Why I Am A Universalist, §7: The Doctrine of Justification (Section I)

Section I: Introduction to the doctrine of justification

The doctrine of justification, made prominent in the theology of Martin Luther, is in many respects the “heart of the Christian faith” (Jüngel, Justification: The Heart of the Christian Faith). Justification is the hermeneutical category through which we grasp the significance of Jesus Christ and the meaning of the Christian gospel. Jesus apart from justification can be interpreted in any number of ways. There is a lot of textual support from the sayings of Jesus in the gospel accounts for a version of Christianity as a purely moral religion—i.e., how we live our lives, whether for good or evil, determines whether we are accepted by God or not. A strong case could be made, divorced of course from the rest of the New Testament, that Jesus brings to the world a message of how to live one’s life in a holy and righteous way. We see this, for example, in the Mormon church. Any interpretation of Jesus along these lines is an interpretation devoid of justification, because justification asserts that Jesus, the Christ of God, came to make righteous those who were otherwise unrighteous and would remain so regardless of how well they lived their lives before God. Justification is the negation of our human efforts at pleasing God for the sake of a greater affirmation brought about by the Son of God incarnate, who lived, died, and rose again for our justification.

I follow Eberhard Jüngel in qualifying the doctrine of justification with the four Reformation particles: Christ alone (solus Christus), by grace alone (sola gratia), by the word alone (solo verbo), and by faith alone (sola fide). As Jüngel points out, the sum effect of these four phrases is the single assertion: solus deus—God alone. “Humans are indeed excluded with the aim of properly including them in their justification” (Jüngel 148). What I will do next is provide a brief overview of justification according to each of the particles while giving extra attention to justification and its relation to faith.