How is Justification defined in classic Christian teaching... based on Sacred Scripture, Ancient Ecumenical Consensual Teaching and the Protestant Confessions?
I hear a lot of fellow Orthodox belittling Justification and in doing belittling the Sacred Scriptures and the Apostolic Traditions which are the very ground of our faith.
What is Justification? Justification is the declaration of God that one who trusts in Christ's atoning work, however sinful, is treated or accounted as righteous. This credited righteousness is received by faith.
This is not to be viewed as if it were merely a legal fiction, or as a fantasy imagined in God's mind, or as a human hypothetical conjecture. This uprighted relation with the holy God comes about as a decisive, merciful divine act, an actual event in history that occurs on the cross.
Justification is the reversal of God's judgment against the sinner, in which the sinner is declared to be no longer exposed to the penalty of the law, which is ultimately spiritual death, but restored to divine favor. Justification is that divine act by which one stands now in the right relation with God. It is an act of God's free grace through which the sinner is absolved from guilt and accepted as righteous on account of the Son's atoning work.
Justification is the pardoning act of the supreme Judge of all, by which he pardons 'all' the sins of those who trust in the pardoning work of Christ in our place on the cross. In this way the righteousness of Christ is applied to the believer.
It is not that the law is blandly relaxed or dishonestly set aside. Rather, the law is declared to be fulfilled in an even stricter sense: by the Judge himself, his own sacrificial offering of himself as he himself fulfills the requirements of the law for us! This happens by imputing or crediting to the believer by God himself the perfect righteousness of his representative and guarantee: God the Son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 10:3-9). Justification is not the forgiveness of a man without righteousness, but a declaration that he possesses a righteousness that perfectly and forever satisfies the law, namely Christ's righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 4:6-8). The sole condition on which this righteousness is imputed or credited to the believer is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is at the same time truly man and truly God.
Justification is the opposite of condemnation. One is justified who is viewed as right with the Judge, the law, and the Lawgiver (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, IV). The justifying Judge declares that all the requirements of the law are entirely satisfied. The person justified is declared to be entitled to all the advantages and rewards arising from the perfect obedience to the law (Rom. 5:1-10).
Hence this simple formula is often heard in Protestant teaching on justification:
its Source: God.
its Nature: a gracious act.
its Elements: pardon and acceptance.
its Scope: all believers.
its Ground: the imputed righteousness of Christ.
its Condition: faith alone.
Justification does not result from higher commitment to greater ideals or more advanced actualization of good character or better performance of the demands of the law. It is solely due to a declaration of God's merciful attitude toward the sinner whose life is hid in Christ.
Early Eastern Voices on Justification:
Key textual evidence from Origen, John Chrysostom, and Theodoret of Cyrrhus show that leading eastern patristic writers anticipated standard classic Reformation teaching on justification.
The leading biblical interpreter from the great school of Antioch, Theodoret of Cyrrhus, in his fourth-century commentary on the epistles of Paul, reflected on Ephesians 2:8, "For by grace you have been saved through faith," in this way: "All we bring to grace is our faith. But even in this faith, divine grace itself has become our enabler. For [Paul] adds, 'And this is not of yourselves but it is a gift of God; not of works, lest anyone should boast (Eph. 2:8-9).' It is not of our own accord that we have believed, but we have come to belief after having been called; and even when we had come to believe, He did not require of us purity of life, but approving mere faith, God bestowed on us forgiveness of sins" (Interpretation of the Fourteen Epistles of Paul). A thousand years before Luther.
A generation before Theodoret, John Chrysostom had expressly stated: "So that you may not be elated by the magnitude of these benefits, see how Paul puts you in your place. For 'by grace you are saved,' he says, 'through faith'. Then, so as to do no injury to free will, he allots a role to us, then takes it away again, saying 'and this not of ourselves.'.... Even faith, he says, is not from us. For if he Lord had not come, if he had not called us, how should we have been able to believe? 'For how,' [Paul] says, 'shall they believe if they have not heard?' (Rom. 10:14). So even the act of faith is not self-initiated. It is, he says, 'the gift of God' (Eph. 2:8c)." So writes Chrysostom at the end of the fourth century (Hom. of Ephesians 2:
In asking why boasting is excluded, Origen commented on Romans 3:28, "For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law." "If an example is required," remarked Origen, "I think it must suffice to mention the thief on the cross, who asked Christ to save him and was told, 'Truly, this day you will be with me in paradise' (Luke 23:43).... A man is justified by faith. The works of the law can make no contribution to this. Where there is no faith which might justify the one who does them, because faith is lacking, and faith is the mark of those who are justified by God" (Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans). So was justification by faith alone understood before the Reformers? The texts make this undeniable. These examples make it clear that justification teaching was rightly understood among the eastern patristic writers in a way that classic Reformation writers would have every reason to respect.