The Danger of a "Justification" Only Mindset
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"See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him." (1 John 3:1)
Classic Rabbinic Judaism teaches that atonement can be effected by repentance, by prayer, and by acts of kindness and charity. The New Testament teaches that for the fullness of atonement to occur there must be a shedding of blood. "Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins." (Leviticus 17:11, Hebrews 9:22)
Related to the classic Christian teaching concerning the atoning death of Jesus the Messiah, the Jewish mind raises two powerful objections.
The first objection is this; the Torah teaches God hates human sacrifice. He is Yahweh, not Molech. The New Testament, so they say, not only wants but demands a human sacrifice which of course is contrary to God's Word. Therefore, it must be wrong.
The second objection is based on God's justice. The argument goes like this. If God takes an innocent man like Jesus of Nazareth (a devout Jew), and places on him the guilt and consequences of our sin, then God has fundamentally violated his standard of justice. It is neither fair nor right for an innocent man to die for the guilt of others.
Do you understand these two objections? What do you think about them?
I can tell you that from my point-of-view, they are on the money. Moreover, I think that if we do not take these objections seriously, and address them biblically, then we risk minimizing the staggering truths of what happened at Calvary.
The Jewish writers of the New Testament understood these objections. Because of Jesus' atoning sacrifice, God raised him from the dead and gave his promised Holy Spirit to his people. Starting with the Hebrew Scriptures, it was revealed to them that Israel's God was mysteriously and wonderfully in Jesus of Nazareth, reconciling the world to himself (Luke 24:27).
God satisfied his holiness, which demands justice, by giving up HIMSELF for the unjust. Because Jesus of Nazareth was inside the sphere of God's echad (click here to explore this in-depth), the cross becomes the classic expression of self-satisfaction by self-substitution.
When our Father chose to give up himself in the person of his Son—for us—it was the most extraordinary act of love the universe has ever seen! It confirms rather than violates both his word and his justice.
"Thanks be to God through Jesus the Christ, our Lord!"He is not like a pagan deity needing to be appeased, requiring that you assuage his wrath by giving him a sacrifice. That is not the biblical image, and we must get that out of our head. Yes, God's holy justice has to be satisfied, but because of his holy mercy, he is the subject doing the satisfying in the person of his Son. Let us proclaim with our faith, fore-bearers,
I know this might be bending your brain a bit because we are not taught to think biblically, deeply. But this is the mindset of the early church out of which flowed the apostolic scriptures. Theirs was a way of thinking, acting, and living that turned the world upside down.
The atoning death of Jesus is a new covenant reality with powerful effects and implications for Spirit-empowered kingdom living.
Because of Jesus, we are in right standing with God. Concerning his judgment upon our sins, we are forgiven and included among his covenant people. We are justified.
Because of Jesus, we are cleansed and brought near to God. Concerning our self-imposed exile, we are brought back into fellowship with him. We are reconciled.
The problem with so many of us, because of our Hellenistic rather than Hebraic orientation, is that we think of the spiritual as immaterial and of reality as a distant future in a different place. We are waiting for our inheritance.
To use a picture from a parable of Jesus, we have returned to the Father's house, but we do not have intimacy with him. (After all, he is an angry God, is he not?) We fail to take on the robe of his righteousness, the ring of his authority, the sandals of his shalom. As a result, we do not come into the fullness of blessing that he desires for his children.
In short, we become the older child in Yeshua's story of the merciful Father.
The younger son comes to himself, repents, and acts on his repentance; he gets up and goes home. Full of grace, the one who was waiting and watching rushes to meet him, sparing him the condemnation of the community. In the hearing of all the father declares, in word and deed, that this is his child. That is a picture of justification.
But there is more. The father, overflowing in lovingkindness, takes the one who asked to be a servant and restores him to sonship. The wayward child is brought into the father's house—under his care and authority—to live in the joy and blessing of restored relationship. That is a picture of reconciliation.
Justification deals with issues related to redemption, the buying back of that sold into slavery. As such, it is a declaration of something done for us. For that, Jesus needed to be fully God.
Reconciliation deals with issues related to restoration, of making relationships right. As such, it is a participation in something being done in us. For that, Jesus needed to be fully man.
Said another way, in justification, we have the saving of our souls (getting out of Egypt). In reconciliation, we enter into the healing of our souls (getting Egypt out of us). The work of the cross is not only something done for us, but it is also something being done in us as we are faithful to the Faithful One. Both are essential operations of the indwelling Spirit of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Do you understand why this is so vital? When it comes to the fullness of atonement in the one whose name means God Saves, there is far more available to his people than a legal declaration and a passport to heaven. Salvation has extraordinary implications for the here-and-now.
To those with ears to hear, Paul points the way with the phrase, walk by the Spirit.