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).