Galatians is about how you get yourself right with God and also how the Gospel is an inclusive power. 

  • Paul's autobiographical reasons for why you should listen to him.

  • Paul's interaction with the apostles in Jerusalem and an encounter with the apostle Peter. Dr. Moo challenges you to define the Gospel in light of the themes in the text so far. (The handout on the Gospel that Dr. Moo mentions at about the 44 minute mark is not available.)

  • Paul framed his preaching of the Gospel in the context of both the fulfillment of promises of God to Israel and the contemporary images of the Greco-Roman tradition. The Good News is not simply a matter of individuals experiencing a relationship with God, but also a broader theme of God establishing his rule over the universe through Jesus. [There is some intermittent static in the audio for about the first 30 minutes]

  • Introduction of the term, "justification." Also a discussion of the meaning of the phrase, "works of the Law."

  • Paul contrasts the ideas of faith and the Law. One way to describe the Galatian controversy is to determine who has the correct reading of the Old Testament. 

  • The meaning and implications of the doctrine of justification. One notable distinction is whether you are justified apart from your works, according to your works or on the basis of your works.

  • Discussion of the metaphors of the Law as a guardian, and being adopted into God’s family. 

  • Paul uses rhetorical techniques that were common in his day to persuade people. He also refers to Old Testament passages to instruct the Galatians in theire conduct. Dr. Moo discusses the process of translation.

  • Appropriation of the Old Testament in the New Testament includes both explicit and implicit quotations.

  • Discussion of the meaning and application of the term, "by faith alone" as it relates to the subject of justification.

  • Paul reminds the Galatians that they started well and need to finish well. The Spirit-led righteous life results in authentic community. Discussion of the idea of freedom to live as we are created to live.

  • To what extent does the Law of Moses provide specific direction for the way we should live as disciples of Jesus?

  • Discussion of what the Bible teaches about the extent to which your eternal destiny is tied to your behavior and the meaning of the term, "new creation."

Dr. Douglas Moo, Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College Graduate School, is an acknowledged expert in the writings and theology of Paul. His commentary on Romans is among the best ever written, and he is working on a new commentary on Galatians. In this class, Professor Moo will walk you through the book of Galatians and will spend considerable time summarizing Paul's basic theology.

We do not offer this class for credit. The comments that Dr. Moo makes regarding assignments and credits refer only to students who were taking the course for credit at the time of our filming.

Dr. Douglas Moo
Justification in Galatians
Lesson Transcript


I. Justification by Faith

Considering a much larger theological issue that is related to what we have seen in Galatians with the crucial language of justification. The idea of justification by faith that seems to be taught in Galatians has been very central to the whole Protestant tradition. In many ways it is a hallmark of Protestant theology and yet today it is in considerable dispute and debate again. There are a lot of books and articles being written on it from various perspectives. When I was in seminary, we covered the idea of justification as doctrine, but only very briefly. However, because this doctrine is so important to our faith, plus it is seems to be central to Paul and the New Testament. It is a vital doctrine in New Testament teaching; it is something that each of us who are proclaiming the Gospel in whatever context, need to have understand it. It has implications for a lot of pastoral practice and it will also come up in a lot of different passages in the Scripture. As already mentioned, it is obviously an important doctrine for Paul. You can see particularly with the verb and noun, Paul has the preponderance of occurrences and certainly the doctrine of justification has been rooted in key parts of Pauline epistles even though not evenly distributed throughout those letters. You have a lot of the language in Galatians, Romans, Philippians 3 and one or two other texts. You have significant bits of Paul where there is not reference to Justification. That needs to be recognized so that we don’t give it a place out of proportion to either Paul or the New Testament as a whole. Some of you may know that Lutheran theologians emphasize justification by faith. There is a traditional slogan in Lutheran theology that says justification is a doctrine on which the church stands or falls. This is based partly own Luther’s own insights; justification has an absolute indispensable role. I think it is important but not quite that central.

II. Galatians 3:15-18

In considering the background, most people agree that the key background for the language of justification for Paul is found in the Old Testament use of the verb tsadoq meaning justified. This verb is widely used in particular places. You have it used in a more distinctive judicial way. They are to take it to court and the judges are to decide the case, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty. Acquitting can also be translated justifying or declaring a person legally right. The idea is of the judge presiding in a law court acquits or justifies the innocent and condemns the guilty. This is what judges do, what they are called upon in exercising their role. They were to analyze the situation and make a declaration, a pronouncement that accord with the situation.

The language of righteousness also comes into play here. Remember again that justify, the verb and righteousness, the noun are closely related to each other. We have to distinguish them in English and use different forms, but in the Greek, they are very much the same thing. Passages like in Isaiah where there is a prophecy of righteousness to come are important as well. ‘Lift your eyes up to heaven, look at the earth beneath, the heavens will vanish like smoke, the heavens will wear like a garment and the inhabitants will die like flies, but my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail. Hear me, you who know what is right, you people have taken my instructions to heart. Do not fear the reproach of mere mortals or be terrified by their insults. For the moth will eat them up like a garment; the worm will devour them like wool. My righteousness will last forever, my salvation through all generations.’ Isaiah is prophesizing in the context of exile. He is looking to the day when God would reverse the situation of the people of Israel sent into exile and God would again come to them in aid and establish their righteousness or their salvation. These are some of the Old Testament contexts that we have to have in view when we try to understand the doctrine in the New Testament. So often, our New Testament authors and Paul being certainly among them is deeply rooted in this Old Testament language. In a sense, that is his world and the language is usually used out of that context.

In Galatians, there is general agreement that the words talk about status. There are a few who think that the noun righteousness may have a sense of moral righteousness. There is nothing unusual about this; the word certainly does have a sense of moral righteousness, very often in the New Testament. For instance, when Jesus says that your righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and the Pharisees, clearly their righteousness is behavior that is pleasing to God; acting and living in a way that pleases God. This is a fairly common use of the language in the New Testament but not necessarily in Galatians. Instead, the words in Galatians talk about status, being in right relationship with God. With that being the background, let me describe the Reformation view of righteousness and justification. You may already know this but I think it is worthwhile to over it as they are fairly significant. So we are in an era where the Reformation view is being challenged in different ways.

III. Reformation View of Righteousness

There are five points that comprise this: forensic, before God, on account of Christ, faith alone and grace alone.

A. Forensic

In regards to the Reformation view, we find that justification is Forensic. That is, it has to do with the law. It is law court imagery. It is not a matter of making someone right, rather it is a matter of declaring somebody right. The Roman Catholic view is always been somewhat different, where they and others want to argue that justification includes transformation. It is not just a mere declaration that we are right before God, but it also involved being transformed; to be right before God in our behavior. So, Justification is Forensic: There is a difference within the levels in which these things are discussed. They are central to the different groups and denominations movements and they are sometimes never really spelled out anywhere. This is a declaration that we are right before God. This puts it into Biblical terminology. It seems to say that God declares that we are not guilty. This is part of it, being not guilty, innocent is the other side of it where not guilty is a New Testament concept. Not holding sins against us, the language of Roman 4.

B. Before God

It is a matter of our relationship as individuals to God. We talked a little about this in looking at the new perspective. We will see as Tom Wright for instance in his interpretation thinks that justification should be understood in terms of membership in the people of God. Rather than being focused on a relationship with God directly, it is more of indirect idea of membership with the people of God.

C. Justification on Account of Christ.

Usually but not always in Protestant theology this has involved the doctrine of imputation. The doctrine of imputation refers to a legal idea as well, that for us to be accounted right with God, Christ’s own righteousness is imputed or accredited to us. It has been put into our account, as it were. So God justifies me because as he looks at me, he sees Christ’s righteousness that I have by virtue of my relationship with him. It is Christ’s righteousness imputed to me. Luther for instance, talked about an alien righteousness. I am justified before God, not because I am righteous but instead, Christ is righteous. Often within this idea of imputation as well, it is Christ’s active obedience also that is imputed to us for righteousness. That is, in his life, Christ fully and consistently obeyed the Law of God and this obedience is accredited to me as part of this righteousness. This has not always been a view that has been agreed upon. Many of the Lutherans have never had this idea of imputation in this sense. As it tends to be the idea associated a little more with the reformed side of theology than the Lutheran. The different streams that came out of the Reformation such as Lutheran, Reformed and Anti-Baptist perhaps are the three key initial sources and how those worked their way out in time where the reformed side giving away to the English Pilgrims, the West Minister Confession, the American Puritans. We have the Lutherans from Germany and it spread into America with the Anti-Baptist breaking off into various combinations over the years along with a lot of mixed happening at the same time.

So, we have this idea of Christ’s righteousness being imputed is disputed by a lot of people these days. Robert Gundry wrote an important article doubting it. Tom Wright thinks that it is incoherent. It just doesn’t make any sense at all. The Wesleyan stream of the Reformation has always had questions at this point. They have seen this as potentially under cutting the holiness of the Christian life. So Wesleyan Holiness Movements have often had a problem with Reformation teaching. They think that if Christ’s righteousness is imputed to me, that he obeys on my behalf then that undercuts any need that I have to be obedient or to lead a holy life. For if Christ has already obeyed on my behalf then I don’t need to. There has been that concern in that movement that this idea creates problems.

So we have on Account of Christ and particularly the imputation debate. I suspect that a lot of the churches don’t buy into the imputation idea or make it a prominent issue at all. Robert Gundry is a fairly well-known evangelical scholar, retired now but still doing some writing. He sparked a lot of this debate by writing an article saying that he didn’t see any New Testament evidence for this idea that has become so popular in theology. We have passages about us participating in the righteousness of God; yes, but that is not Christ’s righteousness. And Gundry argues that if we are going to use Biblical language, it should be that faith is imputed for righteousness. A number of people say that in order for a doctrine to be true, we don’t have to have an actual proof text that uses that same language. We may not have a proof text in regards to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and the trinity, but it is a valid theological conclusion from what the New Testament says. Personally, I would agree with Gundry as I’m not sure of any text that confirms the point. The question that still remains for me, are there other elements of New Testament teaching that together make sense if we hold to something like this. For others, there is a larger concept of a union with Christ that becomes very important here. So if there is an imputation of Christ righteousness which I personally think that is taught in Scripture, it is within the context of our broader union with Christ. Within that union with Christ, he takes my sin and I take his righteousness. There is this interchange that takes place with my union with him. I think there are texts which suggest those ideas that come fairly close with this imputation idea. Paul often brings in baptism into this in terms of union in Romans 6. We saw the end of Galatians 3. Whatever we think in terms of the right of baptism, it does mark people as members of a community. When we are baptized, there is a sense in which we are joined with Christ where he again is in the context of how we are defined spiritually.

The reformed view puts a big effort on active obedience as part of imputation, that is, obedience is in terms of the actual specifics of Christ’s life. This includes his whole life up to and including his suffering. Sometimes a distinction is made between Christ passive obedience, his willingness to go to the Cross, submitting to the Father’s will. Whereas active obedience, Christ did the commandments; he obeyed God. There are some who want to hold to the imputation of Christ’s righteousness but not necessarily the active obedience side. We see in Roman’s 5, Christ’s obedience; is it simply his willingness to die or does it also include his obedient life? Some argue that God’s Word makes it clear that only people who fully obey his Word can be justified. I never obey God’s word that well. So if I am to be justified, Christ’s own obedience has to be attributed to me because otherwise God is justifying a person without any basis, without having the law fulfilled which is his own demand for true righteousness and justification. This is trying to understand how the theology of what God does for us in Christ ultimately works in Scripture.

D. Justification is Through Faith Alone.

This was fundamental to the reformers, as in sola fide or faith alone. This is challenged these days in two or three different ways as some think faith itself includes obedience. It moves away from the Reformation idea of faith, while others are not too concerned to specific about the matter. Tom Wright is among those; he has written in ways that are imprecise about the matter. For the reformers, the distinction between justified by faith as opposed, to be because of faith is really important. My faith is not a cause of being just but instead it is imperfect, it wavers, it very often weak. My faith can never be a basis for my being put right with God, but it is a means by which I appropriate Christ who is the basis for my righteousness. This is a fundamental distinction in Reformation theology. Because God works by grace then on our side, it has to be faith. I would say that obedience indicates genuine faith. Many are quite willing to emphasize faith alone but they bring works or obedience into faith itself and redefine faith, arguing that in Scripture the key Hebrew word, Emunah and the key Greek word Episdus include notions of both faith and faithfulness. That Biblical perspective of faith includes not only the simple intellect or the assent of the will but also includes actually living faithfully. It is difficult to define faith neatly along with grace also. But faith, itself, doesn’t involve the actual doing or obedience, but it leads to it. God commands us to respond to the Gospel. It is an offer that comes with strong persuasion; an offer in which God asks us to respond to the message of the Good News. In this sense, you can see obedience as one way of describing faith; to obey the Gospel simply means to acknowledge that God’s Word is true and relevant for me; I bow the knee and accept that Word and obey it in that sense. It is obedience but not in the sense of good works but that which follows from faith.

E. Justification is by Grace Alone or solo gratia.

It is by God’s own initiative and not by anything that I have deserved or earned that God initiates this relationship of justification. This is generally agreed upon these days but there are a lot of questions about what this entails. Grace is more the mode where faith is more the means. We can add Christ alone as the basis for me being justified before God. I actuate that my means of my faith alone and God works by grace alone through the process. Can we just drop alone if I am going to do it through faith by grace? You can do this if grace and faith are functioning exactly the same way, but I don’t think they do function exactly the same way. I don’t receive God’s gift by means of grace; I receive it by faith. But God offers it to me by means of his grace. In a sense, it is the giver and the receiver that you are looking at. The general definition of grace talks about God acting on our behalf solely out of his good nature for us without any basis in whom we are or reason to do so.

F. Discussion of Reformation views and Antitheses:

There is this movement to soften reformation antithesis. We talked a little about this when we looked at Galatians 2:16, so some of this will be familiar with you already. We don’t necessarily have to agree with everything the reformers said. They, themselves, emphasized that true reformation means that the church always needs to be reforming. We always need to be careful about freezing a moment in time as the final word on anything. Nevertheless, I am grateful to stand on the shoulder of those who inherit the reformation insight and I don’t want to reject them unless I feel there is a strong need to do so. I want to understand them and respect them, test them by Scripture of course but not quickly overthrow them. In regards to the reformers then, there are two important distinctions: first in regards to faith and works and second between justification and sanctification. We are saved by faith alone and faith is not the same thing as works. Similarly, justification has to do with our standing with God, our status and sanctification is the moral transformation of my character into the image of Christ, becoming a person who in my disposition and lifestyle reflects God and his holiness. The reformers are sometimes misunderstood; they separated these things but insisted that they always go together. Faith in a genuine way would always lead to works. There can be no such thing then in regards to the reformers of a Christian who has faith that doesn’t have works. If a Christian doesn’t have works, they don’t have faith in any true Biblical sense. So they are separate things but inevitably inextricably bound to each other. It is the same thing with justification and sanctification; Calvin, for instance, was very fond of talking about the two fold gift; God gives and always gives together justification and sanctification. They are not the same thing and they shouldn’t be mixed and we should overlap them, however, they are always given together. What we see going on in the current climate from various angles a softening of those antithesis. So we were just talking about faith and works, this begins to overlap a bit. And faith itself involves works and on the other hand, justification is argued to be not merely Forensic or a legal declaration but it also includes some degree of actually transforming the Christian, again overlapping with sanctification.

Obviously for me, these are not positive moves. I think as I look at Scripture and as we see Galatians arguing, I think Paul keeps these in separate categories that the reformers were looking at. They were genuinely getting theological distinctions that are valid reading of what Paul was doing in places like Galatia. In regards to assurance, that was a key to the reformers as well. We could only have assurance if our standing on God rests on something outside of us, Christ and his alien righteousness. In regards to Wright, he says a lot of good things and a lot of things we have all been saying, but raises other questions. Wright wants to grant the perspective that can become a little more horizontally.

III. N.T. Wright and Justification

For Wright, justification means those who are in the people of God and it is something that comes after our conversion. In other words, God calls us into faith with him and calling is a fundamental idea for Wright. And because we have been called into that relationship then we are seen to be in the people of God and that is justification for Wright. Not too many people follow Wright on this point and I think he is straining a bit to use certain categories that he thinks are important in terms of history of Israel for example, in order to redefine justification in a way that doesn’t work very well. There is something about the idea of Wright however that shows justification as something of a subsequent idea. I think there may be something to that which also rings true with the Reformation emphasis. It is saying that I am brought into union with Christ. That moment of union is the moment of my conversion. And once I am in that union, then Christ’s righteousness is applied to me and God can analyze me as being a just person before him because of my union with Christ by means of faith. There is something about that idea of God in justification analyzing us rather than itself being the moment of conversion.

Another point that Wright has made is an emphasis on eschatology. Justification by faith in the present he argues anticipates the verdict of the last day which will reflect what people have actually done however always by the Spirit. This is his book on justification, published in 2009. He has written subsequently to that; he has a massive seventeen hundred page Pauline theology that was released just about a year ago. He also spoke at the evangelical theological society conference some years back and that paper was published in the journal of the society. He is reluctant to go into any more specific language; he says that works for Paul are important in terms of ultimate justification and Wright claims that he is not concerned to get into some of these picky debates about which preposition we use. We will talk about whether there is a future element of justification in Paul. Wright certainly thinks there is along with others. I think Wright can be criticized for failing to recognize how important for the Reformation that a distinction was here. Between saying that I am ultimately judged according to my works on the one hand and I am judged on the basis of my works on the other. All the reformers put great emphasis on the fact that we are judged according to our works in our final judgement, but they are never the basis for that decision. The basis for that decision, whether present or future is always my relationship with Christ which is appropriated by faith through God’s grace and Wright using language like this that has brought him quite a bit of criticism from more traditional Reformation thinkers because he seems to be bringing a kind of works righteousness into the picture here, at least to some degree. He doesn’t want to push that very hard, but he is unwilling to sort of make the distinction that would clearly indicate that he is not going there. But Wright’s work does raise the question that God is going to judge me one day. I will have to appear before him. My works are going to be involved in that. How are they involved? What status do they have? What does the Book of Galatians contribute to that question?

Finally, just one other point; this idea of imputation, putting it in a slightly different way, the Old Testament teaching from God; I will not justify the guilty. Romans 4:5 show us that God is the one who justifies the ungodly. We seem to have a problem here; a problem that perhaps has given us a solution by putting Christ’s righteousness into the picture. I, myself, remain ungodly but because of Christ’s righteousness, God can now legitimately in a way true to his nature justify me.