An ecumenical treatment of the extra nos character of justification

on August 20th, 2014 by admin | No Comments »

An important aspect of the discussion of justification in the Catholic-Lutheran text From Conflict to Communion is the way it handles the extra nos (outside of us) character of the Christian’s righteousness according to Luther. For Luther, the only righteous that can avail before the judgment of God is the righteousness of Christ, in which the justified participate by faith. That participation does not mean, however, that Christ and the justified person somehow merge. They remain distinct and so the most fundamental attitude of the Christian is trust and dependence on Christ, who remains extra nos, outside of us in the sense of distinct from us.
The Catholic worry has been that this emphasis on a righteousness that remains outside of us leaves the justified just as they were, mired in sin. Has grace been reduced to a legal fiction, in which God pretends not to notice that we remain sinners?
Both for a true picture of Luther’s theology and for ecumenical understanding, it is important that From Conflict to Communion states:
“The image [the joyful exchange, in which we receive Christ’s righteousness and Christ takes our sin] slows that something external, namely Christ’s righteousness, becomes something internal. It becomes the property of the soul, but only in union with Christ through truth in his promises, not in separation from him. Luther insists that our righteousness is totally external because it is Christ’s righteousness, but it has to become totally internal by faith in Christ. Only if both sides are equally emphasized is the reality of salvation properly understood” (§108).
“Thus, our righteousness is external insofar as it is Christ’s righteousness, but it must become our righteousness, that is, internal, by faith in Christ’s promise” (§112)
That Luther’s understanding of justification is ‘forensic’ is not denied. But: “If God declares someone righteous, this changes his or her situation and creates a new reality. God’s judgment does not remain ‘outside’ the human being” (§115).

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