The Strange Consequence of Luther’s Concept of Justification

Bossuet, in his History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches, I, 7, gets to the point:

Justification is that grace which, remitting to us our sins, at the same time renders us agreeable to God. Till then, it had been believed that what wrought this effect proceeded indeed from God, but yet necessarily existed in man; and that to be justified,—namely, for a sinner to be made just, it was necessary he should have this justice in him; as to be learned and virtuous, one must have in him learning and virtue. But Luther had not followed so simple an idea. He would have it, that what justifies us and renders us agreeable to God was nothing in us; but we were justified because God imputed to us the justice of Jesus Christ, as if it were our own, and because by faith we could indeed appropriate it to ourselves.

The defect in the Lutheran concept of justification is that it is unnecessary to internalise God’s grace as long as our name was written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.  Growing up Episcopalian, I saw too much of the result of that kind of thing: people whose lives had little evidence of alteration by the Gospel, even though the New Testament demands such a transformation.  The Roman Catholic concept of “Christ alive in us” (the concept set to music at the start of this album) is better, although it’s wrapped in a defective ecclesiology and obscured by the Roman Catholic concept of merit.

What we’re really after is to make that internalisation the centrepiece of Christian life, and from that standpoint the Reformation is either the first step or the greatest obstacle.

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