BY MARK HORNE
to no purpose do some anxiously ask here how justification and adoption differ from each other, and whether adoption is by nature prior to justification (as some hold, who think it is the first and immediate fruit of faith by which we are united and joined to Christ; or whether posterior to and consequent upon it, as others). For since it is evident from what has been said that justification is a benefit by which God (being reconciled to us in Christ) absolves us from the guilt of sins and gives us a right to life, it follows that adoption is included in justification itself as a part which, with the remission of sins, constitutes the whole of this benefit. Nor can it be distinguished from adoption except inasmuch as it is taken strictly for remission of sins, since in its formal conception it includes also acceptation to life, which flows from the imputation of Christ’s righteousness (Institutes, Vol. II, p. 668 / 16.6.7).
For God to give someone a relationship with himself is an inherently covenantal action. It is true that the prodigal son (Luke 15) could conceive of the idea of receiving some sort of forgiveness from his father without being restored to sonship, but his concept was quite obviously attenuated. If a father in that era were to say a son could only stay on the estate as a hired servant, he would be understandably perceived as disowning his son. Real forgiveness meant a restoration of the covenant relationship.
In short, if condemnation means expulsion from the covenant relationship then justification cannot fail to mean the restoration to the covenant relationship.
Now although this privilege as to the thing [adoption, righteousness before God] is common to all the believers of the Old Testament, no less than to those of the New, who were both sons of God and had a right to the heavenly inheritance (to which after death they were admitted), still it is certain that the condition of believers of the New Testament as to the mode is far better in this respect: they are no longer in an infantile age, held like slaves under teachers and the rudiments of the world, when the were not able to have either the sense or the use of their right, animated by the spirit of bondage. But now being adults and emancipated by Christ, they are admitted to the sanctuary of the Father and have a full sense and fruit of their right, the Spirit of adoption being received, in virtue of which they can confidently cry out, Abba, Father. Paul refers to this when he says, “Christ was made under the law to redeem them that were under the law” (to with, under the curse of the moral law and under the yoke of the ceremonial law) “that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Galatians 4.4, 5). Not that only by which we are separated from the children of wrath and the Devil, but also that by which we far excel infants, who do not differ from slaves.
Turretin goes on to refer back to his discussion of the covenant of grace (10.2), demonstrating that he sees adoption as a covenant identity.
We should note, in particular, that Paul’s effortless rewording of Gen 17:11 indicates clearly, what we have argued all along, that for him a primary meaning of “righteousness” was “covenant membership.” God says in Genesis that circumcision is “a sign of the covenant”; Paul says it was “a sign of righteousness.” He can hardly mean this as a radical alteration or correction, but rather as an explanation. The whole chapter (Genesis 15) is about the covenant that God made with Abraham, and Paul is spending his whole chapter expounding it; if he had wanted to avoid covenant theology he went about it in a strange way. Rather, we should see here powerful confirmation of the covenantal reading of “righteousness” language in 1:17 and 3:21-31. “He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the covenant membership marked by the faith he had while still uncircumcised” (Romans, 494-495).
Add to this how closely justification is tied to membership in Abraham’s family (Romans 4, Galations 3.23-4.6).
Then Phinehas stood up and intervened,
and the plague was stayed.
And that was counted to him as righteousness
from generation to generation forever (Psalm 106.30, 31).
What does being reckoned righteous entail? We are told in Numbers 25.11-13:
Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy. Therefore say, “Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace, and it shall be to him and to his descendants after him the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel.”
“As I entered into judgment with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will enter into judgment with you,” declares the Lord God. “And I shall make you pass under the rod, and I shall bring you into the bond of the covenant; and I shall purge from you the rebels and those who transgress against Me; I shall bring them out of the land where they sojourn, but they will not enter the land of Israel. Thus you will know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 20.37, 38).
In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt (Exodus 12.11-13; emphasis added).
God’s liberation of the Israelites takes place a courtroom situation. He is declaring and enforcing a judicial verdict in favor of his people and against the Egyptians. This is especially evident in the Passover meal, in which God judges the Egyptian gods who hold the Israelites captive, while providing escape from condemnation by the blood of a lamb or goat.
Thus there is judgment followed by being brought into a new or renewed covenant at Sinai, just as in Ezekiel’s prophecy and in the sequence of Genesis 15 itself. What all this might mean, I am not sure. But it certainly gives us reason to think of theological justification as being declared in right relation to God and thus a member of his covenant.
Thus Jesus says of his disciples that they are his friends because he shares in his doings, and he promises them that their requests will be granted by his Father:
You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you (John 15.14-16).
Jesus had said virtually the same thing about Abraham many centuries earlier.
Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him (Genesis 18.17-19).
The Lord proceeds to tell Abraham of his plan to visit Sodom and Abraham advices God to not to destroy the town for the sake as few as ten righteous men who might be there. No wonder Jehoshaphat called Abraham God’s friend (Second Chronicles 20.7) and that James followed his example. Being justified means being given access to God’s throneroom as a member of his council.
Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise (Galatians 3.23-29).
Remember, the reference to Abraham has been mentioned in the context of a discussion of the Abrahamic Covenent. God vindicated Israel from Egypt because “Israel is my firstborn son” (Exodus 4.22) and because “God remembered his covenant with Abraham” (Exodus 2.24). And so we are justified because we are sons in the Seed of Abraham.