Thursday, March 20, 2008

10. Righteousing (Justification)

Today is Maundy Thursday. I have just completed writing and editing the reports for our Church AGM, which is on the Sunday after Easter. They have to go to the printer today. So I have today to get on top of the services for the next few days.

Tonight we have a meal together at the School. The weather is warm now so we will be sitting outside. Friends in other parts of the world may be jealous at that thought!

Here is the next installment in the series on Paul and Righteousness. I'll try to post the next one on Saturday.

10. Righteousing (Justification)

Paul and his opponents were agreed that present righteousing (justification) and future salvation from the wrath of God and the consequent gift of eternal life could only be found in Christ. They, no less than he, believed that Christ had died for our sins. It was on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice that salvation was to be looked forward to. But how was a person to respond to this sacrifice and make the benefits of it their own? How was a person to be righteoused (justified) so that they could experience all that being righteoused (justified) involved?

Paul’s opponents believed that it was by the ‘works of the Law’, which we have argued means keeping the commandments of the Old Testament Law, including circumcision while not being limited to it. Paul was absolutely convinced that it could only happen on the basis of faith. If it was on the basis of faith and not on the basis of Law that, consequently, meant that as far as the believer was concerned Law was no longer an issue. It was not that the Law was bad just that it fulfilled its role and had its day. It was time to move on!

But and this is I think a very important point, if righteousness is doing what God wants and what God wants is faith in Christ, then those who have faith in Christ are truly righteous. They are not declared righteous when everyone knows that really they are not. They are not made righteous in the sense that they can now do works that earn them the title righteous. They really are righteous because their faith is counted or reckoned as righteousness. This is real righteousness. It’s all God wants from us because Jesus has done everything that God required. ‘By the obedience of one shall many be righteoused (justified)’. Jews need it, Gentiles need it, we all need it, and without it we are not righteous – none of us. We don’t need works of any sort to righteous (justify) us, we just need faith in Jesus.

Now that we have been righteoused (justified), we can face the future judgement with confidence. Or as Paul puts it much more succinctly:

But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been righteoused (justified) by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:8-10)

This verse brings together all the points that we have been arguing. It makes a clear distinction between righteousing (justification) now, here in the present, when we have been reconciled to God by Christ’s death, and future salvation when hope to be saved from the wrath of God and given the gift of eternal life.

For Paul salvation is in essence a future concept. At times, he talks about how we are ‘being saved’ (present tense) meaning the process that will result in future salvation is taking place, and sometimes, although more rarely, he can say we ‘were saved’ (past tense) because he is confident of the future result. Notice that on one of the rare occasions that he does say we ‘were saved’ (past tense), he qualifies it:

‘For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.’ (Romans 8:24-25)

Yes, much has already happened to the believer, but not everything. What is more we still have to face the final judgement. Again, to quote Paul himself:

‘For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.’ (2 Corinthians 5:10)

Paul doesn’t seem to think that just because we have been righteoused (justified) that this is the end of the matter. There is more that needs to happen in the meantime.

So now that we are righteous, what happens between us having become righteous and the judgement?

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