Conversations in Reformed biblical theology

justification (2)

Justification and deliverance

As we have seen, a key insight that the Reformers recovered is that justification is a forensic act: it is God’s judicial declaration that the justified one is in the right in the eyes of His courtroom. To justify means, not to make righteous, but to declare righteous.

However, the forensic character of justification in Scripture does not negate the fact that it is frequently treated as event, rather than a naked verbal statement. It will be noted that judges in the Bible (unlike in modern society) were rulers and deliverers. Justification by a judge entailed a vindication which was not merely verbal. If the righteous one was under oppression and was justified, justification meant deliverance from his oppressor. The judges of the book by that name were sent by God to deliver Israel out of the hand of the enemies which Yahweh had sent against her during her times of apostasy. The event of deliverance was thus a renewed declaration that Yahweh again considered Israel “righteous” - a covenant partner in good standing, and “in the right” in His eyes.

This biblical background has forced Reformed thinkers to reflect upon how the forensic character of justification ought to be understood in connection with deliverance. Among other things, Peter Leithart has coined the term “deliverdict” as a way of saying that justifying verdicts are also acts of deliverance.

Clearly, this is a subject that demands great care, in order to preserve the forensic character of justification (and thus also preserve the genuine advances in the understanding of justification which took place at the time of the Reformation). But Scripture mandates that we stretch ourselves and our theology to its pattern, and not the reverse, and so further study and discussion is healthy and necessary, if carried out with care and devotion to the authority of the Word of God.


Disclaimer: inclusion of material in the bibliography implies neither endorsement of all views expressed in the material, nor that the author of the material endorses (or, if deceased, would have endorsed) the views of this web site. The criterion for inclusion of material in this list is genuine helpfulness to the discussion, not uniformity of viewpoint.

Richard Gaffin, Jr.: Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul's Soteriology. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1987 [1978]). An important study in the relationship between Christ’s resurrection and the salvation of the believer. A biblical-theological advance in our understanding of union with Christ as the heart of salvation.

Tim Gallant: “These Are Two Covenants:  The Mosaic Law in Paul’s Thought.” (In Abiding in the Vine: Essays in Covenant Life, forthcoming,  Athanasius Press, 2004.) Argues that “cosmic redemption,” entailing a transfer between two salvation-historical ages, is fundamental to Paul’s doctrine of justification. Builds upon the line of thought developed by Peter Leithart, below.

Mark Horne:  “Freed From Sin:  John Piper’s Crusade and Romans 6.7.” In his recent book, Counted Righteous in Christ, Piper attempts to refute Robert Gundry’s view, that Romans 6.7’s employment of “justification” language has to do with deliverance from sin.  Horne shows that Piper’s view is novel, while also taking issue with Gundry’s formulation.

Peter J. Leithart: “‘Judge Me, O God’: Biblical Perspectives on Justification.” (In The Federal Vision; Steve Wilkins and Duane Garner, eds. Monroe, LA:  Athanasius Press, 2004, pp. 203-235.) A ground-breaking work which reminds us that “legal” and “forensic” categories are broader in Scripture than in our own experience.  Biblical judges effected changes in the situation of the “justified.” The issue of deliverance is therefore tightly bound up to biblical categories of justification. Much pregnant material for fruitful reflection.

Rich Lusk: “Justification:  Ecclesial, Cosmic, and Divine:  Rounding out the Traditional Doctrine of Justification.” Further helpful follow-through on the thought that biblical justification pertains to liberation.


Jesus’ resurrection is the paradigmatic case of justification. We are justified because we are joined to the One who has been justified by being raised from the dead. Since Jesus’ justification is the pattern of our justification, our justification must likewise involve deliverance from the power of death and from the threat of enemies, including the enemies of sin and Satan.... This is still a “forensic” act, but it is “forensic” in the full biblical sense; God in Christ justifies and vindicates as Divine Warrior as well as Judge.

- Peter J. Leithart, “Judge Me, O God,” p 227