This blog is devoted to discussing the pursuit of eternal life.
Discussion and participation by readers is desired,
but contributions should correlate to the book,
The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology
of Perseverance & Assurance

Thomas R. Schreiner
& Ardel B. Caneday

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Nick's Question about Justification Now and Not Yet--Part 5

I return to Nick's question, after a brief interlude. As I return, I want to begin by focusing upon point 8 from Part 4, in response to Nick's question. Here is point 8.

Since the establishment of our justification before God is in Christ Jesus alone and because we can do absolutely nothing to establish or add to our justification before God, Jesus, Paul, James and other preachers of the gospel are not timid to correlate our justification before God with our belief in Jesus Christ (Galatians 2:16), with our words (Matthew 12:36-37), with our being "doers" (Romans 2:13), with our deeds (James 2:24).

Consider the following, which is from Matthew Henry's "A Scripture Catechism in the Method of the Assembly's." The Westminster Shorter Catechism inquires and responds:

Q. 33. What is justification?

A. Justification is an act of God's free grace, wherein he pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.

To the question and answer, Matthew Henry offers eight expansions. Here is his eighth.

Is justifying faith a working faith Yes: for by works is faith made perfect, Jam. 2:22. And will that faith justify us which does not produce good works? No: for by works a man is justified, and not by faith only, Jam. 2:24. Is faith then dead without good works? Yes: for as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also, Jam. 2:26. And are good works dead without faith? Yes: for without faith it is impossible to please God, Heb. 11:6. Must they both act together then? Yes: for that which avails is faith, which works by love, Gal. 5:6. Do we then make void the law through faith? No: God forbid, yea, we establish the law, Rom. 3:31. Is our faith our own? No: it is not of ourselves, it is the gift of God, Eph. 2:8. Are our good works our own? No: for thou also hast wrought all our works in us, Isa. 26:12. Is any room left for boasting then? No: it is excluded by the law of faith, Rom. 3:27. Must God therefore have all the glory? Yes: for by the grace of God I am what I am, 1 Cor. 15:10.

I offer this as a first step toward developing, understanding, and explaining my own eighth point. We need to be accurate in how we speak of the relationship between faith and works. By works, I do not mean "dead works," of course, nor "works of the Law."

On Matthew Henry's "A Scripture Catechism," a hat tip to Barb.


Unknown said...

I know it has been awhile since you posted this, Dr. Caneday, but I was wondering if you might satisfy my curiosity. Your quotation from Matthew Henry says, "only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us." Do you endorse this statement in full? If so, what do you think of Wright's rejection of the classical, reformed doctrine of imputation in lieu of "union with Christ"?

abcaneday said...


I do endorse Henry's statement. I do acknowledge that Christ's righteousness is reckoned to us.

I regard N. T. Wright's rejection disappointing. Yet, a careful reading of Wright (e.g., his commentary on Romans 3), it seems to me, suggests that his rejection is more about terminology than concept.

Unknown said...

I'm impressed, Dr. Caneday, at the attention you give this blog. Thanks for answering a question on a post over 1 year old!

Unknown said...

A few more things, if I may...

I do believe you are right about distinguishing terminology from concept. Last night, in fact, I read this article in which Wright stated:

When either the plaintiff or the defendant is declared ‘righteous’ at the end of the case, there is no sense that in either case the judge’s own righteousness has been passed on to them, by imputation, impartation, or any other process. What they have is a status of ‘righteous’ which comes from the judge. Let me stress, in particular, that when the judge finds in favour of one party or the other, he quite literally makes the righteous; because ‘righteous’ at this point is not a word denoting moral character, but only and precisely the status that you have when the court has found in your favour...What then about the ‘imputed righteousness’ about which we are to hear an entire paper this afternoon? This is fine as it stands; God does indeed ‘reckon righteousness’ to those who believe. But this is not, for Paul, the righteousness either of God or of Christ, except in a very specialised sense to which I shall return...First, Paul’s doctrine of what is true of those who are in the Messiah does the job, within his scheme of thought, that the traditional protestant emphasis on the imputation of Christ’s righteousness did within that scheme. In other words, that which imputed righteousness was trying to insist upon is, I think, fully taken care of in (for instance) Romans 6, where Paul declares that what is true of the Messiah is true of all his people. Jesus was vindicated by God as Messiah after his penal death; I am in the Messiah; therefore I too have died and been raised. According to Romans 6, when God looks at the baptised Christian he sees him or her in Christ. But Paul does not say that he sees us clothed with the earned merits of Christ. That would of course be the wrong meaning of ‘righteous’ or ‘righteousness’. He sees us within the vindication of Christ, that is, as having died with Christ and risen again with him...I still think of myself as a Reformed theologian, retaining what seems to me the substance of Reformed theology while moving some of the labels around in obedience to scripture...

What do you think of Wright's statement's here?

Also, I am reading through George Ladd's A Theology of the New Testament. His emphasis on eschatology has been very illuminating and seems to largely agree with your own emphasis on the essentially eschatological nature of justification. Are you familiar with it this work? If so, is there anything I should watch out for (either positive or negative)?

Thanks for your time, Dr. Caneday. I don't get to talk with too many theologians down here in Little Rock :)

abcaneday said...


You nailed my point with the quotation from Wright. You grasped my point well. The portion you cited makes it clear that Wright is more troubled with the wording or phrasing than with the concept. His doctrine entails reckoning which others call imputation. I'm sad that Wright's critics do not understand this or acknowledge it.

This is not to say that Wright articulates the whole matter as I would. I still believe that his insistence that justification is not about getting in but who is in is not particularly helpful. It is not completely wrong with what it asserts. The problem is with what he denies, when he says that justification is not about getting in. Indeed, when we read Romans 2:13-29, Paul's teaching concerning justification is not concerned with getting in but is concerned with who is in. Yet, Paul's teaching on justification is larger than what he has to say in Romans 2:13-29. His teaching also includes getting in, as in Romans 2:23-26.

I have found George Ladd's NT Theology very helpful. I have benefited much from his work. You correctly spot substantial agreements that I have with Ladd concerning the eschatological nature of salvation, of justification.