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Calvin on Justification


Calvin on Justification


All of the magisterial reformers recognise that “justification by faith” is shorthand for “justification by grace through faith in Christ”; i.e., faith “puts on” Christ and he (alone) is our justification.  There is no quality inhering faith that renders “my faith” “my justification.”  If a quality inhering faith is thought to justify, then faith becomes another form of self-justification.  Barth insisted that the point of “justification by faith” is that it is God who justifies us rather than we who justify ourselves.

We are justified by grace (alone) through faith (alone) on account of Christ (alone.)  Note that when Paul speaks of justification “by” (“through”) faith, he writes dia pisteos not dia pistin.  In Romans 3 Paul does not use “alone” when he speaks of justification, but Luther correctly saw that this was the meaning of the text; hence L’s “alone” was not out of place.

[1]  Faith puts on Christ who is both our justification and our sanctification.  Justification plus sanctification together are the grand sum of the gospel.  Calvin repeats this in his work passim.  3.11.1

[2]  Since Christ can’t be divided, justification and sanctification can never be separated even though they must always be distinguished.

[3]  Neither justification nor sanctification is the ground of the other.

[4]  Justification means that ultimately the believer has to do with the gracious Father rather than the just (and therefore undeflectable) judge.  3.11.1.

[5]  Justification is the “main hinge on which religion turns.” 3.11.1.
Valentius Loescher, a 17th century Lutheran, insisted, Iustificatio est articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae.  (articulus: article, point, crisis, division, hinge {thumb})
Most religions repudiate this articulus formally (e.g., Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses); most church folk repudiate it informally – i.e., operatively.
Those who would never repudiate it formally are often found repudiating it subtly and thereby fall into one or another form of self-justification insofar as
we are justified by our grasp of the doctrine of justification
by our ability to articulate the doctrine in private or publi c
by faith as the substance of our justification
by “grace” and “works” in that grace by provides an outer framework whose inner content is our achievemement
by (in modernity with its psychological preoccupation and its emphasis on ego-strength, etc.) our awareness that “we need do nothing to be accepted.”
In other words, modernity tends to abstract justification from its rootage in Christ

[6]  To be justified is to be both “reckoned righteous” and to be “accepted.” 3.11.2
“Reckoned” echoes Paul’s forensic model; “accepted” adds the relational (personal) dimension.
Again, one must be aware of the secularisation of the doctrine today.  God, however, “sees” in Christ only those who are in Christ (by faith in Christ.)  3.11.3.

[7]  Dispute with Osiander.  (See class notes on “The Mediator and His Work.”)
O. documents from scripture that Christ is one with believers, yet fails to grasp the nature of this oneness: by faith we are bound to Christ in utmost intimacy, but Christ is never transfused into us thereby obliterating the distinction between us, obliterating our identity, and rendering us incarnations as well. 3.11.5.
Osiander’s errors: we are justified inasmuch as we are made righteous through the impartation of holiness.  (Problem: no believer is sufficiently holy to secure his own righteousness.)
: Christ is our righteousness simply in virtue of his deity.  (Problem: our sin isn’t seen as serious enough to be that for whichatonement (propitiation) is needed.  We merely need to be elevated (divinised.)  Note the affinities here with modernity.

[8]  While C retains “imputation” in that he feels it essential to the truth of justification, he rejects the accusation that such terminology suggests iciness, sterility, the mechanistic or the impersonal.  For when we “put on” Christ we cease “contemplating him from afar”; we are “engrafted into his body”; we are “made one with him”; we “glory that we have fellowship of righteousness with him.” 3.11.10.

[9]  “Justification”, “forgiveness’, “free remission”, “reconciliation with God” are all synonyms. 3.11.11 and 3.11.21.

[10]  Note the following in the 3.11.11:

(i)               Since justification is never separated from sanctification, and sanctification is never separated from mortification, C can’t be accused of “cheap grace.”

(ii)              Battles’ “traces” (of sin) for reliquae (remainder) is much too weak.  Reliquum means “remainder”, “arrears”, “debt”, “outstanding (sum)”, “residue”, “subsequent.”

(iii)            Reformation of life is gradual (and frequently slow.)

(iv)            At all times Christians, of themselves, merit condemnation.  (See 3.11.21.)

[11]  The Spirit reforms the justified person (i.e., advances her in holiness) not directly but through the Son.  3.11.12
Since the Spirit is the Spirit of the Son, C endeavours here to disavow what he regards as Anabaptist vagaries concerning the Spirit; on the other hand, he endeavours here to disavow what he regards as RC vagaries concerning holiness: holiness consists in adopted sons/dtrs being conformed to their elder brother.
At no point does justification mean that we are deemed righteous on the ground of Spirit-wrought fruits of regeneration in believers. 3.11.14.

[12]  For C assurance is always assurance of our standing with God, which standing is grounded in Christ (not ourselves).  For “papists and schoolmen”, on the other hand, assurance is assurance of conscience that their Spirit-inspired quest for holiness merits God’s recognition and reward.  (Hence C speaks of them as “doubly deceived.”) 3.11.14.
Justification by faith, rather, directs our contemplation away from ourselves in all respects to “God’s mercy” and “Christ’s perfection”alone.  3.11.16.

[13]  While always aware that justification is the antithesis of moralism, C recognises moral distinctions.  Not to do is both silly and a threat to social order.  3.14.2.  Still, moral virtue is qualitatively distinct from the Kingdom.  Here C parts company with modern liberalism, mediaeval scholasticism, and some forms of contemporary RCm.  (E.g., Karl Rahner’s “anonymous Christian.”) 3.14.3.
When C speaks of the “sheer disgrace of need and emptiness” he is not speaking morally but rather theologically.  His point is that the moral people are yet un-graced.  Neither is he speaking psychologically.  C thinks theologically throughout the discussion. 3.14.5.
Justification is the beginning of love for God.  (What “righteousness” could ever precede it?)  Our works-righteousness, so far from exemplifying love for God, is actually defiance of him.  Only the justified person loves God.  3.14.6.

[14]  The justified person has “regard not for the work of the law but for the commandment of God.” 3.14.10.  Luther is magnificent on this matter.  Every commandment can be fulfilled only in faith.  Commandments 2 through 10 are properly and profoundly obeyed only if the first is; i.e., only in faith.

[15]  Remember: to undervalue justification by faith means that we do “not realise what an execrable thing sin is in God’s sight.”  3.14.13.

[16]  The sum of the doctrine is

“we are received into grace by God out of sheer mercy”,

“this comes about by Christ’s intercession and is apprehended by faith”,

“all things exist to the end that the glory of divine goodness may fully shine

forth”.  3.14.17.


Professor V. Shepherd