Saturday, August 07, 2010

Simul iustus et peccator (2)

Oh dear, this is getting more obscure in my mind instead of clearer.  Nevertheless, I heroically press on with what is likely to be a series of questions rather than answers...

To push the dialectic theme a bit further, and perhaps to locate it at a deeper and more important place:  What is the relationship between the righteousness of Christ and the righteous acts of the Christian?

Again, one could envisage a straightforward relationship, perhaps even a relationship of identity.  I don't think Scripture allows us to tread that path.  Christ's righteousness is once-for-all, and is now in heaven.  He doesn't require our participation (in this sense) to complete who he is and what he has done.  Jesus' righteousness and the Christian's righteous deeds cannot be identified in a straightforward manner at all.

I think I prefer to say - because I think this is what comes across in the Pauline writings especially - that the righteous deeds of the Christian are an answer (temporal, partial, inadequate, but nevertheless real) to the righteousness of Christ which is extended to the believer.  Christ's righteousness (which is also my righteousness by faith) is one thing; my righteous acts are another thing, which relate to the former as a witness.  To put it another way, an absolute monarch could make an absolute proclamation; if his subjects say 'yes' to it, it adds nothing to the proclamation, but merely shows their approval, their belief in the rightness of the proclamation.  Does that make sense?

So I think there is a heavenly/earthly dialectic going on here.  My righteousness is Christ, who is in heaven; my reply to that righteousness is righteous deeds.

But has anything really changed in me?

The answer is yes, but I won't write about it until Monday at least.


  1. 1 question:
    can i ask what you think you're
    (a) gaining
    (b) potentially giving away

    when you use the (quite loaded) term, dialectic?

    1 comment:
    I find your language of righteous "acts" unsettling. I can't understand if you're trying to work out (a) the relationship between Christ who is the righteousness of God, and acts we do (I'd rather talk about acts we do in righteousness, rather than righteous acts we do) or (b) the relationship between our justification (done)/sanctification (being done)

    *NB I dont find the terms justification/sanctification particularly helpful in terms of mapping well onto biblical theology - "J'n"/"S'n" are not particularly consecutive in scripture, even if the doctrines so termed are (crucially) theologically consecutive.

  2. In answer to the question - I'm not hugely attached to the term, and I'm aware that it opens up potential difficulties. Perhaps I've just been reading undue amounts of continental philosophy and theology recently! I suppose I am just using it to mean: 'two things which stand in dynamic but not straightforward relationship'. I can't think of a better shorthand for that.

    In reply to your comment - you're surely right about justification/sanctification, since Scripture uses both terms to describe one-off occurrences. (Although I don't think it ever uses justification except in relation to one-off occurrences - am I right?)

    Anyway, I suppose one of the things I'm pondering is whether there is any difference between your a and b. I'm not sure at the moment. I really am thinking out loud here, and I'm not sure what I'm saying even makes sense, let alone relating to reality! I suppose I'm trying to talk around the subject a bit in the hope that when I zero in on something a bit like a positive doctrine I will have a better understanding of what I'm saying.

    It would be helpful to know: what do you think the distinction is between your (a) and (b)? How would you think those two questions relate to one another?

  3. Oh, the other gain in using the word 'dialectic' is that it holds out the hope of a resolution to the tension, in this case an eschatological resolution. This pleases me.