I got this letter from a reader the other day. After the letter I offer a response.
I believe I’m on the same page with you in terms of the progression from the Eikons to Israel’s kings to Jesus to His followers in terms of living in a kingdom mindset. I suppose I would paraphrase it as putting more emphasis on Jesus is Lord, rather than Savior. Not missing that all of the promises hold about salvation, just that the focus is not the sinners prayer vs a kingdom mindset.
Where does justification come into your paradigm? Is it the sinners prayer, or the repent and follow the “Thy will be done”?
When the Story becomes the central element of the gospel, which is how both Jesus and the apostles understood gospel, salvation becomes not the only element of the gospel but one element. More importantly, salvation becomes the effect of the gospel. Paul can say the gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16) because he knows the gospel produces salvation. Why? Because his christology — his view of Jesus as Messiah — is that this Messiah saves, liberates, ransoms, conquers, etc. Connection to the Messiah is the secret to the whole.
So what about justification? Where does it fit in the gospel? As you may know from my writings, while I think justification is a major image for Paul when it comes to describing God’s salvation, especially when he wants to talk about including Gentiles into the one new family of God under the Messiah Lord, King Jesus, I don’t think justification is the only or even the central. I get nervous when someone makes something “central” because usually that means someone explains everything in light of that idea rather than can prove the author/s actually make that concept central. Justification can’t be central because Jesus barely mentions it, Paul almost only in Galatians and Romans, and then we have to see that this is not how Hebrews, John, Peter carry on their business. Justification tells us something fundamentally true about salvation — that God declares us right (or in the right group) on the basis of Christ’s life and death and resurrection — but not the only thing true. There are other true things, too, like redemption and reconciliation and liberation and ransom and more.
In Christ we gain these benefits, if I may use the word “benefits,” and our proper response to Christ is to repent, to believe and to be baptized — into Christ.
So let me diagram where justification fits in the gospel, and you can see that justification is a commentary or clarification or articulation of “for our sins” in the gospel itself. Justification is one way of describing what it means for Jesus to die for our sins (though as Rom 4:25 makes clear, resurrection is part of every true understanding of justification and maybe we should put justification under “Rises” and take the whole list of four items and make the impact of the whole “Christ event” and not just divvy them up into various bits of the life of Jesus) and usher us into the one family of God, or declare in a verdict that these are the true people of God because they are “in the Messiah.”