Can God change a person?s ?legal standing?Ewithout changing his ?life situation?E It would seem not:
1) The life condition of someone who is not justified is a situation of being ?under the curse?Eor ?under the reign of Death and Sin.?E This situation is punishment from God for sin, Adam?s and one?s own personal sin.
2) In justification, God judges that someone is in the right, that he is ?not guilty?Eand ?righteous?Ein Christ, or God reckons someone to be in Christ and therefore righteous.
3) Murray distinguishes between justification (the new verdict of ?righteous?E and definitive sanctification (the deliverance from the power of sin and death). That is, the act of the judge is followed by the act of the jailer. This is a perfectly legitimate construction of the salvation of a sinner. In this construction, justification is not based on sanctification but the opposite.
4) But Scripture also uses ?justification/condemnation?Elanguage to describe both sides of this, to describe the whole transaction (Rom 6:7; 8:1-4). ?Condemnation?Eis a verdict but also an imprisonment. Justification sometimes includes both the Judge?s rendering of a verdict and the deliverance carried out by the ?jailer.?E In this construction, justification is not based on sanctification; rather, justification is the declaration of the Judge that effectively opens the door of the jail. Justification is the earthquake at midnight in Philippi, the divine act that both overturns the magistrates?Everdict and undoes their sentence.
5) This is not a move in a Catholic direction. Justification is not the endpoint of a process of growth in righteousness and holiness; justification is radical, the starting point of any process of growth. Justification is not grounded in any ?grace?Einfused into a sinner; justification is a judicial declaration concerning sinners that is based on their union with Christ in His justification. More fundamentally, the whole Tridentine construction assumes that ?grace?Eis an impersonal sort of something that is capable of being infused. I want to say that the only thing infused is the Holy Spirit.
6) Yet, to say that justification ONLY pertains to the ?legal standing?Eand not to ?life situation?Eseems to assume that there is some factor in the person?s ?life situation?Ethat is more fundamental than, or separable from, his being ?under the reign of Sin and Death.?E That is, he suffers some condition that is NOT a result of the righteous punishment of God, some aspect of his fallen condition that is not the product of God?s sentence against sin. There is something more fundamental to his situation than God?s judgment regarding him, such that God?s judgment could be reversed and he could remain in the same condition as before. (Perhaps the shadow of nature/supernature is cast here.)
If, however, sinners are under the lordship of Sin and Death only because God has sentenced them to this slavery, then a change of verdict would seem to imply a removal of the sentence, and therefore a liberation from these false and oppressive lords. Either that, or God changes the verdict but leaves the sentence in place, which seems a manifest injustice. Could the righteous judge reverse the verdict, and leave the prisoner languishing in jail?
7) And I have John Murray with me: ?Our enslavement to sin is properly viewed as the judgment to which we are consigned and there can be no release from this bondage, contemplated in its judicial character, until sin as power receives its judicial condemnation in the cross of Christ and until the effectual application to us takes effect. Hence freedom from condemnation must embrace freedom from the judgment of sin?s power as well as the judgment of sin?s guilt?E( Romans , at 8:3).