In the ancient Christian world there was always some concern about being right with God. The second-century fathers discussed it even though there does not seem to have been controversy over the doctrine. One of the earliest post-apostolic documents, 1 Clement takes it for granted that we are justified through faith and, if we did not know better, chapter 5 of the Epistle to Diognetus from the mid-2nd century might be mistaken for a Lutheran or Reformed tract from the 16th century when it talks about the “joyous exchange.” They were driven to write and speak this way by Scripture, which is replete with talk about being right with God.
The medieval church, however, came to think of justification as a process, the outcome of grace and cooperation with grace. The Reformation re-asserted the biblical and ancient Christian doctrine of justification by divine favor alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. For all the disagreements in the pre-modern world over how we are justified and who are justified—does God justify sinners or does he vindicate the godly?—there was general agreement that God is righteous and that we need to be right with him.
In our late-modern world, however, where identities are said to bear no relation to objective reality, where the world is said to start with the floor and end with the ceiling, as it were, in a world where this life is all there is, what does it mean to talk about justification? Were we to ask the average Westerner to justify himself, he is most likely to say, “I do not have to justify myself to anyone?” The late modern tends to think that it is God who must justify himself to us.
Mike Horton has been engaging the doctrine of justification for most of 4 decades—indeed, if you are Reformed, if you believe in justification by grace alone, through faith alone, and you think that you ought to distinguish the law from the gospel then there is a significant likelihood that you learned that think that way from Mike Horton.
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