The Grace of the Holy Spirit vs. ‘Exemptive’ Grace Justification

     It seems to me that the juridical (legal) translation of δικαιοσὐνη as “justification” (rather than “righteousness”) in our Bibles actually comes with an assumption (or even an agenda). Namely,  to justify an exemption from existential engagement with the Way of the Cross. That is, ironically, Grace is taken as an exit ramp from participation in Grace!
     Bonhoeffer’s critique of Luther (remembering that Bonhoeffer was Lutheran) was along these lines. In The Cost of Discipleship, he condemns the cheap grace that says, “Not only do you not need to obey the Sermon on the Mount, to presume to do so is to deny the gospel, which says you can’t, you mustn’t, and you aren’t even invited to.” To this, I can only offer the closing words of the Sermon at the end of Matthew 7: “Here is the wise man who builds his house on the rock: it is the one who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice.”
     Alas, those I know who’ve taken ‘exemptive grace’ even further than Luther reply, “The Sermon on the Mount is Old Covenant, as are all of Jesus’ teachings prior to the Cross, including the Lord’s Prayer” (where we ask the Father to forgive us). They fail to hear Christ establishing the New Covenant in his opening sermon in Luke 4, where having announced Isaiah’s New Covenant prophecy of Jubilee, our Lord says, TODAY this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” They hear “It is finished” from the Cross as if Christ were saying, “It is started,” thus sweeping away his whole Incarnation, ministry, gospel preaching, and discipleship training.
     No. Far from a denial of Grace, the Incarnation of Christ, from Mary’s womb forward, is the appearance of the Grace that empowers those who hear Jesus’ call to follow. In that sense, juridical justification or ‘imputed righteousness’ tends to exempt ‘believers’ from being ‘followers’ and says, ‘He took up the Cross so you won’t need to.’
     I appreciate Lazar Puhalo’s Eastern Orthodox references to Grace (note the upper-case G for the divine Person). Grace, for me, is not an abstracted certificate of pardon from participation, but rather, ‘the Grace of the Holy Spirit’ speaks of the indwelling, transforming, uncreated energies of God the Holy Spirit who “transfigures us from glory to glory into the image of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 3:18). This Grace is alive, active, and comprises the dynamic, existential, day-to-day experience of Christ in us.
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Brad Jersak

Bradley Jersak is an author and teacher based in Abbotsford, BC. He serves as a reader and monastery preacher at All Saints of North America Orthodox Monastery. Read More