The Words of the Pople Family

The Problem of Justification

Joy Schmidt [Pople]
October 1971
(Washington Center)

Protestant Christianity derived its initial impetus from Martin Luther's 95 theses tacked to the door of the church at Wittenberg in 1517. Martin Luther was an amazingly prolific writer: the American edition of his works fills 55 volumes and covers a wide variety of subjects. It remained for John Calvin, however, to write the first systematic theology of Protestant Christianity, the Institutes of the Christian Religion, first published in 1536. From these two men, theological understandings common to much of Protestant Christianity developed. Therefore, to understand Protestant thinking, one should begin with them.

It is my conviction that the Divine Principle can clarify and complete Christianity. I have had many personal questions regarding Jesus and what he accomplished. I have considered what my faith in him meant and how to understand what I experienced as a Christian. I have found much enlightenment in comparative studies of Luther with the Divine Principle.

Justification means being made righteous or just God's eyes. Concepts of justification and man's efforts related to it varied in the Middle Ages, some following the Augustinian concept of the Original Sin's effects on man and others the Pelagian concept of the basic freedom of man's will.

In the late Middle Ages two major forces in theology were mysticism and mominalism, with differing views on justification. Strangely, the tendency in scholarship had been to discount any influence these might have had on Martin Luther. Luther, however, spoke very highly of German mysticism, espoused by Tauler in Theologia deutsch. For Tauler, justification means God being present in man's innermost being; then the image of God is restored in man and the essence of the soul becomes pure, made over by God, and submerged into God. For man, humility is a necessary preparation; however, the work can be done by God alone. Thus, redemption is ultimately only by the grace of God (from Tauler's Sermons, II). Does redemption depend on Christ? Tauler emphasizes the fundamental importance of the incarnation and the redemptive act of Christ's death. But paradoxically, righteousness is true love, the birth of God in man's soul, a condition where God works through man (Hogglund, pp. 14-15).

Nominalism, a dialectical method of theology, carried scholastic theology to its logical extremes, and then advocated the Bible as the source of Christian beliefs. As expounded by Gabriel Biel (whom Luther studied extensively), nominalism teaches that justification consists essentially in the infusion of God's grace and love, resulting in the forgiveness of sins. Justification is on the basis of a right conduct (love) toward God. But because man does not possess this love within himself, God must give him love. So justification depends both on the presence of God's grace and a "meritorious act" which consists in love to God (Hagglund, pp. 18-20). Logically, one could argue that an all-powerful God could save a soul without a "meritorious deed," or that a man could do a "meritorious act" without God's grace and God could accept it. But Biel states that God's free mercy is always the ultimate basis for salvation, and God chose to justify a man in this "ordained" way, on the basis of a meritorious act (Hagglund, pp. 20-23). God must justify (give divine love and grace to) one who "does his part." Doing one's part means removing obstacles to graca (mortal sin), of which man is capable by his own free will (Hagglund, pp. 26, 28).

Martin Luther's deep conviction on justification began with an intensive study of the Bible, and this is not generally considered to be a direct development of Medieval theology. Throughout his works he attacks a "theology of glory," similar to nominalist ideas, and emphasizes Christ's work and man's inability to merit salvation. His turning to the Bible for his theology may have been partly inspired by his education by nominalists at the University of Erfurt. Kadai points out the similarities between Luther and mysticism as: emphasis on the cross, suffering and practical piety, but radical differences in concepts of sin and the goal of justification. For the mystic, sin is creatureliness that must ultimately be overcome in reaching the goal of unity with the Divine. For Luther, sin in unbelief and disobedience to God's will; he regards the ideal as God and man being covenant partners in an I-Thou relationship (Kadal. pp. 258-260).

Luther emphasizes Christ's work on the cross. Christ's work is not complete, however -- man's cooperation is required. Christ'? is not complete, however -- man's cooperation is required. Christ'? death alone does not bring justification to mankind, each person must believe in him. Paul taught of salvation as the interaction between God's grace and man's faith: "For by grace are ye- saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8, 9); and "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we: have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand--" (Rom. 5:1,2). This is a completely higher realm than works righteousness. In the Old Testament God justified man on the basis of his obedience to the commands of the Law. The new covenant between God and man describes justification as the interaction of God's grace and man's response of faith in Jesus.

Luther regards the cross as the clearest manifestation of God. God is not to be known, according to Luther, through natural theology and reasoning. Man must find God in revelation, find God in the masks He uses. The most important mask is the incarnation. The Heidelberg thesis 20 states "He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross." And in Thesis 21 he further states: "This is clear: Ile (the theologian of glory) who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general, good to evil. These are the people whom the apostle calls 'enemies of the cross of Christ' (Phil. 3:18)." (Luther's works, Vol. 31, pp. 52-53).

According to the Diving Principle, God should have been known symbolically through His creation and, most fully, in man. However, through the fall of man, the image of God in man has been shattered and even the creation has been suffering (Rom. 8: 19-23). Since the fall, God has been suffering, cut off from his children, and His plan unrealized (See Ch. 1.7). So God has revealed Himself throughout history, and especially in Jesus, in suffering. Jesus came to make restitution for Adam and Eve's fall. Adam and Eve chose to serve Satan rather than God; thus Satan became the ruler of this world (John 12:31). To win back man from Satan, Jesus had to pay the highest price, his physical life. When Satan claimed everything he could, God could exercise His power, and raise Jesus from death, from Satan's world (See Ch. III, "The Mission of Jesus")

For Luther, justification is based on (1) the historical cross of Christ, which he bore for us as punishment for our sins; (2) inner relationship with Christ's cross and the work of our own cross; and(3) hearing this word and having faith produce trust in Christ's cross as our only righteousness before God and our willing acceptance of our own cross (summarized by Penter, p. 5).

The Divine Principle adds to these points. Jesus came to fulfill the law (Matt. 5:17), and to restore man to oneness with God. He is the second Adam (I Cor. 15: 22, 45) and thus the true parent of mankind. Adam, God's first son, was to be, with Eve, the source of a lineage of God's children. This lineage became corrupted, so Jesus came to restore the proper lineage derived from God. So Jesus taught of God as "Father" and men as "children of God" through him (Matt. 6:9 and others.) Jesus partially accomplished this through his death and resurrection by which man can become adopted sons of God.

Penter expands on point two of the above-the inner relationship with Christ's cross and the work of our own cross. The only righteous person in God's eyes is one who has taken the cross upon himself and no longer claims righteousness on the basis of his works. Yet, we don't choose the cross, it mysteriously comes to us in the trials and temptations of life. For Luther, because of this principle, our cross is inexplicably identical with Christ's. (This is considered the essential element in Luther's theology,) (Penter, p. 3). According to the Divine Principle, Jesus' cross brought the possibility of justification for all mankind, as each person follows in faith the same path as Jesus. Each of us, within the sphere of our ancestors and descendants, is responsible for the salvation of others as we follow Jesus further down this path to perfection. This concept is found in the Bible: "And these although having obtained a good report through faith did not receive the promise God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect." (Heb. 11:39-40)

Commenting on point three, Biel talks about a growth in grace before having this word and having faith which produces trust in Christ's cross as our only righteousness before God and our willing acceptance of our own cross, finally achieving salvation (Hagglund, p. 32). According to Luther, faith grows, trust in Christ's cross develops, and then a willingness to take our own cross (Penter. p. 5). While we are growing, we have not achieved oneness with God, and God cannot fully live in us. So bearing our cross is not a momentary task. Only through faith in Christ, and union with him, it is possible to accept and carry OUT cross.

Actually, our cross means dying to sin (Rom. 6:6-11) (sin being understood as an act or state which separates man from God), but the gospel is not merely Jesus' cross. Salvation is accomplished by Jesus' resurrection and continuing life: "For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life." (Rom. 5:10) So we are raised, or reborn, to new life.

The goal of justification is salvation. The Divine Principle interprets this to mean oneness with God. "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them and be their God." (Rev. 21:3). Salvation is also the fulfillment of God's original intention for Adam and Eve. He blessed them and said, "Be fruitful and multicity, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion..." (Gen. 1:28) For man, this is a state of individual maturity, full family harmony, productivity, satisfaction, and care for nature. In this way, man shares God's harmony and creativity, and lives in full interaction with God. Only then can God fully share His divine grace and love with man. So salvation is seen as the developing interaction of God's grace and love and man's love and faith. 

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