The question, in light of liberal "Christianity" (I put it in quotation marks, because largely it seems to put itself right outside of Christianity; see the "curriculum" mentioned a couple of posts ago), is: "Can Justification mean anything today?" (p.54)
In liberal theology, the "focus changes from Christ to the needs of man, which are not seen in the context of sin and grace. Thus mainline denominations are dying and dying quickly", writes Harrison (p,55) The Gospel is recast into different context and loses Christ.
Harrison quotes Amos:
"Behold, the days are coming," declares the Lord God, "when I will send a famine on the land--not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it." Amos 8:11-12.
What a famine this is. From here we get some interesting illustrations.
Traveling the world, I have seen the best and the worst of humanity. I have seen the oppressed and the oppressor. I have met Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Protestants, Catholics, Animists, and tribe after indigenous tribe. There is no more fundamental desire of the human race than justification, that is, to justify one's being and existence. It is a human universal. I justify my wealth. I justify the time spent working away from family. I justify the approach I have taken toward my children. I justify the treatment of my wife. I justify my value to my employer. I justify my right to pennies from a wealthier man. I justify my right to your money. I justify my plea for various commodities of humanitarian aid. I justify lethargy. I justify my thievery by lying to others and believing the lies myself. I justify my tribe's hatred of "those people." Universally practiced and understood, the language of "justification" is a fundamental phenomenon of life in society.
There are other ways at looking at justification as a universal need/famine. Harrison supplies a quote from Oswald Bayer, who according to the footnote is a retired professor of systematic theology from Tuebingen. The book is Living by Faith: Justification and Sanctification.
There is no escaping the questions and evaluations of others. If one accepts and welcomes the other or not, if one greets the other or not, if one acknowledged the other--either through praise or reproach, affirmation or negation--or if one does not acknowledge the other and regards the others as worthless, a decision is made concerning our being or non-being. Only a being that is recognized and acknowledged is a being that is alive. If no one were to call and greet me by name, if no one were ready to speak to me and look at me, then I would be socially nonexistent.
In this sense we are all beggars. Without the acknowledgment of others we don't really exist socially. We deal with this in many ways and Harrison gives a number of examples, which I've had to think about. You should get the book. I can't put it all here.
The chapter finishes with God's answer to these universal problems. We receive the proper teaching of justification. "By nature, every person knows something of God's Law (Romans 2:14) and each person knows just enough to think he can justify himself. However, justification and the peace it brings is a gift." ( p. 58).
We learn about the wrong path of self-justification and find the beautiful Bible passages, teaching grace through faith, the undeserved gift from God himself.
"But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many... If because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:15, 17, emphasis added by Harrison). (p.59)One more important paragraph deals with mankind's customary ways of justifying itself. This also needs to be recognized:
We are justified not because of something that has changed within us. Adoplf Koeberle's book the Quest for Holiness demonstrated how perpetual attempts at self-justification occur along three persistent paths; attempts at perfecting the mind, the will, and the emotions. In real life, it works out this way: The intellectual seeks to comprehend and define the divine. The moralist strives to possess pure moral thought and action. The mystic seeks to empty himself of everything that is not "god" and seeks to feel god by his ecstatic presence. All three of these are fruits from the same tree.
All of this is the antithesis of grace. "For Christ's sake" we are just. The definitive work in justification is outside us, not inside us. This work was performed by Jesus Christ, not us, and it occurred on Golgotha more than two thousand years ago. "It is finished!" Jesus cried out from the cross (John 19:30). The apostle Paul explains: In Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself" (2 corinthians5:19). This act transcends all of history. It was justification for me and for everyone who ever lived before and after Jesus. Peter testifies" there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved". (Acts 4:12)
In reflecting on this entire section, I think we find here a little apologetic written for liberals and for moralists alike, to explain how and why justification is the heart of the heart of our lives and of merciful action for neighbors. Without forgiveness of sins of sinners, without the atonement, the shedding of blood, the death of God to salvage us--we have nothing to work with, hope for, live for, nothing to be justified by, nothing our neighbor is justified by. In your quest for unity, do not jettison the thing that really matters, that really unites us. Please, think it over. We also find the Gospel proclaimed to us here. It is a chance for all of us to hear it again and to ponder it. What struck me today was the "how much more" in the Romans 5:15-17 passage. If we think that our sins is so great, we should know that God's free gift and righteousness is even greater. It is all encompassing.
One could really go launching into a lot of things here, but I'll stop myself, except to say that where we have this proper confession of Christ as Lord, God, and Savior, we also have a love that is quite unfathomable. Pastor Bror Erickson wrote about it beautifully, the other morning.
Where I meet another blood-bought brother or sister, there is what Paul said to the Galatians: "For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them for me."