Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."
- Mark 1:14-15

Monday, June 25, 2018

Justification - Kevin DeYoung (2017 Reformation Conference)

Justification is an act of God’s free grace wherein He pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in His sight only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us and received by faith alone (Westminster Shorter Catechism).

This definition of justification is exactly what our world needs even though they may not yet realize it.

Wilfred McClay wrote an article in The Hedgehog Review called The Strange Persistence of Guilt, in which he says that religion in modern society is in decline, yet the feeling of guilt remains. 

McClay says, “Those of us living in the developed countries of the West find ourselves in the tightening grip of a paradox, one whose shape and character have so far largely eluded our understanding. It is the strange persistence of guilt as a psychological force in modern life. If anything, the word persistence understates the matter. Guilt has not merely lingered. It has grown, even metastasized, into an ever more powerful and pervasive element in the life of the contemporary West, even as the rich language formerly used to define it has withered and faded from discourse, and the means of containing its effects, let alone obtaining relief from it, have become ever more elusive.”

Nietzsche theorized that the “death” of God would show a “decline in the consciousness of human debt.”  Sigmund Freud said that guilt was the biggest problem in the development of society and he tried hard to minimize it and to relieve his patients of the guilt they felt for the many problems in the world.

McClay also talked about the infinite extensibility of guilt and said with increased power comes increased responsibility and this responsibility leads to guilt.  He said, “Whatever donation I make to a charitable organization, it can never be as much as I could have given.  I can never diminish my carbon footprint enough, or give to the poor enough. … Colonialism, slavery, structural poverty, water pollution, deforestation — there’s an endless list of items for which you and I can take the rap.”

The news covers suffering around the world and it seems as if we live in the hardest times ever.  But actually, the opposite is true.  We live in the most peaceful times in the history of our planet now without much war and conflict as compared to times past, not to mention the comforts we enjoy today such as being able to turn on a water faucet instead of having to walk ten miles a day to get water to keep your family alive.

Kevin DeYoung says that before we didn’t hear much about suffering in other parts of the world but today we live in an interconnected world in which we know all about the volcano, tornado, starvation, hurricane, earthquake, homicide, traffic accident, plane crash, shooting spree, as well as acts of terrorism, etc. etc.

McClay referred to a concept called “stolen suffering” in which people make up stories of personal suffering to obtain the honor and prestige that our society gives to those that have suffered greatly.  DeYoung said, “Our heroes are the ones who hurt the most.”  Politicians try to jump on the bandwagon of suffering.  Take our military for example.  When we recognize them, it is more for suffering they endured than for the battles they have won.  McClay said that being a victim of suffering or identifying with these victims is a way to discharge and release the great guilt that we feel.  We also release this guilt by being able to point the finger at “oppressors” and pronounce them guilty while proudly proclaiming ourselves as innocent.

We also face increasing judgment from others in our modern society about the food we eat—is it healthy, organic, did the chicken grow up in a cage, was it injected with hormones, did it have access to a gym and fine poetry, etc.  We are also judged by the clothes we wear, where our kids go to school, if we homeschool, if we recycle, having too many kids or not enough kids, nursing vs. using formula, if we take our kids to the right doctors, if we have our kids taking piano lessons, soccer, ballet, and an endless number of societal pressures and expectations.  Environmentalism has become a “surrogate religion,” argues DeYoung, in an attempt to atone for our sins of spoiling the earth and for our sins of consumption.

We in the western culture have also accumulated centuries of guilt through all of the “isms” and phobias: colonialism, imperialism, capitalism, sexism, Islamophobia, homophobia, etc.  We always have this burden of not doing enough and the pressure of trying to meet all of society’s demands and of keeping up with the Joneses on Facebook.

Maclay says, “Notwithstanding all claims about our living in a post-Christian world devoid of censorious public morality, we in fact live in a world that carries an enormous and growing burden of guilt and yearns, even sometimes demands to be free of it.”

If guilt is the problem, then justification is its answer: an act of God’s free grace wherein He pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in His sight only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us and received by faith alone (Westminster Shorter Catechism).  This idea of justification is precisely what our guilt-ridden world needs!  “It is the cure for the disease they don’t even know they have,” says DeYoung.

Three Reasons why this reformation understanding of the good news is what we have been waiting for:

1.  It is personal.  If all of our offenses are ultimately against God, then we know where to turn for salvation.  The secular world is unsure of where to turn for relief as we cannot measure our “rightness” in the world subjectively by Facebook likes or retweets.

One of the main points of the book, Making Gay Okay, is that victory for gay rights must be total and complete.  It cannot have any rivals because the mere tolerance of opposing viewpoints undermines the quest for moral legitimacy.  All opposing viewpoints are to be sidelined or silenced to the cultural edges of the universe.  Romans chapter 1 and 2 says that we all have a conscience and a knowledge of the truth but we exchange that truth for a lie and suppress that truth in unrighteousness.

DeYoung told a story of working with addicts and the guilt, shame, and failure they all felt for hurting and letting others down with their actions.  Those people were told that the drugs were the problem and that they were not to blame, but they did not believe that.  DeYoung says, “Until we have a God that we sin against, we have no God that can pardon us,” and that the problem we have today is “an abiding sense of guilt for which there is no effective atonement and no coherent plan of redemption.”

2.  We need the doctrine of justification because it is gracious.  The Westminster definition of justification begins and ends with mercy.  DeYoung says, “The world’s way to be justified is by strenuous effort exacting asceticism,” and we can never do enough.  He says, “If you spend any time on social media, you know how it deals with offenses: through a potent combination of abject humiliation, public ridicule, and demands for immediate retribution.  And there is no real forgiveness.”  There is no removal of our mistakes, only a “fearful and permanent marking of our iniquities.”  There is no grace from social media, only from God.

3.  We need the doctrine of justification because it is forensic, or a “legal declaration of innocence based on the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.”  Romans 4:25 says, “Christ was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”  Why the reference to Christ being raised?  Christ’s resurrection is “the loud declaration that justice has been satisfied.”

DeYoung makes this point in light of the rebellion of modern culture in being subject to a sovereign God: “We are saved not by the removal of justice but by the satisfaction of it.”  Many people think we are saved because God loved us so much and that He says, “Your sins?  Forget about it,” and does not make a big deal about sin.  Sin is a huge deal to a righteous and just God and the gospel is about the satisfaction of God’s justice by the propitiation of Christ to satisfy the wrath of God against us. 

Charles Hodge said, “Our sins were the judicial ground of the sufferings of Christ, so that they were a satisfaction of justice and His righteousness is the judicial ground of our acceptance with God so that our pardon is an act of justice.”  1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  DeYoung remarks that, “Shouldn’t that verse say He should be faithful and merciful, faithful and loving, faithful and gracious?  But no, it says He is faithful and just

God would be unjust if He did not pardon those who belong to Christ.  If those sins have been paid for then, “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).  We have been justified because the justice of God has been satisfied by the sacrifice of Christ.

We cannot wash away guilt with our man-made devices of strenuous effort or positive self-talk.  DeYoung says, “Guilt is an objective reality and as such it must be dealt with by an objective satisfaction,” and that “Justice is shot through the entire plan of redemption.  People go to hell because God is just.  People go to heaven because God is just.”

Because our sins were imputed to, ascribed to, and credited to Christ, He deserved to die and…because His righteousness is imputed to us, we deserve to live!  We are not forgiven because God waved His magic wand and decided to overlook our sin.  He demands satisfaction and justice for all our sins.  DeYoung says, “And this is the good news, it has been paid for.  The resurrection of the crucified Son of Man tells us that the demands of justice have been met.”  The resurrection is the loud declaration that Jesus is enough to atone for our sins and to give us the righteousness and holiness of Christ so that we would be justified before a holy and righteous God in heaven.

There is therefore no condemnation, no guilt, and no shame for those who are in Christ Jesus and the world needs to hear it even though they don’t know it.

It has been a while since I last posted.  I haven't fallen off the deep end, I still listen to sermons and read the Word but the writing I have been doing of late has been in working on the What Is the Gospel? series and expanding that and using it to teach my own children the truth of the gospel.