John Frame on the Forensic Nature of Justification

John Frame (2013) discusses the forensic nature of justification in this way:

The language [for justification in the Westminster Larger Catechism] is forensic, that is, the language of a law court. In that court God is the Judge, and we are on trial for our sins – both the sin of Adam and the sins that we have committed in this life. The wages of sin is death, so clearly we deserve to die. But Jesus has taken that death penalty in our place. So the divine Judge turns to us and pronounces us not guilty. Indeed, he even goes beyond that, as a secular judge would never do, and says that we are positively righteous because of Christ. That is our justification.

It is important to distinguish between justification and sanctification, though Roman Catholic theology makes them overlap. In justification, God declares us righteous; in sanctification, he makes us righteous. Justification is forensic. It is about our legal status, not our inner character. For the important thing is that in justification God justifies theungodly, those who by their inner character are wicked. Contrary to Roman Catholicism, God does not justify us because he likes our inner character, even because he likes what he himself has done with us (our “infused” righteousness). He justifies us only because of Christ.

In Scripture, many passages indicate the forensic nature of justification. In Deuteronomy 25:1, judges in Israel are to justify the righteous and condemn the wicked. Clearly, this mean that judges are to declare the innocence of the righteous and the wickedness of the wicked. It cannot mean that judges are to make people righteous or wicked. In Luke 7:29, we read that some people “declared God just,” literally, “justified God” (as in the KJV), because of Jesus’ words. Clearly, that cannot mean that the people made God just. “Declared God just” is the correct translation.

In Romans 4:5, God “justifies the ungodly” apart from works. Since it is apart from works, justify cannot mean “to make righteous,” only “to declare righteous.” In Romans 8:33-34 and other passages, the word justify is the opposite of condemn. But condemn means “to declare someone guilty,” not “to make the person guilty.” Thus, it makes sense to take justify to mean “declare righteous.”

This is the consistent meaning of justify throughout Paul’s writings, when he is talking about the justification of sinners unto salvation (see Rom. 3:20, 26, 28; 5:1; 8:30; 10:4, 10; Gal. 2:15; 3:24) (pp. 966-967).

What then do we make of the relationship between sanctification and justification? Frame (2013) later notes that “justification, adoption, and subjective salvation are ‘inseparable.’ They are not synonymous, nor is one the ground of the other. But they are never found apart, and each proves the presence of the others. The point is this: that the redeemed man is justified, adopted, and sanctified” (p. 971).

Frame, J. M. (2013). Systematic theology: An introduction to Christian belief. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing.

The Changing Politics of Church Property

Church in city skyline

For centuries churches have marked the American landscape. They have stood as icons in the middle of towns, their steeples pointing to a higher reality. But this may no longer be the case. As America continues to urbanize and secularize, and as dying churches shut down and sell off their property, finding a place in the heart of a town or city may be increasingly difficult to do.

I came across an interesting article from Betty Bean discussing this very issue in Knoxville, Tennessee. Bean relays these details:

Former City Council member Carlene Malone says it’s time to reconsider churches’ legal status.

“We’re not looking at churches as perhaps they really are today. We need to realize that this is not the little neighborhood church that’s going to stick around forever. It’s a business model. Land is held like a portfolio, and when the time comes to sell, even though they bought it at residential or agricultural prices, they want to sell it commercial – at commercial prices.”

Malone said that modern mega churches are a far cry from the traditional concept of churches that are active on Sundays and Wednesday nights.

“These are not small uses – not to say they are bad things – but their impact is greater than the old neighborhood churches. The other thing is, what happens when they leave? Do we continue to allow them as use on review in residential neighborhoods because we think they have low impacts, when actually they may well be seeking to expand – and if they don’t expand, they may well move? Or is it time we start looking at them as the business model they actually operate under rather than looking at them as enhancements to neighborhoods?”

This excerpt highlights a number of interesting features in the changing politics of church property…

  • A church is seen more as a “business model” with a portfolio. We will let lie all that stands behind this comment, but the point is churches are seen, at least in Knoxville, as businesses that may need to fend for themselves in the market.
  • A church is no longer considered a low-impact center, but potentially a high-traffic, logistical nuisance to a community (even if the actual activities are good).
  • A church is more aggressive and more transient. It is more aggressive in that it may attempt to acquire more land. And yet, it may be more transient as it potentially shuts down or moves on. This combination is troublesome to many communities.

Of course, we could debate each of these claims, but the point is people like Malone offer a helpful look into the changing perspective on churches and their connection to local real estate. Finding a home for a new church may be more difficult than ever.

Because of these challenges, moving or failing churches will need to think more carefully about how they steward the property they are leaving behind. For example, for the sake of the Kingdom, would it be better to partner with another church than sell off property? Or, for the sake of the Kingdom, could a seller deliberately wait for a buyer that will use the church as a church?

In my opinion, these are questions we need to carefully consider in the coming years of American Christianity. What say you?

Pastor as Overseer

If leadership is largely influence (Northouse, 2012), then pastors are leaders. Yet, this perspective on the pastorate is something that many evangelicals have shied away from. For example, one author and former pastor, Jared Wilson, questions the usefulness of the leadership approach to pastoral work. Wilson (2013) sardonically writes:

Enter the leadership cult. What we need is know-how, the publishing Powers-That-Be reason. We lack skills, practical helps, and insider tips, and they’ve got just the evangelical gurus to deliver the goods. Don’t you want to leverage your synergy and catalyze your visioneering? Don’t you want to know the seven highly effective and irrefutable laws of unlocking the mystery of who moved your cheese’s parachute? Are you a starfish or a spider? This is all key to revealing the quality ministry hidden inside of you and to taking your church to a whole ‘nother level. (p. 27)

He then goes on to cite the “417 Rules of Awesomely Bold Leadership.”

No doubt you hear echoes of Stanley, Maxwell, Covey, and others in Wilson’s remarks. Having read some of these folks, I can certainly chuckle along with his sarcasm here. The “leadership cult” which he describes can become quite silly. The discussion of leadership can be too simple, too traits and skills driven. The focus can shift away from trusting God to trusting techniques. But in writing so derisively of pastoral work and leadership, I am afraid authors like Wilson will drive pastors away from all discussions of leadership in ministry. This is not helpful.

Pastors are leaders. They have important leadership functions, and we would be wise to consider what these functions are, and yes, how they differ from the world’s definition of leadership. For this reason, I appreciate a recent article from D.A. Carson on the pastor as overseer.

In his article, Some Reflections on Pastoral Leadership, Carson notes the threefold titling of the New Testament for the pastor. This office is synonymously referred to as pastor/elder/overseer.  Carson then remarks that a great deal of discussion surrounds the concepts of pastor and elder, but there has been little discussion about the pastor as overseer. Carson (2015) writes:

Almost no attention, however, has been paid to the particular overtones cast up by the word “overseer.” Of course, something of oversight is taking place if one is actively attempting to find and train new elders, or if one is leading the other elders and the congregation itself in a difficult instance of church discipline, or if one is laying out a long-term preaching/teaching program. But it is worth pausing to reflect on why, when the chief ecclesiastical office is mentioned, “overseer” is one of the three terms used to describe it. (p. 196)

He then describes a particular church that suffered a major decline. What caused the decline? Carson (2015) answers, “[O]ne big factor, perhaps the biggest, that contributed to this decline, it was that the man, though an able preacher, was a poor leader—i.e., he almost entirely ignored his episcopal responsibilities” (p. 196).

Carson (2015) then concludes his article with this salient paragraph:

As important and central as is the ministry of the Word of God, the thoughtful pastor/elder/overseer will devote time and energy to casting a vision, figuring out the steps for getting there, building the teams and structures needed for discharging ministry and training others, building others up, thinking through the various ways in which the gospel can be taught at multiple levels to multiple groups within the church, how to extend faithful evangelism and church planting, how to engage the surrounding world as faithful believers, and much more. Just because a person is an able preacher does not necessarily make him an able pastor/elder/overseer. Indeed, if he shows no propensity for godly oversight, then no matter how good a teacher he may be, he is not qualified to be a pastor/teacher/overseer. It is not for nothing that Scripture applies all three labels to the one office. (p. 197)

If it was not the preeminent New Testament scholar D.A. Carson writing this, we might be scandalized by this strong assertion. But I hope Carson’s remarks here will spark a deeper discussion about what it means to view the pastor as an overseer (i.e., leader). Let’s not go overboard with the “leadership gurus,” but let us also not neglect this important aspect of pastoral work.


Carson, D. A. (2015). Some Reflections on Pastoral Leadership. Themelios, 40(2). Retrieved from

Northouse, P. G. (2012). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th edition). Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Wilson, J. C. (2013). The Pastor’s justification: Applying the work of Christ in your life and ministry. Wheaton: Crossway Books.

Does Science Argue for God’s Existence?

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Can We Talk About Abortion?

I want to start a conversation.

My mind has been awhirl with the abortion debate and the newly disclosed horrors of Planned Parenthood. I have a million thoughts and feelings right now but no conclusions. So, I have decided to enlist your help and begin with a simple discussion.

I have so many questions, and I genuinely hope to hear from you.

To my older and wiser family and friends, those who have seen the Pro-life movement wax and wane, what advice do you have? How should we move forward? What should we do?

To my student friends, high school and college, how do you view this topic? Your generation has been so vocal about so many causes. How do you think about this one? Is abortion important? Why or why not?

To my more liberal Christian friends, what are your thoughts? How does this topic fit into your thoughts of social justice?

To my pro-choice friends, is there any way for us to talk? Will this always be a “agree-to-disagree” thing? Are you bothered by the recent videos from The Center for Medical Progress? How have you been processing this situation?

I would love to hear everyone’s thoughts. Don’t be shy; please leave a comment.