Q. Of the three Reformers you focus on, the one who seems nearest the mark to understanding Paul, in my view, is Melanchthon. He talks about both the forgiveness of sins associated with ‘justification’ and also the real change in the believer worked by the Holy Spirit. But even he gets confused it seems when he thinks of the former in terms of legal language. So let’s be clear— being pardoned is not the same thing as being declared righteous. Being forgiven, like being pardoned involves the judge knowing that the person is actual guilty but is having mercy on him. But that action by the divine judge sets an ungodly and sinful person back in right relationship with God. There is no declaration that he is righteous, nor is there a declaration that Christ is righteous for him, so that there is a legal fiction involving the image ‘when God looks at the sinner, he only sees Christ’. Melanchthon at least seems to be struggling in the right direction on these matters. All of them are in agreement that Christ’s death paid the price for human sins so that we don’t have to do so. That however is a different matter than saying Christ is righteous for us or in our place and we have only ‘righteousness by association or by union with Christ’. Thanks for spending so much time on Melanchthon. We don’t usually get to hear his voice so clearly. If you had to evaluate the three Reformers in terms of who was most close to understanding Paul, would you say it was Melanchthon?
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