Theology of Romans: Justification, Part 1

Judges-gavel 

Justification, Romans 3—5


In the book of Job, perhaps the most ancient piece of literature in the world, we read a very interesting comment and question courtesy of a man with the curious name of Bildad:

“God is powerful and dreadful. He enforces peace in heaven.  Who is able to number his hosts of angels? And his light shines down on all the earth.  How can mere man stand before God and claim to be righteous? Who in all the earth can boast that he is clean?  God is so glorious that even the moon and stars are less than nothing as compared to him.  How much less is man, who is but a worm in his sight?”  (Job 25, TLB)

Like all of Job’s friends, Bildad’s theology was hit-and-miss, but he nails it here.  How indeed can any man stand before God call himself “righteous”?   This is a question asked by all serious people.  Other people ask other questions, like:

  • How can I stay healthy and live a long life?
  • How can I make people like me?
  • Where can I find happiness?

Those are all good questions, but the serious, thinking person who realizes there is One greater than himself, to whom he is accountable, wonders how in the world he may be considered “good” in that One’s eyes.

This question is tackled by Paul, the theologian, in his letter to the Romans.

1.  Do all people need to be justified?

In the estimation of the world, there are “good” people, there are “bad” people, and there are “so-so” people.  But in God’s estimation, everybody needs to be “justified” before Him.

Well, then, are we Jews better than others? No, not at all, for we have already shown that all men alike are sinners, whether Jews or Gentiles.   As the Scriptures say,  No one is good—no one in all the world is innocent.”  (Romans 3:9, 10  TLB)

There were some Jews in Paul’s day that thought they had a great advantage over Gentiles.  God had entrusted them with the Law and blessed them over the centuries and they felt, therefore, they were special.  Paul makes it clear that the Jew, or the people who think they are somehow morally superior, have no advantage over anybody else.  Both stand equally before God.  All people everywhere have been affected by sin in one way or another.

Yes, all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious ideal…  (Romans 8:23  TLB)

As proof that all people are sinful and fall short of God’s ideal, Paul cites 6 passages from Psalms and Isaiah that show how sinful all people are.

  • The very character of man (verses 10—12) condemns him.
  • The conduct of man (verses 13—17) proves how sinful we are.
  • The cause of our conduct is given:  we just don’t care what God thinks (verse 18).

Paul sums it up perfectly in verse 19:

…all the world stands hushed and guilty before Almighty God.

In other words, there is no defense we can put forward.  Neither Jew nor Gentile; teetotaler or recovering drunk; Roman Catholic or Protestant; nobody can justify themselves before God.  Not one of us can excuse our behavior in a way acceptable to God.  Old Bildad was right after all!  No matter how good you or others may think you are, you aren’t in God’s sight.

2.  What does “justified” mean?

That brings us to the need of every human being to be justified in God’s sight.  What does that mean?  We take as our jumping off point in discovering a working definition what Paul wrote in Romans 4—

King David spoke of this, describing the happiness of an undeserving sinner who is declared “not guilty” by God.  “Blessed and to be envied,” he said, “are those whose sins are forgiven and put out of sight.  Yes, what joy there is for anyone whose sins are no longer counted against him by the Lord.”  (Romans 4:6—8  TLB)

To be justified is to be forgiven.

These verses are what caused Martin Luther to refer to the Christian’s righteousness (or goodness) as an “alien righteousness.”  Here is how he put it:

Everything…is outside us and in Christ.  For God does not want to save us by our own but by an extraneous righteousness which does not originate in ourselves but comes to us from beyond ourselves, which does not arise on our earth but comes from heaven.  Therefore, we must come to know this righteousness which is utterly external and foreign to us.  That is why our own personal righteousness must be uprooted.

It takes Luther a long time and a lot of words to make the simple point that the goodness God demands of us is not in us.  What He demands of us He puts in us through the Holy Spirit the righteousness (or goodness) of His Son.  He fills us with HIS righteousness.

To be justified is to be saved from wrath.

And since by his blood he did all this for us as sinners, how much more will he do for us now that he has declared us not guilty? Now he will save us from all of God’s wrath to come.  (Romans 5:9  TLB)

Because we are all sinners, we all deserve to be punished.  But because we have been forgiven those sins, part of our justification, we are spared that punishment.  God has done so much for us in the work of Christ; we have the glorious expectation of an ultimate salvation.  That expectation gives us present peace with God.  Why would we fear the One who has declared us “not guilty?”  Yes, thanks to the far-reaching work on the Cross, we can expect to be delivered from the judgment all men must face.  This deliverance is positively guaranteed by the fact of justification—the declaration by God that we are “not guilty.”

To be justified is to be considered righteous.

…we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness.  (Romans 4:9b  NKJV)

What a mind-boggling thought!  We who are not righteous are considered to be righteous by God simply by virtue of our relationship to Jesus Christ!  Abraham is given as an example.   The Jews loved to think their blessings came from circumcision, that is, their observance of the Laws.  But Abraham, the father of Judaism, lived long before the Law was given yet was the recipient of all those blessings.  Why?  Because he had faith, and that faith was credited to him as righteousness.  In other words, Abraham believed in advance and it was that belief in God’s future promises that made Abraham righteous in God’s eyes.

So, we may not be righteous in practice, but our faith in our ultimate redemption and restoration through the work of Christ makes us righteous in God’s eyes.  Or, to put it another way, God sees us as we will be in our final state, not as we are at this moment.  Of course God is not blind to our sin, that’s why we must walk in a constant state of humble forgiveness.

To be justified is to be at peace with God.

So now, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith in his promises, we can have real peace with him because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.  (Romans 5:1  TLB)

J.B. Phillips in his translation of this verse gives us, perhaps, a better sense of what Paul was trying to say:

Let us grasp the fact that we have peace with God…

We no longer live under the shadow condemnation.

So there is now no condemnation awaiting those who belong to Christ Jesus.  (Romans 8:1  TLB)

We should no longer fear the wrath (present or future) of God because of our change in position.  Once we were unforgiven and deserving of God’s wrath.  But He has moved us into a new position; one of freedom from condemnation.  Therefore, we can sleep knowing peace.  We can live without fear that God is “out to get us” because we deserve it.

To be justified means rejoicing in hope.

For because of our faith, he has brought us into this place of highest privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to actually becoming all that God has had in mind for us to be.  (Romans 5:2  TLB)

Through our faith in His Work, Christ brings us into the fullness of God’s grace—the place of divine favor.  We had no right to be in God’s presence before and we had no right to an ounce of His grace.   Just like the common peasant could not just walk into the King’s throne room, so we were unable to walk into God’s throne room.  We, like the peasant, need someone better than ourselves to introduce us to God.  The French have a word for this:  entrée.  It is Christ who brings us who are justified into the full grace of God.  And that gives us HOPE.  And never discount the importance of hope!

Hope deferred makes the heart sick…  (Proverbs 13:12a  TLB)

Life is miserable without hope.  People who have lost hope have lost the will to live and died.  Hope is vitally important, and through our relationship with Christ and our new position in Him, we can “joyfully look forward.”  In other words, we have HOPE.

To be justified is to know the love of God in full measure.

Then, when that happens, we are able to hold our heads high no matter what happens and know that all is well, for we know how dearly God loves us, and we feel this warm love everywhere within us because God has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.  (Romans 5:5  TLB)

Our hope is rooted in God’s love for us.  It is God’s love for us, not our love for God, that makes all the difference in the world.  How do we know God loves us? It’s because He has poured His Holy Spirit into us!

For his Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we really are God’s children.  (Romans 8:16  TLB)

Because we have been justified, we have received the Holy Spirit and that Spirit bears witness to our spirit that God loves us.

To be justified is to be reconciled to God.

And since, when we were his enemies, we were brought back to God by the death of his Son, what blessings he must have for us now that we are his friends and he is living within us!  (Romans 5:10  TLB)

“Justification” is a judicial term; a legal term.  God, as the Judge of the Universe, has declared the believer “justified,” freed from the guilt of sin.

“Reconciliation,” however, is a relational term; it deals with a relationship.  When two people are reconciled, it means they are not longer at loggerheads; they are not longer at odds with each other.  The thing that was causing them to be hostile towards each other has been removed.

Both “justification” and “reconciliation” have been accomplished by the finished work of Christ on the Cross.  No longer is there any enmity between God and man.  No longer is man fearful of divine punishment.  There is complete assurance that our sin problem has been dealt with once and for all.  Of course, both justification and reconciliation are exclusive blessings of the redeemed; those who have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

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