Does honor-shame help us understand justification by faith?

Justification by faith — an honor-shame dynamic

The doctrine of justification by faith comes primarily from Apostle Paul’s letters—to the “Romans” and to the “Galatians”.

Over the past several months, I have been reading Romans in my devotional time. I have come to believe that an awareness of honor-shame dynamics may give added clarity to the Bible’s meaning about justification.

So I am finally returning to my blog with a series of posts on justification by faith.

For the purpose of establishing a baseline of understanding about justification by faith, let‘s begin with two quotes from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.

A right understanding of justification is absolutely crucial to the whole Christian faith. Once Martin Luther realized the truth of justification by faith alone, he became a Christian and overflowed with the new-found joy of the gospel. The primary issue in the Protestant Reformation was a dispute with the Roman Catholic Church over justification. If we are to safeguard the truth of the gospel for future generations, we must understand the truth of justification. Even today, a true view of justification is the dividing line between the biblical gospel of salvation by faith alone and all false gospels of salvation based on good works. [1]

Just what is justification? We may define it as follows: Justification is an instantaneous legal act of God in which he (1) thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us, and (2) declares us to be righteous in his sight.[2]

Here is another quote; it’s from Kevin Vanhoozer’s Biblical Authority after Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity(I am about midway through reading this book.)

Lutheran theologians came to view justification as “the article by which the church stands or falls.” Philip Schaff calls justification by faith the “material principle” of the Reformation and the sum of the gospel. It is essentially the retrieval of Paul’s doctrine that God declares us righteous on the merits of Christ alone through faith alone. … What we can say is that Paul is addressing not a Jewish legalism narrowly conceived but the more radical and widespread tendency of sinners to justify themselves, either morally or intellectually.[3]

Justification by faith is “absolutely crucial to the whole Christian faith” … “the article by which the church stands or falls” … the “material principle” of the Protestant Reformation … “the sum of the gospel”.

What I want to explore it this: Will an awareness of honor-shame dynamics in various Scripture passages concerning justification help us gain even more respect for this great doctrine—and deepen our motivation for love and obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ?

Below is a list of topics I plan write about in the coming weeks. By God’s grace I’ll write one post for each of the twelve topics concerning justification by faith. In each post I will highlight a passage of Scripture that features the word “justification”, “justify”, or “justified”—and then apply the hermeneutical key of honor-shame to hopefully shed some added light on its meaning.

  1. Justification by faith is God’s means of salvation—in part to “exclude boasting” before God on the part of all humanity (Rom 3:23–27).
  2. Justification by faith is central to the honorific mission of God to bless all the peoples of the earth (Rom 3:29–30; Rom 4:16–18).
  3. Justification by faith relativizes the privileged status of “the circumcised”—the Jews (Rom 3:30).
  4. Justification by faith makes possible the elevated honor status of Gentiles by being included in the people of God (Rom 3:30; cf: Eph 2:19).
  5. Justification by faith makes possible the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham—to bless all the peoples of the earth, thus preserving God’s honor and glorious reputation (Gen 12:1–3; John 12:27–28; Rom 4:16).
  6. Justification by faith entitles the sinner to the royal honorific blessing—like King David himself—of having sins and iniquities forgiven (Rom 4:1–8).
  7. Justification by faith places the believer into the honorific family lineage of ancient Abraham, our “father” in the faith—with whom we are co-heirs (Rom 4:9-25, Gal 3:1–29).
  8. Justification by faith glorifies God (Rom 4:20), while exposing all human honor claims as false glory.
  9. Justification by faith places us into the honorific status of peace with God, thus honorific access to God—through the reconciling work of the regal Lord, the Messiah-King, our Savior Jesus (Rom 5:1–2).
  10. Justification by faith gives believers a new source of honor in Christ, and therefore a new present and future glory—for the honorific practice of “boasting” in God (Rom 5:1–11, esp. v. 2, 3, 11).
  11. Justification by faith is the way that grace reigns in eternal life over sin and death (Rom 5:12–21).
  12. Justification by faith is God’s way for believers to have their longing for honor and glory satisfied in Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 8:12–30)—–“provided we suffer with him” (Rom 8:17).

Justification by faith—indeed, it is a glorious and honorific doctrine.

I look forward to writing about justification by faith in the light of the Bible’s honor-shame dynamics. I anticipate learning much. May healthy conversations arise from our exploration.


1. Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (p. 722). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

2. Ibid., p. 723.

3. Vanhoozer, Kevin J.. Biblical Authority after Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity (Kindle Locations 2145–2153). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. For the phrase, “the article by which the church stands or falls”, Vanhoozer cites Johann Heinrich Alsted’s Theologia scholastica didacta (Hanover, 1618). Vanhoozer also cites Philip Schaaf’s Principle of Protestantism, 80.


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