Justification and Sanctification

The Christian doctrine of salvation was traditionally expressed in terms of justification and sanctification. Justification was understood as God's gracious acceptance of repentant sinners, either by imputing, or by imparting, righteousness to them. Sanctification was understood as the process whereby the faithful are refashioned, and made holy, by the indwelling Spirit of the crucified and risen Christ, into whose Body, the Church, they are incorporated by baptism. The two terms — justification and sanctification — are hardly separable. Certainly, where justification is understood as a matter of being made just, it already embraces sanctification. As we have seen, the eastern Church preferred the single term of divinization.

It is hard to recapture the force of medieval and Reformation disputes over these notions. Indeed, Christian theologians today have mostly reached agreement over their import. There is no dispute about the priority of God's grace, both in the acceptance and also in the transformation of the sinner.

Philosophical reflection on this doctrine has also concentrated on these two facets of what God has done, and is doing, to reconcile the world to himself. The moral heart of the doctrine has been seen, first, in the way in which God's costly forgiveness and acceptance are demonstrated and conveyed in the life, passion and death of his incarnate Son. And, secondly, it is seen in the way in which God's enabling and transforming grace and love are experienced in the conversion and growth of Christians. This interpretation of the doctrine of salvation was persuasively expounded in Eleonore Stump's article 'Atonement and Justification', discussed above.

What many traditionalists will find lacking in such philosophical presentations of the doctrine of salvation is the element of vicarious atonement that featured so centrally in objective theories such as those of Anselm and Aquinas. Again and again, in the present chapter, we have been confronted by moral objections to the ideas of vicarious punishment and vicarious satisfaction. Philip Quinn pinpoints the difficulty in his article, 'Christian Atonement and Kantian Justification': 'According to common sense moral thinking, moral credits and debits are neither transferable nor transmissible.' Quinn argues that, while Kant's moral interpretation of justification, in Religion with the Limits of Reason Alone, is not open to the objections levelled against Anselm, it still retains an unacceptable element of vicarious-ness in holding that, in addition to our own moral conversion, we must also appropriate 'a righteousness not our own, which is offered to us as a gift of grace'.51 But someone else's righteousness can no more be transferred than someone else's guilt or punishment or satisfaction. Quinn confesses himself puzzled by where this leaves the doctrine of Atonement. It would seem that Christ's perfect human life and his sacrifice on the cross are in no way necessary for our salvation.

Further reflection on the identification theory will enable us to see what Quinn (and Kant) have failed to appreciate. It is not that Christ's righteousness is to be appropriated by us as a gift. Rather, we are so to be united with Christ crucified and risen that we are taken, forgiven and transformed, into the triune life of God. This is why Christ's life and death, and the gift of his Spirit, are necessary for our salvation. It is not that Christ's righteousness is transferred to us. Rather, we are made just, sanctified, by God himself through Christ and the Spirit.

Two further difficulties need to be faced. The scenario just sketched is still open to the accusations of exclusivism and excessive individualism.

We have already seen that a number of theologians and philosophers, sensitive to the so-called scandal of particularity, have come to realize that salvation is not confined to Christians. The scope of both justification and sanctification has been recognized to extend much more widely, through the hidden, anonymous work of Christ and the Spirit, throughout the human world. Moreover, the process of sanctification cannot be restricted to the transformation of individual persons into conformity with Christ. The structures of society and the world must also be seen, analogously, to be objects of the Spirit's penetration. It has to be admitted that reflection on this further aspect of the wider scope of sanctification is to be found, so far, at any rate, in the work, not so much of Christian philosophers, as of some Christian theologians and ethicists.53 The understanding of salvation explored in the present chapter has concentrated on the way in which individuals are reconciled to God and drawn into the divine life. The theologians I now have in mind go on to speak further of the redemption of society and the sanctification of the world. It is to be hoped that Christian philosophers too will turn their attention to the way in which the Spirit of Christ crucified and risen penetrates the structures of society, and makes the whole human world conform more and more to the divine intention.

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