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Justification by Faith and Eschatological Hope

. . . whom He justified, them He also glorified. Rom. 8:30.

. . . being justified by faith, we . . . rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Rom. 5:1,2.

Justification and the eschaton are closely related. Those who are justified by faith are characterized by eager expectation of the coming of Christ (Heb. 9:28; 1 Thess. 1:10). The New Testament church is on tiptoe, waiting for the return of the Lord. And so ardent and expectant is its hope, some have to be reminded that daily work is not to be neglected (2 Thess. 3:10,11).

It is not hard to imagine those Thessalonians who were so keen for the Lord to come that they had put their properties in the hands of the agents and were sitting outside on their suitcases, waiting for Jesus to return. We may smile at their simple and naive faith, but with all its immaturity, it was far more pleasing to God than a faith that does not stir the heart to watch for the return of the Master.

The early church soon lost the truth of justification by faith, and with it they lost sight of the hope of Christ's return. In the medieval church there was no bright hope of Christ's coming — eschatological vision had disappeared. But with Luther and the revival of the truth of justification, the New Testament hope reappears, and the Reformer waits expectantly and longs for the end of the world. Instead of judgment day being the doomsday of the medieval church, a day to be pushed into the future as far as possible, it is for Luther "the happy, last Day." There is in Luther an irrepressible, exultant joy in the prospect of judgment day.

Let us look at the reasons why justification by faith illuminates the last things with joy, hope and expectancy.

1. The righteousness by which the believer stands justified is imputed (see Rom. 4), but at the eschaton it will be disclosed. The believer possesses it now only by faith, but by the sustaining power of the Spirit he "wait[s] for the hope of righteousness." Gal. 5:5. That is to say, his righteousness does not yet appear, but in the midst of affliction it hangs in hope. He longs for the time when he will be fully righteous in fact.

Luther rightly warns against the error of those who are in too great a haste to become pure and sinless saints. With imprudent and excessive zeal they try to break down the door to get into the room where they see and feel no sin. People who get caught up in this false holiness trip become more interested in their "second blessing" than the "second coming," and if God would grant them their wish here and now, they would no longer groan with the apostles and saints for Jesus to come (Rom. 8:23). The righteousness of faith teaches us that we cannot find fulfillment within the historical process. We are complete only in Christ (Col. 2:10), and therefore we must patiently wait for the manifestation of the sons of God when He appears (Rom. 8:18; Col. 3:4). The righteousness of the faithful will be fully disclosed at the eschaton.

2. No one will really yearn for and hope for the coming of Christ unless he has confidence that he is ready for that great day. The clear ring of the New Testament is this: Justification by faith constitutes us ready for the coming of Christ.

    . . . being justified by faith, we . . . rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Rom. 5:1, 2.

    Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. Rom. 5:9.

    . . . whom He justified, them He also glorified. Rom. 8:30.

    . . . so that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ . . .1 Cor. 1:7. (This was written to a very imperfect, faulty congregation who in themselves came behind in many things.)

    But the anointing which ye have received of Him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in Him. And now, little children, abide in Him; that, when He shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming. 1 John 2:27, 28. (Note: The Spirit teaches believers to "abide in Him," and it is their being "in Him" which qualifies them ready for His coming.)
The New Testament clearly teaches that those who are justified by faith are complete, unblamable and perfect in Jesus Christ (Col. 1:22, 28; 2:10), and therefore they may have boldness on the day of judgment (1 John 4:1 7) if only they maintain this faith firm unto the end (Col. 1:23; Heb.6:11).

The New Testament exhorts the elect community to purify themselves, to follow after holiness, to live righteously, temperately and charitably as they wait for the Lord's coming (1 John 3:3; 2 Cor. 7:1; 2 Peter 3:11, etc.). Many have seriously distorted these exhortations to sanctification by making such sanctification the ground of believers' being able to stand before the Son of Man when He comes in power and great glory. This error miserably cheats people out of the joy and confidence they may have in the truth of justification by faith alone. Instead of looking to the righteousness of faith for the assurance of their readiness for the day of God, they look to their own faltering progress in sanctification as their hope. When final salvation is made conditional on a certain degree of sanctified attainment, there can be no assurance of being ready for Christ to come and certainly no rejoicing in the imminence of His coming. People thus wear themselves out getting ready instead of being ready (Matt. 24:44). They wretchedly work toward becoming blameless instead of being "preserved blameless." 1 Thess. 5:23. Naturally, they are no more ready for Christ's coming after years and years of this miserable program. These souls will find no rest until they commit their full weight to the efficacy of Christ's imputed righteousness.

The apostles remind the elect community of the all-sufficiency of God's justification and show them that this standing gives them a sure hope of glorification at the end of time. Then out of the joy of this hope, they make their appeal to godly living. The apostolic order is:

a. The blessing of justification

b. The firm hope of glorification based on justification

c. The appeal to sanctification

Notice:

Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God [a. Justification], and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is [b. Glorification]. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure [c. Sanctification]. 1 John 3:1-3.

For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God [a. Justification]. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory [a. Glorification]. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry [c. Sanctification] . . . Col. 3:3-5.

We are not exhorted to a life of sanctification in order that we may find therein a hope of being glorified when Jesus comes, but we are exhorted to a life of sanctification because we have this hope. He who runs the way of sanctification to obtain hope runs with great uncertainty, for how can he know whether he is good enough or runs well enough to satisfy God? He who runs the way of sanctification because he has a firm hope is like Paul, who said, "I therefore so run, not as uncertainly [as the athletes who are not sure of the prize]; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." 1 Cor. 9:26, 27. But the man who presumes that he need not run the way of sanctification because justification is by faith will one day learn that his hope is vain, for". . . every man that hath this [genuine] hope . . . purifieth himself."

3. We have said that the hidden righteousness of the justified will be disclosed at the eschaton. We have shown that the hidden righteousness of the justified prepares the believer for the eschaton. We must now see that in a very certain sense the eschaton has already broken into history and into the experience of all who are justified by faith. This may be seen from three different points:

a. The eschaton is the day of judgment. Justification is a judicial word. It is a verdict of the Judge. Judgment day is the day when the righteous will be justified and the wicked condemned. Yet because of Christ the believer already has the verdict of acquittal and vindication of the Judge. The decision of the Court has already taken place. The believer is pronounced justified. And the coming of judgment day will disclose it openly. Thus, we can say that eternity has broken into history, and the believer now lives as one who has entered into judgment and has passed from death to life. For him "the hour of His judgment is come," and by faith he holds to the righteousness of Christ, which vindicates him before the law that judges him. So judgment day is not only future but present, as it is written,". . . the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God . . . 1 Peter 4:17

b. The gift of justification is the gift of eternal life (Rom. 5:18). Although eternal life is something that belongs to the eschaton and eternity, this blessing is enjoyed by believers even now. They have actually begun to enjoy eternal life (John 3:16; 1 John 5:13). Eternity has already broken into history, so that believers have already tasted "the powers of the world to come." Heb. 6:5.

c. At the eschaton God will pour out His Spirit to glorify and immortalize His people (Rom. 8:11,17,18; Col. 3:4; Phil. 3:21; 1 Cor. 15:50-55). But since Jesus is already glorified, the Spirit is already given to believers in Jesus (John 7:39). Therefore, the apostle says they already have the "firstfruits" of their inheritance (Eph. 1:13,14).

Just as the wagons bearing the king's seal convinced Jacob that the time had come to take his journey to meet Joseph, so justification by faith, with its verdict of acquittal, gift of eternal life and first fruits of the Spirit, is to us the "wagons" of the eschaton. The last days have therefore begun, and we therefore wait in eager anticipation for the open disclosure of these things.

Justification by faith, therefore, as nothing else can, brings eternity into immediate focus and confronts the church with the eschaton. It puts the church on tiptoe, waiting for the speedy coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.