What a Panel of Professors Taught Me about Justification9:00 AM
If you're like me, wondering what it means for God to declare His children legally justified simul peccator, think about marriage. The moment a couple says "I do," they are legally entitled to property, name, and joint tax forms. Even though Gomer was an adulteress who certainly never acted married to her husband Hosea, the law saw her as his wife and granted her whatever legal access Jewish women had. Her unfaithfulness did not nullify her legal rights, her marriage. Same with us, the Church, the Bride of Christ.
Not that there isn't an emotional, relational part too. If a random guy puts a ring on your finger and says, "I do," you're not married. (At least I hope not. That would be awkward.) The loving intention needs to be there to make this marriage thing a thing. This probably happens in Baptist megachurches in the South every Sunday -- people walk the aisle and throw their sinner's prayer "I dos" at Jesus for any reason but a real intention to love Him, and then walk away from all intimacy with Christ. No. If you're married, you're living together, loving each other, sharing the bed, sharing the house, sharing the work. When you say "I do" to Christ, intimacy needs to follow.
Further Evidence That the Sinner's Prayer Misses the Point
What belief of Abraham did God count as righteousness? Fun Fact: not just one. Abraham believed that Sarah would conceive, that he ought to move, that he should offer Isaac up as a sacrifice. His life is defined by big moments of belief. He didn't believe one thing once and then go his merry way.
Many of us want to pinpoint a date of our conversion, the first time we believed, our birth certificate into the kingdom of heaven. I never could. As Prof. Westblade says, if you want to prove you're alive, don't point to your birth certificate -- produce some vital signs. Are you living the life of faith now?
Why I Could Never Be Catholic and Why It's Hard to Be Protestant
I believe the real issue about the justification debate is about original sin. Catholics believe that baptism cleanses them of original sin. They merely need to do penance for the things they do. Protestants hold to a more complicated theology: simultaneously just and sinful. Even though God counts Christ's righteousness to us, we're still sinners. I'm just a sinner saved by grace.
Dr. Burke calls Catholic guilt "joyous guilt" -- guilt about what you did. Protestant guilt is deeper -- guilt about who you are. "That explains everything about you" -- Erich's first thought after the lecture. As a former Catholic, he enjoys grace far more than I do, spends far less time seeking the kind of forgiveness and assurance of salvation that I crave, feels totally enabled to do good and to love God because of Christ's grace. I cry a lot, wrestle a lot, angst a lot, because even when I'm doing good, I never really feel good. No matter how much Christ justified me -- and thank you, thank you, thank you for that! -- I am still stuck in this sinfulness that I desperately want freedom from, this self-conception of myself that's shaped far more by my sin than my Savior.
Is there a middle ground?
*Dr. Matthew Gaetano, Prof. Don Westblade, and Dr. Thomas Burke of Hillsdale College prompted these comments.