King Jesus Gospel: What about justification?

I got this letter from a reader the other day. After the letter I offer a response.

Hi Scot,

I’ve spent the last 2 weeks (on vacation) pouring over King Jesus Gospel and OneLife….

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”?

Blessings,

Thanks.

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.”

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://www.normmacdonald.wordpress.com Norm

    I’m reading the King Jesus Gospel now (thanks for making it available on Kindle) and really enjoying how you paint the scope of the Gospel as more than the “roman-road”. It’s always been my contention that many Christians get their “theology” from Paul and their warm fuzzy verses from Jesus. As you seem to indicate, our theology/gospel ought to come from the Christ and find complements to it in Paul and the others.

  • http://brianzahnd.com/ Brian Zahnd

    Scot,

    Amen!

    We cannot limit the big picture of salvation to justification any more than we can limit the kingdom (government/reign/rule) of God to justification. Pardon for our sins is part of what happens when we enter the salvation that is the kingdom of God — but pardon of personal sin is not the whole of salvation (though we’ve tried to make it so); pardon (justification) is simply not the whole of the kingdom of God.

    What Jesus tends to call the kingdom of God, Paul tends to call salvation — but they are talking about the same thing!

    Salvation is not so much a “thing” we possess, as a world we enter. “If any man is in Christ, behold, a new creation!”

    Reducing salvation to personal pardon has been a disaster centuries in the making. “Heaven-and-hell-minimalism” has made the kingdom of God peripheral in our understanding of the work of Christ. Shaped by what you call a “salvation culture” and what I call “heaven-and-hell-minimalism”, the effect has been to either relocate the kingdom of God to a distant “heaven” or differ it to a future age.

    Fortunately, it seems that things are beginning to change.

    BZ

  • John W Frye

    Part of promoting the change to the King Jesus Gospel is taking very seriously Paul’s constant use of “Jesus the Christ” = Jesus the Messiah. Too many Christians unthinkingly view “Christ” as Jesus’ last name. Israel’s whole story is encapsulated in *Christos* or Messiah. Even Paul’s “justification” letters (Romans and Galatians) are brimming with “Jesus the Christ.” Entrenched soterians betray their commitment to the whole Story of Scripture by resisting the whole Story’s clear-as-the-nose-on-your-face presentation of Jesus as *the Christ* even for Gentiles to be saved. The Gospel is about the King, not about the benefits of his being King. Salvation is NOT the Gospel. Salvation is what Jesus the Messiah (to Israel) accomplished for his people and, amazingly, for the world.

  • Samuel

    I’ve been thinking abou this the last few days: Jesus preached the gospel of the Kingdom. The Gospel as far as the content of the announcement has to do with Jesus and who He is. Is it safe to say that the kingdom is distinct from the gospel in the sense that without Jesus as King (proclaimed and announced in the Gospel) then the “kingdom” really is meaningless. Is that a fair assessment? I have read your book by the way…love it.

  • mike h

    Great Book! I preordered and read it as soon as it was released. I think that N.T. Wright follows a similar thought in Surprised by Hope. We, particularly on the evangelical side of things, do tend to, as BZ wrote, make the gospel a “heaven-and-hell-minimalism” when it is so much more than that.

  • discokvn

    Hey Scot,

    i read through King Jesus Gospel and really “felt” like it was splitting hairs…

    i didn’t disagree with anything that i’d make a big deal about, but i also “thought” it seems to be that the book put the “plan of salvation” people into a category that doesn’t exist, the “say the prayer and you’re in” category. honestly, i don’t really know anyone in that category. Most would call the “prayer to receive” the prayer of repent and believe, and follow it up with and now you must follow.

    this post seems to confirm what i was thinking. Are we just splitting hairs?

  • JoeyS

    @discokvn,

    Do you really not know anybody who operates with a “say a prayer and you’re in” category? I mean even if they talk about Kingdom living and sanctification for many folks that is the extent of it. The way they operate in ministry is as if the extent of their goal is to sell “get out of hell free” cards. I think Scot nailed this praxis and called it out for what it is – not the full gospel of Jesus Christ – and I know plenty of people who operate in just this way.

  • John W Frye

    @ discokvn, also,
    Do you live in the US of A? In my part of USAmerica, ‘say the prayer and you’re in’ is a way of life! Anything else “complicates” the “simple” Gospel. Plus, the soterian plan for conversions is such a sorry reduction, if not dangerous distortion of the Gospel, I am shocked it still has legs.

  • discokvn

    Hey Joey… i truly don’t know people who operate that way… and honestly, i think i’d feel uneasy around folk who thought that one could play (pray?) a “get out of hell free” card… as i don’t think it takes into account the role of the Spirit and the call to follow…

  • BradK

    discokvn,

    As someone from the Southern Baptist tradition, the “say a prayer and you are in” category is very much a reality. As an example, consider some comments from Charles Stanley on this subject…

    “You and I do not have eternal life because we exhibit unwavering faith. We are saved because *at a moment in time* we expressed faith in our enduring Lord, Jesus Christ, and what He accomplished for us on the cross.” [emphasis added by me]

    http://www.intouch.org/resources/article-archive/content/topic/this_gift_is_forever_article

    “Even if a believer for all practical purposes becomes an unbeliever, his salvation is not in jeopardy.” Eternal Security (p. 93)

    “The Bible clearly teaches that God’s love for His people is of such magnitude that even those who walk away from the faith have not the slightest chance of slipping from His hand.” (p. 74)

    Most of the time this kind of teaching is not as overt as Stanley’s statements, but the view of “once prayed, always saved” is very much alive in the SBC. Stanley is not an exception. Scot is not knocking down a straw man.

  • RJS

    BradK,

    That is a particularly overt example. I think the more common case can be seen in the way priorities are structured in a church or other group. No one says that a prayer is all that is required, but discipleship and transformation are not valued enough to claim time and effort.

  • J.L. Schafer

    How does Scot’s diagram jibe with Romans 4:25? “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”

  • Jeff Martin

    With Schafer, the diagram could have been a bit better laid out. In fact Romans 1:4 shows how the resurrection did not vindicate Jesus as the Son of God, but appointed him Son of God with real power in his resurrection

    “and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,” Romans 1:4
    - RSV –

    He was the Son of God before, but his real power as King did not come until he sat on the right hand of God, which is why Jesus said we would do greater things.

    But nevertheless his resurrection was both a vindication and appointment as Son of God. So this then clears up what Romans 4:25 is talking about. If Jesus was vindicated and appointed the All Powerful Son of God by being raised from the dead, that gives him the right and power to declare us righteous.

  • Jeffrey Gordon

    There is a danger in rejecting individualism as an American/Western non-biblical (“soterian”) artifact, but then embrace an uncritical man-centered collectivism with respect to the “kingdom”. A person’s progress in life as a follower of the king — growth in character, service, love for God and others, (“discipleship and transformation” as per Bradk) — is progressive and ongoing. A person’s status before God, on the other hand, is a binary bifurcation: 0/1, either in or out. We see this, for example, in Jesus’ parable of the man without the proper “wedding clothes” (Matt 22:1-14). He came to the wedding. He did what others were doing. He was part of the group. But his own personal state was not right.

    The whole begged question remains: what effects or causes one to be “in Christ” while another is not? His group identification? His personal actions or behavior? His participation in sacraments (including the “altar call”)? Or, his or her having been sovereignly and individually, in particular granted repentance and faith in Christ through the gospel (even as Lazarus was granted life through Jesus’ command to “Come forth!”) — which then places that individual in a state of justification and therefore “peace with God” (Romans 5:1). Such a state of acceptance becomes the foundation of both (1) their subsequent progressive walk as a follower of Christ, and (2) their real membership in the group that counts, Christ’s true Church (though it’s precise boundary be impossible to outwardly determine)?

    The reason this is more clear in Romans and Galatians, is because Paul wrote the epistles precisely to argue the exclusive power of the gospel over against the claims of competing works/action-based messages.

  • BradK

    RJS,

    “No one says that a prayer is all that is required, but discipleship and transformation are not valued enough to claim time and effort.”

    This comment is spot on. There is a major disconnect between faith and faithfulness in the SBC.

  • scotmcknight

    J.L. Did you read the last paragraph of the post? I would be more than happy to exhibit the “events” inter-connected with their effects and not just divvy things up to one event or another. But I would contend that “justification” is buried, in the case of 1 Cor 15, in the “for our sins” clause. (But this also entails thinking harder about the meaning of “justification” and not reducing it to individual salvaiton, but including it.)

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Jeffrey Gordon#14, it seems you are setting up a dualism between individualism and collectivism that is false. I would say the tax collectors in Jesus day had a big collective perspective and a big individualist perspective.

    But you thought that either we are in or out with god may be right from a god perspective (barring last minute negotiations, if you will), it is anything but 0 or 1 from our perspective. We don’t know who is in or out.

    As far as the wedding parable, I for one do not put god in the role of the wedding host as you do. That parable is about an andropos king, and human one, not a godly one.

    I do think you have the right question, “what causes one to be in Christ”, and my view is that someone is in Christ if they are a disciple. It is not the absolute maginitude of the actions they take, it is not the value of the right or wrong performed, it is the directionality of their commitment. It is what they are trying to do.

    One day the searcher of hearts will tell what our hearts proclaim, until then it is not ours to know.

  • J.L. Schafer

    I did read the last paragraph, and I’m still struggling with the meaning of Romans 4:25. Yes, I think justification entails more than individual salvation. Thanks.

  • Mark Pike

    Scot,

    I am almost done with King Jesus Gospel and have appreciated the book very much. In the book you make a very important observation: that Jesus, Peter and Paul preach the same gospel. That fact should be our guide as we navigate some of the sticky wickets we encounter as we read the Bible. Thanks for a thought provoking and well written book.

  • jim

    my apologies for what may be a silly question. But can you explain this “eikon” term a bit more. Is it just image bearer? Or is there more to it than that


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