Posted by: smstrouse | October 28, 2010

Can ‘Justification’ Be Redeemed?”

It’s Reformation time again – that peculiarly Lutheran high holy day, when we get to highlight the core teaching of Lutheranism: ‘justification by grace through faith’.  But what does that mean???

I’ve been re-listening to my CDs from the “Speaking Christian: Redeeming Christian Langauge” seminar this past summer.  As an exercise, we were asked to write down the first things we thought when we heard certain words – words like salvation, redemption, righteousness – you know, the BIG church words. Among the 100-some, clergy/lay mix, the results were overwhelmingly negative. Yikes! If this is the reaction to our language of faith – by church people! – how are the unchurched or the ‘church alumni society’ hearing it?

Which brings us to ‘justification.’ OK, I know, it means that I’m made right with God. I have been taken off the hook for all my many sins.  But what if I’ve never been wrong with God?  Yes, I must pay attention to the sins I commit; I must continually repent and turn back to the Source of my life.  But what if I don’t start my evaluation of my relationship with God with what is wrong, but instead begin with the awareness of my rightness, my belovedness in God’s eyes? Even when I DO something wrong, I AM right with God.

What then does this do to the idea of our need for justification? As far as I’m concerned, as long as we emphasize the ‘by grace’ part, then ‘justification by grace’ is OK with me. Although I think we still need to get creative about redeeming (?) a whole lot of our language.  If we truly want to convey the gospel of liberation through the extravagant goodness of God, then maybe ‘justification by grace through faith’ won’t work in our world today. But then what will?




  1. Yes, most of the church language needs scrubbing to make sense in the 21st century.

    Paul Tillich (theologian, 20th c.) wrote that The Issue in Jesus’ time was Death; in medieval times (Luther) it was Sin/Justification; in the modern era it is Meaning.

    So that’s a big shift in purpose, message and language for the Church to catch up with.

    A suggestion: instead of “justification by grace through faith”… “the fullness of Life as gift lived in faith.”

    P.S. As I was leaving seminary many years ago, trying to make sense of what value it had been, I realized one thing. For me the core of Lutheranism was not sin & grace issues, but the Protestant Principle — the ongoing need for re-evaluation, re-formation. Not the weight of Law but the (en)lightening of Grace. Not blinded adherence to the Letter of tradition but the creative liberation of Spirit — in all things, constantly renewing.

    Just a thought.



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