Behold, the Lamb of God: Theology Proper and the Inseparability of Penal-Substitutionary Atonement from Forensic Justification and Imputation

Many factors contributed to the Protestant Reformation, but one of the most significant was the debate over the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

“In church history people have disagreed as to what justification is, and the purpose of this chapter is not to restate all the data for the Reformation’s view of justification as the biblical view. Numerous books have argued this case, along with other chapters in this book. Instead, I assume that the Reformation’s view of justification is the biblical view, and in this section I summarize the overall view only to set the stage for my argument that the Reformation’s view of justification and penal substitution are inseparably related.”

 

Matthew Barrett, executive editor of Credo Magazine, has edited a new book with Crossway titled, The Doctrine on Which the Church Stands or Falls: Justification in Biblical, Theological, Historical, and Pastoral Perspective. Many factors contributed to the Protestant Reformation, but one of the most significant was the debate over the doctrine of justification by faith alone. In fact, Martin Luther argued that justification is the doctrine on which the church stands or falls. This comprehensive volume of 26 essays from a host of scholars explores the doctrine of justification from the lenses of history, the Bible, theology, and pastoral practice—revealing the enduring significance of this pillar of Protestant theology.

Today we are highlighting Stephen Wellum’s chapter “Behold, the Lamb of God.” Here is an excerpt to get you started:


In church history people have disagreed as to what justification is, and the purpose of this chapter is not to restate all the data for the Reformation’s view of justification as the biblical view.[1] Numerous books have argued this case, along with other chapters in this book.[2] Instead, I assume that the Reformation’s view of justification is the biblical view, and in this section I summarize the overall view only to set the stage for my argument that the Reformation’s view of justification and penal substitution are inseparably related.

What Is Justification in Scripture and Reformation Theology?

Justification is a word/concept from the law court denoting, primarily, that action whereby a judge upholds the case of one party in dispute before him. Having heard the case, the judge reaches a verdict in favor of the person and thereby “justifies” him; this action has the force of “acquittal.” The judge’s declaration entails that the person is not penally liable and thus is “entitled to all the privileges due to those who have kept the law. Justification settles the legal status of the person justified and thus it is a forensic term (Deut. 25:1; Prov. 17:15; Rom. 8:33–34).”[3] As a forensic concept, a person who is justified is “just,” “righteous”—not as a description of his or her moral character but as a statement of his or her status or position before the court. Thus, “to justify” does not mean to make righteous—that is, to change a person’s character[4] —but rather to constitute righteous by declaration.[5] In the case of God as the Judge of the world, when he justifies us, he declares us to be just and righteous before him and not first to be in the covenant community.[6]

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