I don’t get to meet world-class theologians everyday. But I did meet D. A. Carson a few years ago on my visit to Covenant Seminary. Though I didn’t know this when I scheduled my visit, it just so happened that Dr. Carson would be speaking that day, and part of my visit was to attend his lecture. Let’s mark that one down as a happy Providence.
After Carson spoke, I approached him with some concerns. Not with his talk, of course, which was brilliant, but personal concerns — things I was wrestling with at the time.
At this point, I was in my mid-twenties and felt called to pastoral ministry, but I was struggling with the call because of two Bible verses that always seem to haunt me:
1. Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, for you know those who teach will be judged more strictly (James 3:1).
2. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil (2 Corinthians 5:10).
When I spoke with Carson, I quoted both verses verbatim. I thought he’d be impressed. “Wow, this young kid knows this Bible really well.” He didn’t even blink or show any emotion. I guess it’s hard to impress a guy who reads 500+ books a year.
Anyway, after I quoted these verses, I said to Carson, “And because of those two verses, I feel reluctant, and I’m not sure I should go into ministry. What do you think I should do?”
So I asked him a question. And like any good teacher, Carson answered my question with a question of his own. “Well, how will you be justified after your ministry?”
I knew the answer intellectually. But I couldn’t quite articulate what I wanted to say because of nervousness or timidity or whatever. I think Carson sensed that, and he finished my statement for me:
“It’s only by his blood. Your justification has already come by what Christ has already done; not how well you perform in ministry. If you’re called, you need to move forward in ministry, for worse for you would be disobedience.”
That was exactly what I needed to hear. It was less than a two minute conversation, but it was one that I’ll always remember. I’m so grateful that Carson pointed me to the doctrine of justification.
The Doctrine of Justification
Wayne Grudem talks about the doctrine of justification in Systematic Theology:
“The use of the word justify in the Bible indicates that justification is a legal declaration by God. The verb justify in the New Testament has a range of meanings, but a very common sense is “to declare righteous.” . . . God declares the ungodly to be righteous in his sight, not on the basis of their good works, but in response to their faith.”
The doctrine of justification is good news indeed. It’s good news for new Christian mom who can’t seem to handle a crying baby. It’s good news for the pastor who’s church attendance is dwindling. It’s good news for the wildly successful businessman who’s struggling with his identity. The doctrine of justification tells us that — success or failure, good or bad, high or low — God has already justified you because of Christ. And while you may have things to improve, you certainly have nothing to prove. For the spiritual blessings you long for, in Christ, you already have.
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