The Torrances on final judgment and works

This post continues a series re-capping insights from Alexandra Radcliff's book, The Claim of Humanity in Christ, Salvation and Sanctification in the Theology of T. F. and J. B. Torrance. For previous posts in the series, click a number: 12, 3, 4, 5, 6

Last time, we noted what Torrance theology says concerning the Holy Spirit's role in our sanctification. The Torrance brothers (Thomas F. [TF] and James B. [JB]) both teach that the Holy Spirit unites us to Christ, who in his vicarious humanity sanctifies us. A criticism of the Torrances on this point is that their view seems to negate the role of a person in their own sanctification. But as we noted last time, that criticism is unwarranted. The Torrances teach that in our spiritual union with Christ by the Spirit, we participate in Christ's response to God made on our behalf. As Radcliff notes, "This participatory scheme, rather than diminishing our human response, truly establishes it" (p. 99). As we also noted last time, a primary way we participate by the Holy Spirit in Jesus' response to God on our behalf is through the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist.

The final judgment

But if our sanctification is grounded in what Jesus has already done for us, why will there be a final judgment when Jesus returns? Radcliff comments:
In the Torrances' scheme of salvation, full judgment has already taken place in Christ. In his perfect obedience, Jesus submits to God's judgment against sin. The hypostatic union in Christ means that he is both "God the judge judging sin" and "man the judge submitting perfectly to God's holy judgment." (pp. 99-100)
All people have been judged already and have been found guilty. That's the bad news. But the good news (the gospel) is that through what the God-man Jesus Christ has done on our behalf, standing in for us in his vicarious humanity, all people have, already, been forgiven and so accepted by God (reconciled to God in and through Christ).

Last Judgment by Provoost
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

As Radcliff notes, the Torrances teach that this universal acceptance of humanity by God, in Christ, is an already-accomplished, irrevocable reality. That means that those who are in hell are there not because God puts them there, but because they are in hell by their own choice---a choice ultimately made at the final judgment where people decide whether or not they will accept God's acceptance---whether or not they will embrace God's already accomplished forgiveness.

Our works

But if God has already forgiven and accepted us, what is the place (need for and significance of) a believer's works? And what about what Paul wrote to believers in Corinth:
For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Cor. 5:10)
And what about what Paul wrote to believers in Rome:
 [God] will repay according to each one's deeds. (Rom. 2:6)
If our justification and sanctification is already accomplished in Christ, why this emphasis on works (our deeds)? Surely, there is nothing we can add to what Jesus, in his vicarious humanity, has done already on our behalf. To suggest that our works are a condition for our justification and our sanctification, is to risk doing what the Torrances frequently warn against---throwing people back upon their own efforts. In facing this issue, we see the merit of what Radcliff calls...
...the Torrances objective, Christocentric scheme of salvation: assurance of salvation and freedom from having to earn it ourselves. TF asserts, "In God there is no Yes and No, but only Yes. It is upon the Yes of God's eternal love for us that our salvation rests." He points out that the New Testament word "parousia" [meaning "reveal"] is singular, indicating the continuity between Christ's first and second coming. Since our judgment is complete in Christ and we are fully accepted by God, the last judgment is an unveiling of [a] permanently positive verdict. (pp. 102-103)
What Jesus will do at his second advent, will not be a work in addition to what he accomplished at his first advent, culminating with his death and resurrection. Instead, he will return to gather together and so reveal for all to see what the cross and resurrection have already accomplished throughout the whole of creation.

Indicative and imperative

But what place then do works have in Torrance theology? Radcliff answers:
If our works by the Spirit are not a necessary condition for final justification, because the last judgment is an unveiling of God's unconditionally positive verdict, the question remains as to the place of our works by the Spirit. For the Torrances [our works are]... a response to God's grace, rather than a means to earn it. JB often asserts that "the indicatives of grace are always prior to the obligations of law and human obedience".... Our works by the Spirit are in joyful, obedient response to God's unconditional grace. (p. 103)  
For JB, we work (the imperative of grace) because of who God has made us (the indicative of grace). We don't work to be saved but because God has declared us to be saved. Our works are thus a thankful response to the grace of God. Moreover, the works themselves are directly connected to Jesus' vicarious response on our behalf. Said another way, our works are a direct participation, by the Spirit, in Jesus perfect obedience to the Father.

We don't work to be justified; we don't work to be sanctified; and we don't work in order, someday, to be glorified. Humanity, already, is justified, sanctified and glorified in and through the vicarious humanity of Jesus. As we, by the Spirit, work (share in the works of Jesus), we experience our justification and "grow into" our sanctification (becoming who we truly are in Christ) thus anticipating the day when our sanctification shall be complete in our glorification (when we will see Christ face-to-face).

In the meantime: fix your eyes upon Jesus!

Our works are thus not about what we earn---instead, they are about our joyful, obedient response to God's grace. Our works are about our participation in what Christ has already done on our behalf and continues to do. That participation is, itself, a gift of God's grace through the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit who leads, enables, and empowers our works (our participation). For these reasons, JB encourages us to "fix our eyes upon Jesus"---to focus on who he is, what he has done and what he is now doing in the world.

Our salvation, in all its aspects, is about who Jesus is and his work on our behalf. Our calling is to receive and so realize that work---to experience, by faith, what God has already done for us in Christ---our adoption, sanctification, and regeneration in Christ. The more we understand, embrace and so experience that reality, the more it becomes "real" (alive) to us. That journey of realization is one of repentance---the ongoing changing of our mind to be aligned with the truth that is in Jesus, including the truth of who we (and all people) are, by the Spirit, in him.

One more thing---if knowledge of God is so vital to our experience of salvation, what about people who are cognitively challenged? Is their justification and sanctification somehow compromised or diminished? The Torrance's answer No! According to Radcliff, the Torrances...
...affirm that our "realization" [of our justification/sanctification] is not dependent upon our own intellectual capacity or knowledge of the truth, but upon the revelation of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth (John 14:7; 16:13), who reveals the reality of our salvation in Christ. (pp. 105-106)
Thanks be to God.

Comments

  1. Great post, Ted! Thank you for your hard work.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you my brother. It was your helpful review of Radcliff's book that inspired me to read it, then offer a summary of my own. I think she has done a great job of summarizing the key points of Torrance theology, including offering some suggestions for further work, particularly as it relates to the ongoing ministry of the Spirit in our sanctification.

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