Saturday, July 14, 2007

Justified by Faith

Romans 5:1-11

The Apostle Paul begins this passage with the transitional conjunction translated “therefore.” The first question is: what is “therefore” there for? The answer is that Paul has spent the last chapters (3:21-4:25) showing that we are justified by faith in the work Christ and not by the works of the law. From 1:18-3:20, he shows the universality of sin in the world. He concludes that no is righteous before God because of sin: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (3:20). He then goes on to teach in 3:23-24 what he will expound upon in 5:1-11. That is: the Christian receives God’s love in Christ undeservedly. The Apostle Paul says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified (dikaiou) by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (3:23-24). This point is taken up again in 5:1-11. To conclude 3:21-28, Paul maintains that a person is justified by faith apart from his attempt to satisfy God’s law (Rom. 3:28). He then teaches that Abraham was justified by this same faith in the Old Testament (4:1-12), and teaches that the promise of salvation is realized by us through faith (4:13-25). The conclusion then leading up to 5:1-11 is this: A man is justified by grace which is a gift, received by faith, in the promise of Christ, apart from man’s attempt to fulfill God’s law. “Therefore” or “consequently” we have peace with God.

What does it mean to be justified? After examining Paul’s usage in Romans (2:13; 3:20; 3:23-24; 3:28; 4:2; 4:24-25; 5:1; 5:15-17; 8:30; 10:10) I conclude that to be justified means a person is “pronounced,” “counted,” or “declared” righteous before God. Paul does use forensic or legal language by using the word dikaiou. The imagery is that of a courtroom and Paul uses this imagery in Romans because he is dealing with the law. The transgressor of the law is found guilty before God because of sin (3:19). He has no case and no defense for his transgressions (3:19). But through faith in the work of Jesus Christ who has fulfilled the law and suffered the penalty of breaking it, the believer is declared righteous. This is no legal fiction, but a joyful legal reality which gives the believer freedom!

The believer who has been justified by faith in Christ now stands in the grace of God. The verb translated "to stand" focuses on the resultant state of a past action. That is, the Christian is currently in a right standing before God by faith. This relationship between God and the believer is no inward process of gradual justification by which he co-operates with God. Faith gives the believer access into grace by which he stands.

Romans 5:2b-5 moves from peace to the joyful hope we have as believers in Christ. The believer has hope in the glory of God. All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God (3:23), but now through Christ the believer has hope of future glorification. In fact the believer has already attained glorification (8:30). But like redemption, and justification, the final consummation will not be fully realized until the Last Day (parousia). Paul uses this hope to lead into the question: Why do we rejoice in tribulations? The answer: tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance character, and character leads us back to hope. Tribulations were seen as an inevitable part of the Christian life (Acts 14:22). To be conformed to the image of God’s Son (8:29) was to share in His sufferings for the purpose of being glorified with Him (8:17). So then the movement in Paul’s thought is from hope to hope. And this hope we have still brings believers assurance of their salvation because hope is a gift from God. Stanley Hauerwas writes:

"Thus the movement is from hope to hope as we discover we can hope only because, as Paul says, we discover we stand in grace. More exactly, we do not begin in hope, but we rejoice in our hope as we learn that our hope is possible only as we learn to acknowledge it as a gift."

To conclude this thought from hope to hope Paul asks another question: Why does not hope disappoint us or put us to shame? The answer: Because the love of God has been and is constantly being poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. The love of God is God’s love which creates love within us which leads us to delight in Him (7:22). However, the focus here is not on the love that becomes ours but on God’s love in Christ poured out into our hearts.

Paul in 5:6-11 describes the believer as one who has been reconciled by the undeserved death of Christ to emphasize the point that the believer has peace with God. Paul moves from describing the relationship between the believer and God with the word "justified" (5:1), to the word “reconciled" (5:10, 11).” He continues to drive home the important emphases of the text: Peace with God through the death of Jesus Christ. The term “reconciliation” emphasizes something different then the term “justification.” Legal language can seem impersonal since usually the defendant has no personal friendship with the judge before or after the case. However, the term "reconciliation" refers to God as laying aside his anger and establishing a friendly and personal relationship with the antagonized. By using the term "reconciled," Paul seeks to persuade his believers of their friendship with God that results in peace.

How does Paul persuade believers of reconciliation and peace with God? In verses 6-8 Paul says that even though we were weak (5:6), ungodly (5:6), and sinners (5:7) Christ died for us! This verb translated as "died" is emphatic. Paul is saying that the God he described in Romans 1:18-3:20 as an uncompromising wrathful judge, died for sinners! Even while we were ungodly, the infinite almighty God sent Jesus Christ to die for us! Even while we were busy transgressing God’s law, Jesus Christ died for us! The reason the believer has peace is because God’s love through Christ is an undeserved gift! It was not given to us on the basis of anything we have done nor will do. Christ died for sins on His own accord to reconcile us to the Father. The fact that our salvation has nothing to do with our actions is what gives the believer assurance of the peace they have with God. Romans 5:6-8 parallels Romans 3:23-24. All have sinned, and those who have faith are justified by God’s gift through the death of Jesus Christ.

The illustration that Paul uses comes in verse 7: “For one will rarely die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man one would dare even to die.” The sense is that it is possible that one would die for the sake of a just and well loved man, but even that is rare. Further, it is not less rare that one would die for his benefactor. But even while we were unrighteous sinners, Christ died for us! C. E. B. Cranfield of the University of Durham captures this very well:

"We understand Paul’s meaning then to be that, whereas it is a rare thing for a man deliberately and in cold blood to lay down his life for the sake of an individual just man, and not very much less rare for a man to do so for the sake of an individual who is actually his benefactor, Christ died for the sake of the ungodly."

The reason the believer has peace is because of the work of Jesus Christ. Christ is mentioned six times in these eleven verses alone (5:1, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11) and His death is mentioned five times (5:6, 8, 9, 10). The blood of Jesus Christ (5:9) is why the Christian has justification (5:1), peace (5:1), reconciliation (5:10, 11), and salvation (5:9, 10). Verse 9 asks the question: Why shall we be saved from the wrath of God? The answer is: Because we have been justified by Christ’s blood. To illustrate this truth, Paul says that if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God, then this should give believers assurance of their salvation.

In summary, the believer has peace with God because He has been reconciled, justified, and saved through the blood of Christ. The believer has assurance of his peace because Christ’s gift of reconciliation is undeserved. Even while we were weak, unrighteous, sinning, and God’s enemies, Christ died for us! This assures the believer of their peace with God and their salvation on the last day. The legal declaration we receive as Christians justified by faith today is the same declaration we will receive at the final judgment. There is no such thing as an initial justification by faith alone, and a final justification by faith and works. This position, which was taught by John Wesley (the founder of the Methodist Church) conflicts with the teaching of the Apostle Paul in this text. Further, the belief that our works have anything to do with entrance into heaven at the final judgment (Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Wesleyans, and Restorationists believe this) also conflicts with the Apostle Paul. The effect Paul wants to have on his hearers/readers is assurance of their salvation through the death of Jesus Christ. The reason why the believer has assurance of their salvation is because of the undeserved death of Jesus Christ!


Blogger Augustinian Successor said...

Dear Augustine,

I like your blog very much because it is truly Reformational. Please feel free to post any comments on my blog too. My blog welcome comments from confessional Lutherans. I am thoroughly sympathetic to confessional Lutheranism and Lutheran Orthodoxy, and lean towards Lutheran christology and sacramentology.


In Christ,

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