Justification and Adoption: The Soil for Perfection to Grow In

I remember a pretty and classy young woman I met in France in the summer of 1975. I was there for a 2 month short term mission trip, and she was coming off a two year term, and she spoke French fluently. I had no romantic feelings for her, and she certainly had none for me, but I do remember being in awe of her. It just so happened that in September she enrolled at the same college as I was. The guys, of course, were all agog over this new addition to the feminine pool. One day there was a roller skating party, and there was an event where the guys lined up on the side of the rink and the girls would come by and choose a skating partner. I was shy and stayed back by the wall while the rest of the guys were clamoring eagerly to be chosen. Since this girl was new and I was one of the only ones she knew, she skated right through the guys to me and led me out into the rink. The guys were amazed and shocked that I would be chosen, as was I! I remember being awash in happiness.

Justification seems to me to be a lot like this. What right did I have to be out there in the rink skating in happiness with this girl? Certainly all the other boys had problems with it! I was not as cool, sophisticated, good looking etc. as they were, and legitimately they felt the injustice about it. In fact, it was by virtue of her grace and the basis of a relationship that she chose me. True, I didn’t deserve to be out there, but none of the guys could do anything about it. Justification is a legal term that describes one aspect of salvation from the perspective of law. I stand justified before God and the hosts of Heaven and earth by the grace of God that is activated by my response of faith. It is critical here to understand that justification, in spite of its importance, is not to be understood as the totality of our salvation, but an aspect of it. In fact, it provides the context for our glorification in this world and the next, a safe place to grow into perfection.

Another salvation term closely related to justification is adoption. When we stand justified before God, we switch families. No longer a part of Adam’s Family, we are no co-heirs with Christ in God’s family. When we are in a family, especially a good family, we feel secure; God made the family to be a safe and secure place for people to grow up and become what He intended them to be. If our experience of family is what God intended, then we feel secure in it. We do not worry about being kicked out of it; it is a place of grace. If we offend, we become contrite and seek and receive forgiveness. In fact, everyone in the family works hard for each other to succeed. We do not take anyone for granted, especially God our Father and Jesus His Son our brother. We have confidence because of our position in God’s family. Though our responsibility and obligations are real in the family, we do not think of our position “performance based” in the sense that if we do not perform we will get “kicked out.” Families are a place of security, and it is only in the context of security does God expect us to reach for high ideals.

A grave problem in some circles of Christianity is that Justification is elevated as the primary idea of salvation. With this sort of thinking, we feel that we are “saved” because we are justified, and justification becomes an end in itself. We feel that we are protected from a “works righteousness” mentality, but are left with nowhere else to go in our Christianity. We have no clear direction, but wait out our lives with vague platitudes of “becoming more like Christ” when there really is no clear direction or thought given to intentional spiritual formation. We are left with no high ideals to strive for, “perfection” is watered down to becoming “mature,” something we hope will come with the aging process.

Justification and adoption are two ideas, one from the law courts, and the other from the family, that act like two points in a multifaceted diamond. The whole of the diamond is the glory of the whole of our salvation. In fact, if you look carefully in St. Paul you will see that “glorification” is the most accurate term for our salvation. This glorification is in process as we are transformed into perfection; there is even a sense where we are not “saved” yet because we are not glorified. Even the verb “justify” is used by Paul in the future tense, an act which will be complete when we actually stand before God at the end of time (Rom. 2:13, 3:20, 30). Justification and adoption, if understood correctly, provide the rich soil in which perfection can take place.

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