Westerholm writes, “to be dikaiosified is, in effect, to be given the treatment appropriate to one who is dikaios; in a legal context it means to be declared innocent of wrongdoing, or acquitted" (Perspectives on Paul, 272-73). Westerholm’s definition here includes two basic components: a declarative component (i.e., what is said about the defendant) and an executive component (i.e., how the defendant is treated). Whether or not Westerholm is correct that this is Paul’s primary meaning of dikaioo, it is clear that the word is frequently used with this sense in the LXX and beyond. Westerholm—along with most other Protestant theologians (including Wright)—press the “declarative” aspect of dikaioo. What I haven’t seen however, is someone who teases out the implications of the executive aspect of Westerholm’s definition. Westerholm certainly doesn’t; as can be seen in the definition he provides above, Westerholm intentionally drops the executive aspect of dikaioo when the term is used in a legal context. But need we do so?
Certainly many legal disputes in biblical times involved more than mere acquittal (it was more than simply “Mrs. White did not kill Col. Mustard in the study with the wrench”). Many legal judgments often involved rewarding one party over against another. Land disputes, livestock disputes, etc., required that the judge not only declare one party to be right, but that he actually bring about justice on behalf of the one declared to be in the right. Thus the judge’s justification of an individual involved both a judicial declaration of who was right, as well as an executive action whereby the injured party was rewarded restitution. In short, the forensic notion of justification that we see in the LXX—the notion that Paul is working from—involves both a declaration and an executive action on the part of the judge. This is seen quite clearly in 1 Kings 8:31-32 (c.f. the parallel passage in 2 Chronicles 6:23):
If a man sins against his neighbor and is made to take an oath, and he comes and takes an oath before Thine altar in this house, then hear Thou in heaven and act and judge Thy servants, condemning the wicked by bringing his way on his own head and justifying the righteous by giving him according to his righteousness.Implicit within this passage is both the declarative and executive nature of dikaioo. Solomon’s conception of justification involves God actually “giving” to a person according to his righteousness. This dual nature of justification—with both its declarative and executive sense—can be easily read into the other forensic dikaioo passages as well.
So what does this mean for Paul? If Paul views dikaioo as having both a declarative sense and an executive sense, what, pray tell, is the executive sense in his understanding of justification? The executive sense, I would suggest, involves God rewarding the righteousness of faith with the blessings of the New Covenant promise. Tom Wright helpfully argues that Paul’s soteriology is covenentally focused (see his Climax of the Covenant). By this he means that Paul views the death and resurrection of Christ as opening the way for God's people to receive the long anticipated provisions of the New Covenant. Wright’s contention here makes a great deal of sense. Granting this as a basic starting point (which apparently many do not), I would suggest that the executive aspect of justification is seen in the sinner being rewarded with the new creation/circumcision of the heart (Galatians 6:15, Romans 2:29, etc.)—a central facet of the New Covenant promise (Jeremiah 31:31, Ezekiel 11:19, etc.). Paul’s basic understanding of justification would run thus:
We are sinners and cut off from the eschatological blessing that God intends to bring upon the world. Yet in his mercy, God has sent Christ to open the way for sinners to be reconciled to him, counting our faith in him as our righteousness. Based upon this righteousness of faith, God then justifies us. This justification is not merely the divine declaration that we are now in right standing before God; it also necessarily involves his actual giving to us the reward of a righteous individual, namely the promised spiritual regeneration of the New Covenant (of course, such a claim requires scriptural substantiation that is not provide here).
Thus ontological renewal is not ancillary to justification, but is in fact an essential (pun intended) element of justification. For Paul, the executive nature of justification does not look only to the resurrection of the body and the final reward of eternal life. We do not need to wait until we die to be “rewarded as righteous.” Paul very much views the present spiritual regeneration afforded through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as the in-breaking of this coming eschatological resurrection. So much so, that he can speak of us as having already been justified in the present—declared righteous and rewarded as righteous (i.e., spiritually regenerated).
So in coming full circle, the Augustinian notion that justification involves ontological renewal is correct. God not only declares us to be righteous based upon our faith, but then actually treats us as righteous, making us recipients of the New Covenant and thus its promise of spiritual regeneration. To speak of justification without speaking at the same time of spiritual regeneration is to miss the whole point of Paul’s soteriology.