The Human as Justified: "At Once Justified and a Sinner"

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We have been describing what we know of ourselves from the Word of God, and how that puts into focus the knowledge we have of ourselves on our own account. Being creatures, being sinful, being individuals yet corporate: these do not go away once we are redeemed. You might say that we have layers, one upon the other, or that we are the sum of our collective story: created, falled, redeemed, hopeful.  All of these together describe us, who stand in the midst of salvation history at once decisively directed by Christ and yet still in motion.  As a result, a single adjective will not do to define us. Rather we need a way of speaking that captures how we are yet a work-in-progress in God’s hands, and yet how our future has been settled, not by our own doing, but by that of God-in-Christ. We need a way of talking then which is dynamic, which indicates this motion, which is ‘dialectical’, that is, which includes a human ‘no’ and a more important divine ‘yes’ all at once. For so we are.

Leaning on the terminology of St. Paul, and in particular his emphasis on the contrast between our efforts to determine and even save ourselves (works) and God’s action on our behalf in Christ (grace), the key term here is justification. We might define it as being put right by God.  We are already set right, before and outside of anything we do, by Christ. But we are not yet a finished product. We are still growing into what we are already declared by the merciful divine word to be. Put it this way - looked at on our own, we remain flawed, but looked at from the God’s eye-view, we are already what we are declared to be, and what we shall be, on the last day, standing before Him.  The classic expression of this is from Martin Luther, that we are simul justus et peccator, at once justified and a sinner. In contrast to medieval ways of thinking, where justification was something we reached only at the end, after a lifetime of striving and uncertainty, this more radical claim of the Gospel, is that we now are the recipients of that final verdict, ‘justified!’ by virtue of what Christ has done.

To review, one result of being justified is that we can in a sense say that faith is certain. This does not mean that we are now without times of weakness and doubt. But it does mean that who we are is determined by the One declaring us to be set right. He is trustworthy, even if our own sense of ourselves isn’t.  Here we may cite St. Thomas Aquinas, who says that if we look to the One in whom we hope, we are ‘certain’, since He is perfectly trustworthy, though we are not so if we look to ourselves who are doing the looking and hoping. Here too we need to say two things at once to capture our situation ‘on the road,’ in via.

Google Wikipedia’s ‘Theology of Martin Luther’


The Human Being as Hopeful

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By way of review, we are sketching the nature of the human being which we can gain sight of through the window of God’s Word as His creature, both in our divine determination and our corruption. We have hints of this on our own (as the beginning of our catechetical house showed), but now can see ourselves more clearly as we are shown at the same time God’s nature (see John Calvin’s spectacles, with their two lens, showing us Him and ourselves at once). 

Hope may seem to us an unambiguously good thing, but it was not so for the ancients. Recall how, in the story of Pandora’s box, that hope was the final curse that flew out as a result of curiosity, for hope kept a person from that resignation which is a more accurate approach to life in the world. Perhaps more neutrally we can turn to another ancient source, the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who emphasized that the human is so constituted as to be directed toward an end, a goal, a telos. Humans are creatures not only toward something in the other way that animals are (wanting warmth, food, etc.), but they are creatures with ‘towardness’ consciously and deliberately. Another way to say this is that humans have, and can think about, a future in a way that no other creature can.  They can summarize their lives, or even the collective life of the race, and wonder what it is toward.  They can speculate about its telos, be it nuclear night, or reincarnation, or a cosmic contraction, or the classless society or robot dominion. 

Or think of it this way: all the human sciences are works in progress, all incomplete and striving toward a fuller truth, all assuming somehow that there lies ahead a place of arrival where we understand ourselves and the world truly, where all the different disciplines are in harmony, since truth is by definition one.  Now since we are at once in-the-image and sinful, we use the pursuit of truth, and its imagined goal, for our own personal ends.  The utopias ahead of us are as cracked as we are. But hope too is remainder of our created nature, as well as an opening to the redeeming work God wrought. Flawed, we also are able to hear a message like resurrection. 

Read  hope (virtue) in Wikipedia


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