On Our Relationship to God: A Quote from Justin, the Martyr

Here’s a little something from Justin, the Martyr on our relationship to God that I found interesting and I am wonder what you think:

“We have been taught and firmly believe that he accepts only those who imitate the good things which are his – temperance and righteousness and love of mankind, and whatever else truly belongs to the God who is called by no given name.  We have also been taught that in the beginning he in his goodness formed all things that are for the sake of men out of unformed matter, and if they show themselves by their actions worthy of his plan, we have learned that they will be counted worthy of dwelling with him, reigning together and made free from corruption and suffering.  For as he made us in the beginning when we were not, so we hold that those who choose what is pleasing to him will, because of that choice, be counted worthy of incorruption and of fellowship (with him).  We did not bring ourselves into being – but as to following after the things that are dear to God, choosing them by the rational powers which he has given us – this is a matter of conviction and leads us to faith.  We hold it to be for the good of all men that they are not prevented from learning these things, but are even urged to (consider) them.”[1]

While realizing that this quote is only a small portion of what Justin the Martyr wrote, here some questions to consider:  What sort of theology of the gospel does this statement appear to espouse?  Is there anything that strikes you as unusual or different from the gospel you have been taught and come to believe and/or hear being preached and taught in contemporary Christianity?

 


          [1] Justin, the Martyr, The First Apology of Justin 10, the Martyr, in Early Christian Fathers, ed. Cyril C. Richardson (New York: Touchtone, 1996), 247.

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16 responses to “On Our Relationship to God: A Quote from Justin, the Martyr

  1. Two things jumped out at me.

    #1. “the God who is called by no given name”
    God has a name, which was revealed to Moses.

    #2. “formed all things that are for the sake of men out of unformed matter”
    Justin appears to believe in creation from something, rather than creation from nothing.

    There are possibly some other things, since some of what he is saying could be understood in different ways.

    • Actually, God never revealed a name for himself. Instead he just said to Moses “I Am Who I Am” (Ex 3.14, NRSV). As far as “formed all things…”, I would be interesting to know what the actuall Latin word being translated as “formed” (I don’t read Latin) because I know in Hebrew the word BaRa’ can be translated as “create, form, shape” which is why Old Testament scholars remind systematic theologians that the Doctrine of Creation (out of nothing) is not as tidy as one would assume from reading a systematic theology book.

      Any ways, later tonite I will share some of what stands out to me. Thanks for your comment.

      Grace and peace,

      Rex

      • If God hadn’t revealed His name, why did He command them not to take His name in vain?

        Justin’s doctrine about creation appears to have been influenced by Greek thought – that matter is eternal. I believe the Bible teaches that only God is eternal, at least implicitly.

      • My understanding of ‘taking the Lord’s name in vain’ is more about treating what is holy (God, in this case) as unholy/profane. Also, remember that from the Greco-Roman period on, Jews no longer spoke of God (Elohim) as “Yahweh” (the personal name they referred to God as).

  2. WHat I find interesting…

    First, is the place Justin gives to our actions…”he accepts only those who imitate the good things which are his” and “if they show themselves by their actions worthy of his plan, we have learned that they will be counted worthy of dwelling with him, reigning together and made free from corruption and suffering.”

    Second, he speaks of us having a choice as to whether we are faithful to God… “so we hold that those who choose what is pleasing to him will, because of that choice, be counted worthy of incorruption and of fellowship (with him).”

    Yet he can also speak of the necessity of obedience by choice and still speak of God’s grace and faith… “We did not bring ourselves into being – but as to following after the things that are dear to God, choosing them by the rational powers which he has given us – this is a matter of conviction and leads us to faith.”

  3. OK K. Rex, 😎
    Here is what say I, about what said you: –“Here’s a little something from Justin, the Martyr on our relationship to God that I found interesting and I am wonder what you think:”:

    “We have been taught and firmly believe that he accepts only those who imitate the good things which are his – temperance and righteousness and love of mankind, and whatever else truly belongs to the God who is called by no given name.”
    –What God’s Word says: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2: 8-10). –dc

    “We have also been taught that in the beginning he in his goodness formed all things that are for the sake of men out of unformed matter,”
    — First God created, and then God formed things out of what He had created. (Read carefully Genesis 1).
    “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1-3). “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14). –dc

    “and if they show themselves by their actions worthy of his plan,we have learned that they will be counted worthy of dwelling with him, reigning together and made free from corruption and suffering. For as he made us in the beginning when we were not, so we hold that those who choose what is pleasing to him will, because of that choice, be counted worthy of incorruption and of fellowship (with him).”
    –What God’s Word says: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2: 8-10). –dc

    “We did not bring ourselves into being – but as to following after the things that are dear to God, choosing them by the rational powers which he has given us – this is a matter of conviction and leads us to faith.”
    –What God’s Word says: “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Rom. 10:17). –dc

    We hold it to be for the good of all men that they are not prevented from learning these things, but are even urged to (consider) them.”[1]
    –What God’s Word says: “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:2). –dc

    While realizing that this quote is only a small portion of what Justin the Martyr wrote, here some questions to consider: What sort of theology of the gospel does this statement appear to espouse?
    It seems to espouse a theology of ‘saved by works,’ or of a misunderstanding of what the scripture really means to “work out your own salvation.” We are saved by grace through faith; –however; faith without works is no faith at all. (Eph. 2:8-9, –plus the book of James). There is a difference between the word ‘belief,’ and the word ‘faith.’ (Or just ‘acceptance’.) We are saved by grace through ‘faith’, –not by belief, or acceptance. All people have ‘faith’ in something, and that faith, whatever it might be, drives their thoughts and actions. Therefore; it is most important to understand –what it is that we have faith in– what drives us. And do we know where we are going, or are we driving blind? Truth is truth, and whatever we come or decide to believe will not change it. That is why it is so important that our faith is properly and rightly planted, and growing, and blooming… 😎 Joy is the Lord! –dc

    “Is there anything that strikes you as unusual or different from the gospel you have been taught and come to believe and/or hear being preached and taught in contemporary Christianity?”
    –Yes; absolutely! The ‘Gospel’ is not even mentioned here. How can you talk about “the gospel” without ever mentioning sin, (everyone falls short), Jesus Christ, or God’s –Grace? –dc

    First of all, what stands out loud and clear, to me here, is the profound difference between the writings of man, and the writings of the Apostles God breathed, inspired. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. I love the Word of God, and as Jesus often stated, –“as it is written…” I suspect gnarled writings like this serve only one purpose, much like the Pharisees; to impress other people, and/or to acquire power over them, causing followers to feel inferior and unable to understand god’s Word for themselves, as it is simple and clearly written for them for their own life and Godliness.

    I refer here to an article written by John N. Clayton. ( http://www.doesgodexist.org ) This particular section of John’s article talks about the BREVITY of the Bible, i.e. God’s Word compared to the writings of men.
    “All one has to do is to think about the most recent political campaign in the United States to realize that humans do not tend to be brief. Again, the comparisons between the Bible and other manuscripts are most interesting. Of the 12,000 days that Jesus Christ lived upon the earth, and of the 1200 days which made up His ministry, if you added up every day of His life accounted for in the New Testament you would get a total of something around 34 days. One can see the frustration of the gospel writers as they are restrained from doing what their normal human impulse would have them do. John concluded his gospel account by writing “… there are also many other things which Jesus did, …” and John was not allowed to record them all because “… even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written” (John 21:25).
    Just look at the volume of pages in the Vedas and The Urantia Book and you will see there is no brevity. Any reading of the Koran will amaze careful readers at how much repetition and irrelevant material it contains compared to the primary message being presented. The Bible’s brevity is incredible.” –John N Clayton http://www.doesgodexist.org

    I know that God is no respecter of persons. (Acts 10:34). Also, the Bereans (Acts 17:11) show a good example of checking to see if what what things are being taught are true or not, by checking it with what was written.

    Yes; often we do need help in understanding the Scriptures, such as Philip did with the Ethiopian nobleman, (Acts 8: 26-40). but even then, an angel of the Lord (or the Spirit) had sent Phillip for that purpose. Jesus explained what His word (which is one with the Father) meant to his apostles, when He was with them on earth, and after that the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus had sent, spoke through them. (Acts 2:)

    Today, we have the Word of God plainly written down, –everything we need to know for life and Godliness– and it is sealed in the New Testament, forevermore, by the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. Phillip taught the Ethiopian nobleman from the Old Testament Scriptures which the Ethiopian was reading from. Phillip wasn’t re-writing or re-analyzing the Scriptures. He explained what these Scripure meant, –straight out, and then in a short time, when they came across much water, Philip baptized the Ethiopian at the Ethiopian nobleman’s own request, because of what he had just learned from the Scriptures, with Phillip’s help. After that, Phillip went upon his way. –dc

    • Don,

      The funny thing about Ephesians 2.8-10 is that I can put Christians from different Protestant backgrounds such as Restoration, Reformed, Pentecostal, Wesleyan and the understanding of that Ephesians passage (and the understanding of ‘salvation by grace through faith’) would all be different. Of course, we all cannot be right (though we all could be wrong). So one of the great things about reading early Christian history (and Justin, the Martyr’s “First Apology” is dated to 2nd century Christianity) is that it helps us get a better grasp on how those Christians living closest to the Apostolic Teaching understood that teaching. That doesn’t mean that Justin (or anyone else) is always correct but when their understanding is completely different than our, it ought to at least make us pause and question the reason for the differene.

      In this case, I do believe that scripture teaches on is saved by grace through faith. However, scripture also teaches that our final judgement will take into account the works/deeds we have done (e.g., Matt 25.14-30; 2 Cor 5.10; Rev 22.12). How do we account for the truth of these passages? There are some Christians whose theology dismisses these passages because it does not fit with their concept of “salvation by grace through faith.” I found the quote from Justin interesting because in it, he seems able to uphold an understanding of grace and still say that the works/deeds done by a Christian does matter.

      Grace and peace,

      Rex

    • Ephesians 2:8-10 doesn’t say you are saved apart from any works. Paul is teaching that you are saved apart from works of the Law of Moses, especially circumcision. Compare it with Rom. 3:27-30 & Gal. 2:16, and then look at Ephesians 2:11-22, which is concerned with the salvation of Gentiles in the church against the “Judaizers.”

      Jesus said that faith itself is a work we must do in order to receive what we did not earn – John 6:26-29.

      If we can receive God’s grace before we have done any works, where is an example of God saving a sinner before repenting and believing? Repentance and belief are things we choose to do; they are works. They aren’t works that earn you something, but they are works that you must do to receive God’s gift. God does not save those who refuse to repent.

  4. “Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.”

    So that is His name. The Jews understood it to be His name, which is why they substituted Adonai in place of His name. Just like most English Bibles do the same thing, by using “LORD.”

    Names of individuals often contain a reference to something else. Simon Barjona = Simon, son of Jonah. Simon of Cyrene = Simon from Cyrene.

    It is significant that when God reveals His name, His name does not make reference to someone or something else. Since there is nothing before Him or beside Him, He can only make reference back to Himself. This carries the meaning of “the Alpha and the Omega,” “the Beginning and the End.” It signifies that He is the Uncaused First-Cause.

  5. “There are some Christians whose theology dismisses these passages because it does not fit with their concept of “salvation by grace through faith.”

    Who? I think I’m in the same boat as you in that we wouldn’t agree with anybody who would simply and summarily dismiss any passage of Scripture.

    My understanding is that those who are saved by grace WILL prove out such salvation/justification with their lives. They will bear fruit, not thorns. Works, therefore, are proof of final justification already had, which will be proven at the day of judgment.

    Also, saying that Justin “uphold[s] an understanding of grace and still say that the works/deeds done by a Christian does matter” does not conflict with what I just said. Works/deeds of a Christian do, in fact matter; but not FOR justification or salvation, but AS PROOF of justification and salvation completed at saving faith.

    “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom 8:30). It’s a done deal. It will happen for those who are truly His.

    “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you WILL bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6).

    Grace is grace; not grace+plus. Let’s resist the man-centered temptation to rob God of His full glory from justification to sanctification. We are justified not because of what we do, but because of what Christ has done. We are sanctified not because of what we do, but because of what Christ has done. It’s all God, from start to finish.

    Grace to you –
    Jr

    • It wasn’t until after Zaccheus had demonstrated repentance that Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house.” The implication was, Zaccheus was lost until he changed his ways.

      Saul of Tarsus was told, “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sings, calling on His name.” Saul would only receive forgiveness when he obeyed.

      This is because “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

      So someone who will eventually be saved is nevertheless truly lost prior to being saved.

      When does a lost person go from being lost to saved? When God zaps them with salvation, they then begin to repent and obey? No. A person is lost until they repent and turn to God in faith. God’s grace is conditional.

      Does that mean repentance or faith or baptism earns salvation? Not at all! But they are required in order to receive that which you did not earn.

    • First off, you speak of justification as something that has already happened (past/aorist tense) when in fact in Roman 3.21-26, Paul speak of justification in the present tense to describe an on-going process. It is a process God will complete provided we continue to live out “obedience of faith” (Rom 1.5) that is exhibited in what Paul later describes as presenting our “bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God…” (Rom 12.1) so that we can be an “offering…sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Rom 15.16) unto God. This does not imply that we must earn our way or acheive this goal either on our own or as some coopertive effort with God. It simply means we have a choice…to be obedient or to not be. And if there is no choice then their can be no obedience or even love, for the only way for us to truly love God and be obedient to him is to have the choice to not love and to not be obedient. But that mean that there are some who can begin that journey of being justified and disrupt that grace of God by setting their mind back on the flesh rather than the Spirit. This does not mean they never began to be justified but that they were being justified but became disobedient…and if that is not so, then all of the imperative language in scripture seems rather pointless.

      How does this avoid legalism (the question from your other comment)? Good question! I tell people teach people that no matter how much they try to live in obedience to God, that they are going to fail at some point to exhibit perfect obedience. However, there is a difference between failure that emerges because we are still in a battle between the “flesh” and the “Spirit” and a failure because we have given up and just given resigned ourselves to the desires of our flesh. The former is the person still striving to live by faith (trust & obedience) in God but in weakness. The later is one who no longer lives by faith. The former can be sure that his/her failures will not derail God’s promise. The later is the one who has chosen to reject God’s grace. At this point, I believe the former is the individual the Apostle John has in mind in 1 John 1.5-10 while the former is the type of individual the writer has in mind in Hebrews 10.26-31 and similar to the persons the Apostle Peter has in mind in 2 Pet 2.20-22 (and let’s remember that the NT does not teach that our deeds/works will confirm our salvation at the final day of judgment but instead will be taken into consideration in our judgment…Matt 25.14-30; 2 Cor 5.10; Rev 22.12).

      So I am not trying to say that God’s grace will get us so far and that we need to work to get ourselves the rest of the way. That would be absurd. No matter how much we try, we will still fall short. However, God does call us, who are being justified in Christ, to a life of good deed/works (discipleship) and that we can out of the free-will choice that God gives to us (because we live in relationship to him by love rather than coercion) disobey God and such disobedience can and will lead to judgment…which is why one of the teachings of scripture is to heed the warnings of temptation. I don’t believe that is legalism but whatever the case…it makes no difference what our systematic or historical theologies say, what matters is scripture and I am just trying to give account of scripture that speaks of justification as a present on-going work of God, the imperative call to obedience, and the fact that judgment will take into account our works/deeds.

      Whether you agree with me or not, I hope that explains a bit more.

      Grace and peace,

      Rex

      • Rex: I quoted Romans 8:30. Every single verb is aorist. And in Romans 5:1 it is aorist passive, meaning those who have been justified by faith have been justified by something completely outside of him/her. It is an act upon a person and it has been done for those in Christ. Yes, Rom 3:24 uses the present tense, but it is passive. Again, it is something God is doing. Today, He is justifying people by His grace as a gift. It is God’s doing. And when he does it, they are justified and therefore glorified (which is what Rom 8:30 makes clear).

        As to 8:30, there is not one single person who has been justified who will not be glorified. It’s finished. God made dead people alive and raised them up with Him to the heavenly places (Eph 2:4-6). It’s finished. Nothing can change that dualistic reality. There is now therefore no condemnation (Rom 8:1). A justified person in Christ cannot be (and will not be) condemned; and their lives will prove it. This is our assurance; that Christ will not lose His sheep. His death, burial, and resurrection actually accomplished something powerful; and it was much more than simply “opportunity.” He purchased His Bride perfectly. The judgment of our lives and works in the end will prove or disprove our own claims of being justified. Those who claim to have walked in light yet walked in darkness will prove to be liars and they will be condemned. They are proving that they were never in Christ to begin with.

        “God WILL complete the work He began…” it doesn’t say “God might complete the work He began…” There is no ambiguity here. Jesus said, “All that the Father gives to me WILL come to me and I WILL raise them up on the last day” (John 6:44). There is no ambiguity here.

        There is much to say, but here is my biggest concern. I believe this legalistic doctrine trivializes the life and work of Christ. What it says is this: Christ died for you, but that death wasn’t actually enough. You still must do works to finally be saved. There was no double imputation. It is truly limited atonement because Jesus didn’t actually save anybody on the Cross. He just opened the door. He saved nobody. Man must autonomously come to faith to be saved. It is grace plus works and that is what saves you. It’s semi-Pelagianism. It’s Rome (and if what I heard in a talk is true, Dunn actually conceded this point).

        And to hold this doctrine, you must think that one can actually be saved by Christ and yet the blood is insufficient to hold on to someone. For it is ultimately up to man to “stay in.” This is man-centered moralistic/legalistic religion.

        In other words, instead of obedience being proof of our salvation at the judgment (which I would affirm), you say that we are actually saved at the judgment by our obedience because if we weren’t obedient then we would be damned, even though Jesus’ blood has (apparently) washed over you? So in effect, not only did God pour out His wrath upon Jesus for your sins, He still may pour out His wrath upon you at the judgment? This is very problematic in so many ways. It makes God unjust and trivializes Calvary.

        As for what love is, can’t we just accept the fact that we are repugnant in the eyes of God when dead in sin? Outside of Christ we are haters of God. We are enemies of God. And it is an amazing act of love that He doesn’t simply wipe us off the face of the earth. Instead, He sent His son so that those who believe would be saved (John 3:16). God so loved the world that He was willing to save some out of it, by grace through faith, by the death of His Son, according to His own purpose and will. That is an act of tremendous love and grace. There is nothing that exceeds it.

        Grace to you –
        Jr

      • No, you have misunderstood what I said. The aorist tenses of 8.30 are speaking in the past tense about a future reality for those who continue to walk in the Spirit and not the flesh (8.1-7).

        I never once said that the grace of God through the blood of Jesus Christ is insufficient to save us to the end. What I have tried to say is that because God has given us free-will to obey or not obey, some who at one time came into justification by faith (Rom 5.1) will make the choice to once again walk in the flesh rather than the Spirit. That choice will determine the sort of works/deeds they do which will receive its due judgment.

        First, does not Paul write to Christians that we all must appear before God’s judgment seat “so that each may receive recompence for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor 5.10)? Does not Jesus, according to the Apocalypse, say “See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to eveyone’s work” (Rev 21.12)? Of course they do. But when a systematic doctrine assumes a priori that God’s sovereignty eliminates any free-will given to humanity, then exegesis must be conformed to that systematic doctrine and the result is that these passages are explained away or just eliminated from any soteriological synthesis.

        Second, I agree with you regarding God’s love for us, sinners as we are. But that is not all that scripture says about love. We are called to reciprocate that love to God, our neighbor, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and even to our enemies. There is no way that we can reciprocate such love if we do not have the choice to do so. How do you know your wife loves you unless you give her the choice not to?

        I am nothing more than a preacher/evangelist who is trying to do theology in my teaching for the church I serve. There is a lot I don’t know when it comes to both OT and NT studies as well as theological studies. BUt I do know that Romans is not the entire Bible and that some how, as we attempt to do micro-sytematic theology (which is what we are doing here) to arrive at a comprehensive and coherent doctrine of salvation we must account for the entire witness of scripture, including those passages in Hebrews 10 and 2 Peter 2. Our exegesis must inform our theology, not vise-versa. I could be wrong (and I don’t think our disagreement here means we are not brothers in Christ) but I don’t see how we can arrive at another conclusion when faced with the reality of these passages.

        I believe one of the best illustrations that depicts my understanding of what the scripture teaches about salvation comes from the movie “Titanic” in the scene where the ship is sinking and Jack tells Rose to hang on and not let go…that he will save her. So Rose trusted Jack and tried to hang on but she failed. Nevertheless, Jack still saved her by sacrificing himself. However, at some point when they were in the water, Rose could have chosen to stop trusting Jack and hense stop listening (obedience) to him and instead tried to do her own thing (disobedience). Had she done so, she would have perrished. Did Rose save herself? No! Did it require her faith in Jack? Yes…but a faith that continued to both trust and obey.

        Any ways…I have had enough of this post, so I leave it alone now.

        Grace and peace,

        Rex

      • I’ll leave it as well. But I want to say that I agree with your statement:

        “does not Paul write to Christians that we all must appear before God’s judgment seat “so that each may receive recompence for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor 5.10)? Does not Jesus, according to the Apocalypse, say “See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to eveyone’s work” (Rev 21.12)? Of course they do.”

        Yes, indeed they do say those things. We do not disagree here. But again, are they talking about levels of rewards for the believers, or about judgment for the deeds of all men? There is a debate there.

        If it is not about rewards but about judgment of all men, then the works of the true believer will prove his/her justification in Christ. The one who’s life has not proven such justification, will be condemned. Christ is the judgment.

        So I don’t disagree with these judgment texts at all. And where you claim my priori is the Sovereignty of God eliminating autonomous free will I would say yours is that having a choice somehow must mean that man has autonomous free-will. I don’t believe that is the case.

        Anyway, thought I would end my part with an agreement on those texts, even if it was a small one. 🙂

        Grace to you –
        Jr

  6. Rex: Let me get at what concerns me. It’s that I don’t see how you can escape legalist tendencies (even moralistic deism) when such a heavy emphasis is placed on works for salvation apart from the certainty of God completing it in true converts by grace.

    Could you help me understand how you escape those tendencies?

    Grace to you –
    Jr

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