New Book: Justified in Christ

K. Scott Oliphant has recently edited a new book on justification: Justified in Christ: God’s Plan for Us in Justification. The authors of these essays are all connected to Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA. Sinclair Furguson writes the introduction, briefly examining the book and the current justification crisis. I think this work will prove to be an interesting comparison with the recent work written by the professors of Westminster Seminary in California: Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry, edited by R. Scott Clark. Here is a brief look at the chapters included in Justified in Christ:

  • Chapter 1: “Justification and Eschatology” by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.
  • Chapter 2: “ Union with Christ and Justification” by Lane G. Tipton
  • Chapter 3: “Calvin’s Development of The Doctrine of Forensic Justification: Calvin and the Early Lutherans on the Relationship of Justification and Renewal” by Peter A. Lillback
  • Chapter 4: “John Owen on Justification” by Carl R. Trueman
  • Chapter 5: “The Active Obedience of Christ and the Theology of the Westminster Standards: A Historical Investigation” by Jeffrey K. Jue
  • Chapter 6: “Justification and Violence: Reflections on Atonement and Contemporary Apologetics” by William Edgar
  • Chapter 7: “Covenant Faith” by K. Scott Oliphint
  • Chapter 8: “The Pastoral Implications of the Doctrine of Justification” by J. Stafford Carson

The authors interact with not only issues related to the current justification crisis, but also the new perspective. Along with these chapters there are two more components of this book. Alexander Finlayson provides a bibliography of reformed works on justification. The book also includes John Murray’s The Imputation of Adam’s Sin. I personally believe this to be one of professor Murray’s finest works. I am glad they are reprinting it in this volume. In many ways, the heart of justification hinges on a proper understanding of the two-Adam structure. Murray’s brief work will be a reminder of how fundamental Adam is to our understanding of Scripture.

The Gospel and New Creation-Galatians 6:14

Last week I considered the first part of this verse-Paul’s boast in the cross. This week I turned to the second part of the verse: “by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” I had planned on taking an individualistic, subjective approach to the text. In other words, I had planned to examine the doctrine of the atonement and what is often called penal substitution, that Christ took our place and took our punishment upon the cross, and what it means for us.  

I think the atonement is foundational to the gospel, but there is something in this passage that broadened my perspective: I read verses 15 & 16. First, Paul says something unusual in verse 15: “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision…” And I expected Paul to say, “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but the cross of Christ.” But that is not what he says. Instead, he says, “but a new creation.” 

New Creation? Where did that come from? What is the connection between the new creation and the cross? Then I kept reading into verse 16: “And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” 

“As for all who walk by this rule…” Everyone who follows this reality, this way of life, this principle, this new creation, those people will receive peace and mercy. Why? Because they are the new Israel of God; they are the new creation [note: Greg Beale].  

In other words, Paul boasts in the cross because it changes everything, absolutely everything. The cross brings about a new creation, a new reality, a new order of things, a new way of living, a new people.  Through the cross we have come into contact with a different world; we participate in a different reality. Through the cross of Jesus Christ, this world is no longer the most important world. The “new creation,” as Paul calls it in verse 15, is now most important. And the amazing work of the cross of Christ connects us to that world even now, even to the point that Scripture calls us citizens of Heaven even though we are all still here. 

That is just very straightforward, but at the same time it is so profound that we cannot fully explain it. Somehow, someway, through an event that happened almost 2000 years ago, the whole course of history has changed. Somehow, someway through a cruel act of punishment, through the death and resurrection of the Son of God, a new world comes into being, a world that we cannot see, yet a world that we participate in by faith. This new world is so real that Paul can say in Ephesians that believers have been raised us up with Christ and seated with him in the heavenly places. 

Ronald Fung observes two reasons why Paul is not simply talking about personal salvation. First, Paul speaks of the world being crucified to him as well as of himself being crucified to the world. By saying this, Paul is speaking of a new life, a new existence. Paul has been transplanted from one world to another, and this change took place through Christ and the cross. Paul is telling us that the cross marks the end of the old world and ushers in a new world. God is delivering us from this present evil age (Gal. 1:4). If God is delivering us from this present evil age, then he is making a new world for us. We all have died to this world through the cross of Christ. 

Secondly, we know that Paul is speaking in terms larger than personal salvation because he sees a parallel between the cross and the new creation in verse 15. We can ask this question: If Paul is crucified to this world, then where does he belong? He is part of the new creation. Paul is telling us that through his atoning death upon the cross and his resurrection, Christ has inaugurated and brought about a new creation. Christ has opened up a new world for us, and his cross marks an absolute break between the new and the old world.  

We have a taste of that world now, but it is only a taste. Yes, the cross of Christ does provide forgiveness and reconciliation and righteousness and hope and glory for you, but it is so much more. It speaks to us about a new world, a new humanity, a new nation: as Paul calls it, a New Creation.

And in that day, when heaven and earth pass away, we will see a New Heaven and a New Earth. We will see the holy city, the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And we will hear a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 

And then the one seated on the throne, the Lamb of God, will say, “Behold, I am making all things new.” The cross began this work, and this is why we call the message of the cross good news. This is good news indeed!

Worship

Over the last few years, God has taken me on a journey through various studies on the history and practice of worship. Perhaps over time I will post some of my reflections and the journey of my church through this area. Many books have been helpful, but I wanted to direct your attention to a recent book on worship. Allen P. Ross, professor at Beeson Divinity School, has written a great biblical theological study of worship: Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation.

John Frame comments: “This book deals expertly and thoroughly with worship in the Bible. What is most refreshing: it is not at all ideological. People of all persuasions will find it valuable as a reference work. It also gives us a large perspective on worship that is likely to moderate the current discussion.”

Ross also has a web-site with great resources on it: Christian Leadership Center.

In Light of the Gospel…

The title of my blog is “In Light of the Gospel.” This reflects my belief that everything in life must be seen “in light of the gospel.” Church, ministry, education, politics, culture, and everything else in life must be seen “in light of the gospel” in some way.

 But notice that I am making a distinction here between the gospel and its results. The gospel is not about personal experience. The gospel is not about our actions (of repentance and faith or social change). The gospel is not about our personal obligations. Of course all of these things must be seen “in light of the gospel,” but they are not the gospel.

The gospel is an historical event. This is why the gospel means “good news.” Far too often we focus on the “good” aspect of the gospel: the benefits we receive and are to share with others. But let us never forget that it is the “news” aspect of the gospel that provides the foundations for all the “good.” This is what Paul is getting at in 1 Corinthians 15 with all the historical references: Christ died and rose again.

The gospel is not the sharing of an idea or the sharing of an experience. The gospel is not the communication of a feeling. The gospel is essentially the rehearsal of history, the rehearsal of historical facts found in God’s word. The gospel is the telling of a story, the narrating of an event: the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Once we are clear on the historical aspect, then we turn to the meaning of the news/historical events. This event is good, and everything must be seen in light of it. According to Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, the meaning of this historical event is that Christ died for our sins. Here then is the content of the gospel, which is why it is so good: in the event of Christ’s death and resurrection, our sins have been forgiven and we have been declared righteous before God the Father. In this historical event, we have been crucified to the world and the world to us, so that what now matters is a new creation (Gal. 6:14-15). If that is true, then everything must be seen “in light of the gospel.”