Justification, Ancient and Modern
Sperry Symposium 1986
The Old Testament and the
16 October, 1986
Chauncey C. Riddle
We shall begin with a definition of religion, which will enable us to give a contextual
definition of justification.
Webster’s Third New International Dictionary lists the archaic definition of religion as “scrupulous conformity.” If we inquire as to what it is that enables a person to achieve scrupulous conformity, the answer might be that it is the person’s character, his habits, which allow him to be diligently faithful to principle or person, depending on the object or his faith, Using that cue we shall define religion to be a person’s character or habits, that which enables him to act in a regular manner in achieving his objectives. This definition distinguishes whimsical or fortuitous action from that which is characteristic, but also suggests that if a person’s actions are notably whimsical or fortuitous, his religion, his habits, are not very strong or reliable. This definition also distinguishes personal religion from the social institutions we call “church” or “culture.” A church functions to inculcate and perpetuate some person’s idea of what personal religion should be. It is noteworthy that leader and layman alike often do not personally exemplify the pattern of religious habit proclaimed by the church to which they belong. A culture is a group of people having a widely shared pattern of personal religion, a group of people having similar or identical character or habits, The mark of a successful church is a homogeneous culture. The mark of a successful personal religion is a set of habits which enables a person to achieve his goals in life. In a Latter-day Saint frame, a person’s religion is sufficient if it enables him to fill his divinely appointed life’s mission completely, which only the pure and undefiled religion will do.
We can now define justification. The root JUS is the Latin word for “right.” Ficare is the Latin word meaning to make or to do. Etymologically then, justification means “to make right, or the process by which a person becomes a righteous person.” In the frame of our definition of religion, we will give a secular definition : justification is the process by which a person acquires the character or habits which he personally deems to be ideal for himself. A person envisions a standard or pattern of being which he takes to be his desired state, the right condition, the nature of a just being. The process which delivers that desired state is then justification.
That definition of justification gives rise to two very different kinds of justification. It allows a person to say “I am just. What I do is the right thing to do.” This is self-justification, that favorite pasttime of mortals who do not wish to repent. But that definition also enables us to see that in addition to pulling the standard of right down to ourselves, we may work out a change of our character which wiIl lift us up to the standard of being and doing what is right. This latter kind of justification is the one on which we will focus. This second kind of justification is another name for the process of change. In some theological views that change is largely done for the person, with little effort required on his part. In other theologies justification is almost wholly up to the person. Only in some theological hypotheses does justification correspond to repentance.
It turns out, then, that justification is a key index by which to compare different religions, churches and cultures. In this paper we shall examine four different cultures to contrast the theory and procedures of justification which are typical to each. We shall first examine Judaism as a reflection of the teachings of the Old Testament. We shall then successively examine Catholicism and Protestantism as reflections of the teachings of the New Testament. Finally, we shall examine the LDS position as a reflection of latter-day scripture, particularly of the Book of Mormon.
Justification in Judaism
Our brethren of Judah have no trouble in knowing what the standard of righteousness is: the Old Testament is full of references to tsedek, righteousness, and tsadik, the righteous person. The thing that a person must do to be righteous is to love God with all of his heart, and soul, and might (Deuteronomy 6:5). To love God is also to fear him and serve him, and to swear by his name (Deuteronomy 6:13). To love God is also not to avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of God’s people, but to love one’s neighbor as one’s self (Leviticus 19:18). The prophet Micah crystalizes the requirement: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8.)
Judah knows furthermore that it is commanded to treasure up the words of Moses:
And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates (Deuteronomy 6:6-9.)
Judah has taken as its special task, the thing which will justify it before God, the treasuring of those words of Moses. Justification to them is to learn by heart the Torah, the Jaw of Moses, and then to learn the commentaries and the commentaries on the commentaries. Handelmann gives us the following insight into the Jewish view of the text:
The Biblical text is not, according to the Rabbinic view, a material thing located in a single space and circumscribed by a Quantifiable time. The text ultimately is not even that authoritative and divine document which was given to Moses at a particular and place, but, claims the Talmud, “The Torah preceded the world” (Shab. 88b)…. In other words, in the Rabbinic view the Torah is not an artifact of nature, a product of the universe; the universe, on the contrary is the product of the Torah… The written text is not only the enclothing of the fiery preexistent letters in which are contained the secrets of creation, but with the proper methods of interpretation, one can unlock the mysteries of all being. Every crownlet of every letter is filled with significance, and even the forms of letters are hints to profound meanings. To understand creation, one looks not to nature but to the Torah; the world can be read out of the Torah, and the Torah read from the world.1
The scriptural text, or first house, is accompanied in the Rabbinic tradition, by a second house, the oral tradition, which is as important as the first. According to Rawidowicz, the oral law is:
.. . not just a continuation or development but a new act of weaving undertaken by master weavers of rare power … and interpretatio of the highest order. Bayit Sheni is second only in time; it is first in essence, io its own particular essence. I dare say Bayit Rishon (the First House, inherited written scriptures) and the Bayit Shed are the beginnings of a system of thought and mode of life. This means that Israel has two beginnings. The second beginning or inlerpretatio achieved by Bayit Sheni may serve as a model for interpretatio in the sphere of thought at large.2
Judah is thus devoted to the word, interpreting, expounding on, reacting to, and elaborating of the tradition. In this tradition there is no room for prophets. Moses plainly warned them:
If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder,
And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with an your heart and with all your soul.
Ye shall walk after the Lord your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him.
And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt … (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).
Since it is the rabbis who determine in Judah who and what is God and what he has said, no prophet can successfully challenge them. They can reject his God as a false God, and see him fit only for death.
Judah does await the Messiah. When he comes they will know him because he will come in power and establish a political kingdom. But in the meanwhile they believe that those who wish to become just in the eyes of God must do so by loving him through loving his word. To learn, to discuss, to debate, to interpret, to elaborate, to bring to precision that which is inchoate in the text or the oral tradition, these are primary things which make a person acceptable to God. And while the Messiah yet tarries, it is the business of every righteous Jewish person to work those works which will promote the work of Messiah: “The central idea of Judaism and its life purpose is the doctrine of the One Only and Holy God, whose kingdom of truth, justice and peace is to be universally established at the end of time.”3
Even as the people are to be perfected as a whole in the Messianic kingdom, so each individual 16 to be perfected, to become righteous. Kohler tells us: “Judaism holds that the soul of man came forth from the hand of its Maker, endowed with freedom, unsullied by any inherent evil or inherited sin. Thus man is through the exercise of his own free will, capable of attaining an ever greater perfection by unfolding and developing to an ever higher degree his mental, moral, and spiritual powers in the course ofhistory.”4
Justification in Jewish thought is thus done by the individual, for himself, using the word of God as a guide. Sanctification, on the other hand. is God’s work:
The blotting out of man’s sins with their punishment remains ever an act of grace by God. In compassion for man’s frailty He has ordained repentance as the means of salvation, and promised pardon to the penitent The truth is brought out in the liturgy for the Day of Atonement, as well as in the Apocalyptic Prayer of Manasseh. At the same time, Judaism awards the palm of victory to him who has wrestled with sin and conquered it by his own will. Thus the rabbis boldly assert: “Those who have sinned and repented rank higher in the world to come than the righteous who have never sinned,” which is paralleled in the New Testament: ”There is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth than over ninety and nine righteous persons, who need no repentance,” No intermediary power without secures the divine grace and pardon for the repentant sinner, but his own inner transformation alone.5
Teshubah, which, means return, is an idea peculiar to Judaism, created by the prophets of Israel, and arising directly from the path of salvation, a “straying” into the road of perdition and death, the erring can return with heart and soul, end his ways, and thus change his entire being. This is not properly expressed by the term repentance, which denotes only regret for the wrong, but not the inner transformation. Nor is Teshubah to be rendered by either penitence or penance. The former indicates a sort of bodily self-castigation, the latter some other kind of penalty undergone in order to expiate sin. Such external forms of asceticism were prescribed and practiced by many tribes and some of the historical religions. The Jewish prophets, however, opposed them bitterly, demanding an inner change, a transformation of soul, renewing both heart and spirit.
“Let the wicked forsake his way.
And the man of iniquity his thoughts; And let him return unto the Lord and He will have compassion upon him, And to our God, for he will abundantly pardon”
(Isaiah 55:7). Judaism considers sin merely moral aberration, not utter corruption, and believes in the capability of the very worst of sinners to improve his ways; therefore it waits ever for his regeneration. This is truly a return to God, the restoration of the divine image which has been disfigured and corrupted by sin.6
The parallel justification of the person and of the people is distinctive in Judaism because it seems to indicate that the personal justification needs no help, no savior or divine intervention, while the redemption of the people, of the kingdom, does.
As a historical note we mention that this national justification has left many of Judah puzzled. They, as a people, have been diligent in pursuing this justification which they understand and believe. Why then has God so forsaken them and left them exposed to their enemies? How could the holocaust of World War 11 occur to a people who have been as sacrificing for the ideal as they have been? It would seem that the saying which most accurately represents modern Judah is “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani” (Matthew 27:46).
Justification in Catholicism
We now tum to the New Testament and the justification which is envisioned by the Roman Catholic faith. The Savior says:
… thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Matthew 16:18-19).
It is assumed by Catholics that Peter and his successors have received from the Savior the power to give and to deny persons on earth permission to pass into the presence of God. The token of permission for passage. the thing that must happen for a person to be receivable by God, to be acceptable to him, is that the person must receive the sacraments. The authority of Peter is the authority to administer or to withhold the sacraments.
But sacraments are a necessary, not a sufficient condition for a person to receive the beatific vision, to be in God’s presence in the hereafter. The full sufficient condition is the addition of grace to the sacraments. Through the atonement of Christ. and the supererogated good works of the saints, those who receive the sacraments also are given forgiveness for their sins. The process of justification for the Roman Catholic faith is thus to qualify for the sacraments and consequentially to be forgiven by the grace of God. The forgiven person in eternity dwells with God and the angels in an unending bliss.
In the Principles of Catholic Theology edited by E. J. Gratsch we find the following statement:
The just are the righteous, the friends of God. Justification is the transition from a state of sin or aversion from God to a state of sanctifying grace or friendship with God…. God justified the sinner in the sacrament of baptism by forgiving his sins and infusing sanctifying grace with the virtues and gifts that accompany it. One who is justi6ed becomes a son of God and heir of heaven. It is possible to advance in the state of grace by keeping the commandments and by good works which gain merit for eternal life. Grace is gratuitous and supernatural. It is lost by every mortal sin, but it can be recovered by repentance and the sacrament of penance.7
It is noteworthy that the person himself does very little in this process of justification. Though a person may struggle with sin, the nature of man is such that complete repentance is not possible. The difference is made up by penance, which is 8 form of paying for sin, as opposed to replacing sin by righteousness. God, in his mercy, is th e Justifier. Not through the works of the law, but in the works of the sacraments does a mortal qualify for that redeeming mercy. Carmody and Carmody show that the net importance of justification in the Catholic faith has to do with original sin:
On justification the Council (of Trent) disputed the Reformer’s notion that righteousness is merely imputed to believers because of Christ. Rather, original sin really is removed, though after baptism concupiscence or the “tinder of sin” (formes peccati) remains. Justification leads one to sanctification or inner renewal, for the grace that makes one righteous presses further to make one holy.8
Faithfulness to the church is the means of assuring the receiving of the sacraments by an individual. Faithfulness is mostly a matter of sustaining the faith. The faith is the teachings of the Roman Catholic church. Thus it turns out that orthodoxy is the key virtue in man for Catholics. Orthodoxy is thus the key to Justification. It is the theologians of the church, the Pope or others whose ideas are accredited by the Pope, who establish what a person must believe to qualify. Thus there is no role for prophets in this system. The saying which seems to epitomize the Roman Catholic re1igion is the Savior’s statement, ” . . . ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32), especially if we (mis-)interpret “the truth” to refer to theological knowledge.
Justification in Protestantism
The New Testament key to the Protestant religions is found in Romans 10:9-13:
If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
It is then faith in Christ which saves man. This faith “cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10;11). Protestants generally deny the efficacy of the sacraments, maintaining that it is faith and faith alone which brings the mercy of God to man. But like the Catholics, justification is largely the responsibility of God for them. The trigger for the administration of God’s grace is that a man confess and believe when he hears the word. Then God sends grace upon him. The marks of that grace are good deeds in this world, those deeds being the result, not the qualification for grace. And like Catholicism, the results of grace are not realized fully in this life but only in the Resurrection. Having been cleansed and purified by the blood of Christ, the Protestant faithful dwell with God in eternal bliss.
For Protestants, justification is a forensic matter, a legal judgment pronounced upon man by God. Berkhof tells us:
Justification is a judicial act of God, in which he declares, on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, that all the claims of the law are satisfied with respect to the sinner …
- Justification removes the guilt of sin and restores the sinner to all the filial rights involved in his state as a child of God, including an eternal inheritance. Sanctification removes the pollution of sin and renews the sinner ever-increasingly in conformity with the image of God.
- Justification takes place outside of the sinner in the tribunal of God, and does not change his inner life, though the sentence is brought home to him subjectively. Sanctification, on the other hand, takes place in the inner life of man and gradually affects his whole being.
- Justification takes place once and for all It is not repented, neither is it a process; it is complete once and for all There is no more or less in justification; man is either fully justified, or he is not justified at all. In distinction from it sanctification is a continuous process, which is never completed in this life.
4. While the meritorious cause of both lies in the merits of Christ, there is a difference in the efficient cause. Speaking economically, God the Father declares the sinner righteous, and God the Holy Spirit sanctifies hirn.9
Protestants do not enjoy a strong basis for claiming any priesthood authority from God. It is quite natural, therefore, that they should place less importance upon the ordinances, the sacraments which the Catholics emphasize. They also claim that the canon of scripture is full, so they have no room for a prophet in their midst Should one come claiming to be a prophet of God and proclaim anything other than their received tradition, he is rejected as being either unnecessary, since God has given his grace freely to alt who believe, or an imposter, if he tries to teach any different theology to them.
The epitome of the Protestants’ view of themselves is found in the words of Paul:
For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified ….
Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s eject? It is God that justifieth (Romans 8:29-30, 33).
They see themselves as the elect, justified by God, the only heirs of salvation.
Justification in the Restored Gospel
We turn now to the account of the process ofjusti6cation as found in the scriptures of the latter days. One key scripture is found in the Pearl of Great Price:
That by reason of transgression cometh the fall , which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and 50 became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory;
For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified” (Moses 6:69-60).
We see from this scripture that to be sanctified is to be c1eansed from sin, to be forgiven of the debt due because of having sinned. This sanctification is made possible by the blood of Christ. The Savior gave his blood that he might ransom us from a damnation that could be broken in no other way. The occasion or this sanctification is the receiving of the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost after the baptism of water: “For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.” (2 Nephi 31:17). This sanctification is apparently an all or nothing phenomenon. If we sin deliberately after having once received it, we must reassume the burden of the debt of sin for which we were once forgiven:
“And the anger of God kindleth against the inhabitants of the earth; and none doeth good, far all have gone out of the way.
And now, verily 1 say unto you, I, the Lord, will not lay any sin to your charge; go your ways and sin no more; but unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God (D&C 82:6-7).
Sanctification is thus the reward for seeking the way, for entering into it by the strait gate. This sanctification also makes it possible to go along the path. That straight path is the way which is an important, however. That. way is justification, or the process of doing what. is just. A man is made just. by doing just or righteous deeds. As he does those deeds, which he can only do as an act of faith in Jesus Christ and in a state of being sanctified, the just acts which be performs begin to form in him the divine nature, the character, habits, and strength of the Lord Jesus Christ himself. As long as a person qualifies for the continued companionship of the Holy Spirit, he maintains that precious dual gift: forgiveness because he is in the way, and knowledge of what to do next to stay in the way of holiness. Thus, sanctification is prerequisite to being in the way, and being in the way is prerequisite to becoming so much like the Savior that nothing can take us away from that way. To be a just man is not just to have done good deeds. It is also to have taken upon oneself the nature, countenance, habits, and character of the Savior, to have grown up unto the measure of the fullness of the stature of Christ. It is the justification of the man, not his deeds that is important in the long run. An evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit, neither will a good tree bring forth evil fruit. The Father and the Son are anxiously engaged in the cause of creating good trees through the process of justification.
One of the clear and fairly detailed descriptions of how this process of justification via sanctification actually works in a human life is given by Nephi in 2 Nephi 3–33. Rather than Quote that entire scripture, I will summarize what Nephi says, point by point, as to what that process entails, and invite you to compare notes:
Chapter 31, verse 2: Nephi 1S speaking in his calling as prophet to his people. Verse 3: Nephi delights in plainness, that he might assist his hearers to understand the message of the Lord God.. Verse 4: The Savior will be baptized by a. Prophet of God. Verse 5: If the Savior, being holy, already sanctified, needs baptism, how much more do we? Verse 6: Wherein did the Savior fulfill a1\ righteousness by being baptized? Verse 7: The Savior was baptized to keep the commandment or the Father that he might continue to be just (righteous, law-abiding), even as he was holy, or already in the state of sanctification. Verse 8: After his baptism, the Holy Ghost appeared in the form of a dove to show to all who could see the connection of baptism with receiving the Holy Ghost. Verse 9: This example shows men the exact gate by which they must enter to be on the narrow way of the sanctified who are doing justly and becoming just persons.. Verse 10: We can follow the Savior only by likewise being willing to obey the Father. Verse 11: The Father says, stop sinning and be baptized in the name of Christ. Verse 12: The Son will give the Holy Ghost to all who are baptized as he was. Verse 13: If you repent and are baptized with real intent to take upon you the name of Christ, you will receive the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost and can then speak with the tongue of angels. Verse 14: The Savior says: If you speak with the tongue of angels and then deny me, it would have been better never to have known me. Verse 15: The Father saitb, He that endureth to the end shall be saved. Verse 16: Unless we endure to the end, we cannot be saved. Verse 17: Wherefore enter the gate by being born of the water and of the Spirit. Verse 18: Then are ye in the straight and narrow path to eternal life. Verse 19: Is all done? No. You must continue to rely wholly on the merits of Christ, with unshaken faith in him. Verse 20: Ye must press forward in faith, having a perfect brightness of hope and a love of God and of all men, to the end. Verse 21: There is no other way.
Chapter 32, Verse 1: Do you still wonder what the way is? Verse 2: Remember that when you receive the Holy Ghost you will speak with the tongue of angels. Verse 3: Through the Holy Ghost you may feast upon the words of Christ, for the words of Christ through the Holy Ghost will tell you all things what ye should do. Verse 4: If you do not now understand, it is because you are not seeking to understand, Verse 5: Again I say. if you receive the Holy Ghost it. will show you al1 things you should do (to act justly, to do the good works which are the fruit of the good tree), Verse 6: This is the doctrine of Christ; you will not receive any more doctrine until you have lived up to this doctrine to the end. Verse 7: I can say no more because of your wickedness. Verse 8: You still do not understand; to understand you must pray. Verse 9: Don’t do anything without praying and receiving the Holy Ghost to show you how to be just before the Father. 2 Nephi 33:4: The end to which we must endure is life eternal.
The end to which we should and must endure is then to become as the Savior is. When we have become as he is: we shall see him, and know him as we are known by him. John says: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but. we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3). Life eternal is: to know him and the Father: “And this is: life eternal. that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). And this promise is to all who endure to the end:
”Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am” (D&C 93:1 ).
Thus by the waters of baptism we keep the commandment of the Father that all men should repent and be baptized after the manner in which our Savior was baptized, By the companionship of the Holy Spirit we are led to do just or righteous acts, even those acts the Savior would do were he in our position. Through doing those just acts. we learn to love purely as the Savior does taking upon ourselves the divine nature by adding grace to grace, virtue to faith, knowledge to virtue, temperance to knowledge, patience to temperance, godliness to patience, brotherly kindness to godliness, and charity to brotherly kindness which charity is the greatest of all, If we have truly become the sons of God, then our love of God, of Christ, and of our neighbor is full and pure: we have become as God is in that one most important respect which mortality offers: we have a pure heart. God can add upon that pure heart all other things which pertain to life and godliness. But until one obtains that pure heart by persevering in the narrow way, there can be no brightness of hope, no enduring to the end. A diagrammatic representation of the relationship of sanctification to justification is presented on Table I, with scriptural references to assist the reader in pursuing the matter, The chart is to be read as a time line from left to right. At birth every soul is innocent and on the narrow way. At age eight, sins accumulate a debt of sin. Hearing and accepting the Restored Gospel make sanctification by the Holy Spirit possible, which returns one to the straight and narrow way whereon justification, both of individual acts and of the person, may be pursued. Individual acts are just when they conform to the immediate instructions of God as received by personal revelation. The person becomes just as he or she becomes changed in character or nature so that he or she will not depart from the narrow way of righteousness no matter how great the opposition. Enduring to the end is completion of the process of justification of the person through successive performance of undeviating individual just acts.
The Way of Holiness
The Human Problem for a Latter-day Saint:
- To become a good (godly) person = have the personal character of the Savior = have the pure religion.
- To satisfy the debt of sin incurred in the process of becoming a godly person.
|The Work of God||
The Way of Holiness
Enduring to the End
|2 Nephi 2:1!5-19||
2 Nephi 9:41
|2 Nephi 33:4||
2 Nephi 28:11
2 Nephi 31:21
|1 John 3:2-3||
|1 Nephi 27:16-17|