Justification in Christ

This post continues our look at what Dick Eugenio (in Communion with the Triune God) says concerning Thomas F (TF) Torrance's view of the "how" of salvation. Last time we looked at participation in Christ. This time we'll look at justification in Christ. This is the second of 11 posts, for the other posts in this series, click on a number: 123456891011.

According to Eugenio, TF was "adamant that justification should be expounded in the light of the vicarious person and work of Jesus Christ" (Communion with the Triune God, Kindle ed, loc 1987). For TF, justification is what Jesus Christ accomplished for us, emphasizing "Jesus Christ" above "for us" so as not to lose in our thinking the priority of who Jesus is and what he has done in an objective sense for all of humankind. In upholding that Christ-centered perspective, TF is critical of those who give priority to subjective/personal decision in justification, believing that doing so "promotes the human act, rather than the mediatorial and vicarious ministry of Jesus Christ" (loc 1987).

Does TF's Christ-centered approach to justification mean that he sees no role for personal faith? The answer is that TF does see an important role for our personal response of faith, but one that is subordinate to and included in Jesus' own faith (what Scripture refers to as "the faith of the Son of God"---see, for example, Galatians 2:20 KJV).

In his sermons, TF often called people to personal faith in Jesus. But in doing so, he was careful to place personal faith in the context of Christ's own faith. Though to some this might sound like double-talk, it's not. In his vicarious humanity (serving as our substitute and representative), Jesus had faith in the Father, by the Spirit, on our behalf (and he still does!). This is vital to understand because, it's Jesus' faith in God, not our own, that ultimately justifies humanity.

Christ on the Cross
by Francisco de Zurbarán, 1627
(Wikimedia Commons: Public Domain)
On this important point TF quotes from Scottish minister James Fraser of Brae who stressed, "the correlation of our faith with the faith of God and the faith of Christ," because "human faith derives from, rests on, and is undergirded by divine faithfulness" (loc 1987). Thus TF views justification as entirely Christ's work on our behalf--a work God imputes to us by grace. By the grace of God we are enabled to participate in (personally experience and share in) the faith of Christ himself--the faith by which we are justified before God. The point is this:  "justification is accomplished in Christ by Christ for us" (loc 2012). Said another way: Jesus is responsible for our justification from start to finish. He even justifies our weak and flawed personal faith in him!

Thus, according to TF, it's wrong-headed to think of justification as some sort of a transaction that God accomplishes apart from himself. The truth is that justification, like all aspects of our salvation, is a function of the very being of God, in the person of his incarnate Son, Jesus Christ.

Said another way, quite simply, yet profoundly: Jesus is our justification! It is in Christ, by him and through him, that we are justified.

So where then does our personal faith come in, if at all? The answer is that we personally (some say "subjectively") experience that justification--we enjoy it personally--as we, by the Spirit sent from Jesus, put our trust in the One who, by his own faith, has justified us. "Justification happens in Christ and consequently in us" (loc 2028).

Eugenio concludes the section of his book that addresses TF's perspective on the "how" of salvation in the person and work of Christ with this important observation:
Torrance's understanding of salvation in Jesus Christ is grounded in the reality of the incarnation of the Son, who, as fully human, is also homoousios [of one being] with the Father. As the Son, his descent [via the incarnation] to created space and time is a salvific movement accomplished by the Triune God in drawing himself near to us in revelation and reconciliation. Likewise, his ascent [via the resurrection] as fully human to the throne of God in his ascension is a salvific movement accomplished from the side of humanity and on behalf of humanity. God's initiative in electing us to salvation is characterized by a double movement: God in Christ's humanward movement and human in Christ's Godward movement. Jesus Christ vicariously redeemed us not only from the side of humanity, but from the side of God (loc 2035).


Mike Smith said…
Hi Mr. Johnston,
I really appreciate your hard work in sharing your thoughts on our Triune God and the valuable quotes from others you post on here as well. I know I have benefited from coming here. I would like to ask you a couple of questions after this lengthy (sorry!) quote which I will have to post in two separate comments:
"How, then, is the mission of the Spirit after the Ascension to be distinguished from what it previously was?...
1. Before the Incarnation of our Lord the Spirit to be given had not assumed that special form which He was to possess in New Testament times. Had the gift been merely outward, such as a Divine Person may bestow in the plenitude of His grace; or had it been only the gift of the Third Person of the Trinity, viewed in His Eternal existence and Divine attributes, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to understand why the Spirit should not have been granted in the same sense, though perhaps not in the same degree, to the saints of the Old Testament as to those of the New Testament age. But we have already seen that, as the Spirit interpenetrates our Lord in His human as well as His Divine nature, so our Lord in His human as well as His Divine nature interpenetrates the Spirit. The Spirit bestowed upon us as the fulfilment of the promise of the New Covenant is the Spirit of Christ as He is now. With, by, and in this Spirit we receive Christ Himself, together with all that He is as the Redeemer of men. By faith we become really and inwardly one with Him, and the energies of His life pass over into our life. These may be stronger or weaker, fuller or less full, according to the capacities of the vessel receiving them. But in character and essence they must be the same to every believer. All Christian men are members of the Divine-human Body of which Christ is the Head. They are branches of the Vine of which He is the Stem. They are in organic connexion with the Stem; and our Lord Himself says, "Apart from Me” (not "without Me") "ye can do nothing." (John xv. 5.) The beloved disciple, who records these words of Jesus, has taught us the same lesson: “Ye have an anointing (not the act, but the result of the act) from the Holy One”; and "The anointing which ye received from Him abideth in you.” (1 John ii. 20, 27.) In other words, as He who was anointed with the Holy Spirit is The Anointed One, so are ye in like manner anointed ones; and His Spirit is not given you only outwardly, it abideth in you. This, however, implies in the nature of the Spirit an adaptation to human nature, a possibility of His interpenetrating human nature, which can only be reached by means of His possessing a human element; and that human element could not enter into the Spirit of the Christ before the Christ assumed humanity."
Mike Smith said…
It will have to be three (sorry!)
"2. Before His Ascension our Lord was not in a position to bestow the gift of "Holy Spirit." It was only then that He Himself was "perfected." Until that time He had been confined by the limitations and sinless infirmities of His pre-resurrection state. During His life on earth He had, by a constant exercise of His own will, maintained that condition of humiliation which St. Paul describes as an "emptying of Himself." He had constantly exerted a self-restraining power. He had not reached that complete development of His own Person which, in the economy of redemption, was the appointed end and issue of all He was to do. He had not become essentially "Spirit" (although it must never be forgotten that the "Spirit" which He became expressed itself in the form of the "spiritual body"), and the Spirit could not proceed in all His fulness from a fountain which presented any obstacle to the outflow of its waters.
Upon these two conditions, then, rested, it would seem, the great truth which we are now considering, that "Spirit" (or "Holy Spirit") was not yet; because Jesus was not yet glorified. Not that "the Holy Spirit" had no existence before that time, an idea which it is unnecessary to controvert. Not that the Holy Spirit had not been previously “given,” for we know that He had been given. But "Spirit" in the peculiar sense in which the New Testament uses the word--that is, the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of the glorified Lord, and in the full exercise and manifestation of His power--had not yet begun to operate upon the minds of men. Then only could He do so when our Lord Himself entered on that stage of His Being to which St. Paul applies the term “quickening or life-giving Spirit,” and when He could bestow the Spirit in fulness from the ever-springing fountain of His own Spirit-life."
Mike Smith said…
"From that moment, accordingly, it is that the whole glory of the New Testament dispensation spreads itself out before our eyes. The dispensation then introduced is emphatically the dispensation of the Spirit, the last of the three great eras into which the history of the Church has been divided, the first being that of the Father, and the second that of the Son. (The saying is attributed to Joachim, Abbot of Floris, in the kingdom of Naples; comp. Cheyne, Hallowing of Criticism, and Milner's Latin Christianity, v. 254, etc.) In this third and crowning dispensation of God’s grace there is not merely a gift of the Spirit added to gifts that had been previously enjoyed, or a larger measure of the Spirit bestowed than the Church had previously received. The promise of the older Covenants has rather been accomplished in a new and more perfect form. Freed from every restraint, and adapted in the most intimate manner to the spirit of man, the "Spirit of Jesus" has been sent forth to secure the illimitable issues of the Divine plan. With the beginning of the new dispensation not merely was the work of the Lord Jesus Christ the Saviour of the world finished, the redemption so dearly purchased completed, and the way opened by which the end of all human thought and longing may be attained in a perfect union between God and man. More was effected. These results are involved in the preliminary truth that the Spirit given to the Church is the Spirit of One who had successfully executed His Mission. The glory of the dispensation under which it is our privilege to live consists still further in the provision made for the application of redemption; so that the work of the glorified Lord may be intertwined with the inmost fibres of our being, and His Kingdom established as an actual reality in our hearts and lives. All holy thoughts, all heavenly aspirations, all works of faith and hope and love; all that was in Him who on earth could say, "I and My Father are One"; all that is in Him now glorified, may be ours. There is no hindrance on the Divine side to the communication of whatever is necessary to the progress and perfection of the world."
- William Milligan (The Ascension and Heavenly Priesthood of Our Lord, Baird Lectures, Lect. IV, pp. 208, 209-213)
How beautiful and wonderful is our Triune God revealed and communicated to us in Jesus Christ! My questions for you are, do you agree with this? Why is this vitally important emphasis not emphasized in much of modern theology? I know T.F. Torrance was influenced by Dr. Milligan, I know specifically from this work anyway. Does this emphasis exist in Dr. Torrance's thought? This work by Dr. Milligan by the way is available online for free to read. It is the most important theological work that I have ever come across. Thank you for any thoughts on this, I know times are busy.
Ted Johnston said…
Thanks Mike for your series of posts and your questions about the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Regarding TF Torrance's view of that ministry, I'll be posting soon what Dick Eugenio says in the book I've been summarizing. So stay tuned!