STUDY EIGHT: JUSTIFICATION/RIGHTEOUSNESS – Part 2
© Rosemary Bardsley 2005, 2014
C. JUSTIFICATION IN ROMANS 5 – IMPLICATIONS OF JUSTIFICATION
Task #1: Discuss and describe the implications and significance of justification in Romans 5, using the statements and questions below.
5:1: Because we are justified by faith we have peace with God through Christ. Is this a feeling or a fact? What are the implications for our daily life in the presence of God?
5:2: Because we are justified by faith we have access into the grace in which we stand. What does this teach us about our access into the presence of God?
5:3: Because we are justified by faith we can rejoice even in our suffering. What does this have to say to the idea that suffering is evidence of God’s displeasure?
5:9: Justification is dependent on the blood of Christ. What is the relationship between the death of Christ and justification?
5:9-10: Because we have been justified by Christ's blood, we will certainly be saved from God’s wrath. On the basis of these verses, will God ever pour out his wrath on those he has justified?
5:11: Because we have been justified we actually rejoice in God. Why is it worthy of note that those who are justified rejoice in God? [Think: if we have to justify ourselves by our actions, do we, or can we, rejoice in God?]
5:12-21: Because of the righteousness and obedience of Jesus Christ, the condemnation incurred for all men by Adam’s sin is replaced with the gift of justification & righteousness. List the contrasts between our condemnation in Adam and our justification in Christ.
D. JUSTIFICATION IN ROMANS 6 TO 8 - DELIVERANCE FROM CONDEMNATION
Much of what Paul teaches in Romans 6 to 8 relates to substitutionary atonement and redemption, and will be studied when we come to those aspects of salvation. However there are several significant points here that relate to justification/righteousness – that relate to the legal declaration of acquittal that is pronounced on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
D.1 The just legal penalty for our sin [that is, death] has been paid [6:1-14]
Paul makes this point very strongly in chapters 6. The wages of sin is death [6:23]; Christ died that death as our substitute; therefore God reckons that we have paid the death penalty for our sins in the death of Christ for us. This is mentioned in every verse from 6:2 to 6:8 and again in 6:10.
D.2 Once death has occurred, the person is released from the legal demands of the law [7:1-6]
In chapter 7:1-6 Paul argues that when a person has died [and he has already established that the believer died in Christ our substitute] that person is released from the law. Death has terminated the legal jurisdiction of the law over him/her. This point, like the previous one, supports the ‘justification’ taught by the Gospel.
D.3 Present sin in the believer, therefore, cannot bring legal condemnation [7:7 – 8:4]
Paul makes it clear in 7:7 to 8:4 that although the law continues to identify and expose our sin and our sinfulness, it can never again condemn us to suffer its legal penalty. He states: ‘There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ [8:1].
D.4 The kata sarka – kata pneuma contrast: our quest for personal ‘righteousness’ versus the gift of gospel righteousness [8:1-17]
Many teachers understand this passage, indeed the whole of Romans 6 to 8, as teaching about sanctification. This perspective inevitably generates the kind of guilt and divisions between believers that the gospel is supposed to eradicate. Paul, on the contrary, is still teaching the meaning and impact of justification, and here in 8:1-17 he contrasts people who are still relating to God on the basis of their own righteousness – kata sarka – according to flesh, with those who relate to God on the basis of the righteousness of Christ – kata pneuma – according to Spirit.
Notice the contrasts that Paul makes or infers between these two groups of people in this chapter:
Note: the interpretations given to these verses are related to [a] the meaning of the Greek text, and [b] a consistent understanding of Paul’s teaching on justification in this letter.
Kata sarka – according to flesh
Verse 1: Condemnation. Not in Christ Jesus
Verse 2: Still under the law of sin and death
Verses 3-4: Powerless to meet the requirements of the law. Sin condemned
Verse 4: Live according to the flesh – [that is, depend on who they are and what they can do]
Verse 5: Always thinking about what they have to do
Verse 6: This mindset is death
Verse 7-8: This mindset is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law; in fact, is not able to submit to God’s law; cannot please God
Verse 9: Does not have the Spirit of Christ; does not belong to Christ
Verses 10-11: Their spirits are dead; no hope of resurrection life
Verse 13: Those who live on the basis of their own religious achievements die
Verse 14: Not led by the Spirit of God; not the sons of God
Verses 15-16: Slaves to the fear of condemnation.
Kata pneuma – according to the Spirit
Verse 1: No condemnation. In Christ Jesus.
Verse 2: Set free from the law of sin and death by the Spirit [law of the Spirit - life in Christ Jesus]
Verses 3-4: Requirements of the law fully met by Jesus Christ on their behalf
Verse 4: Live according to the Spirit [that is, don’t depend on their own ability, but on the righteousness of Christ]
Verse 5: Always thinking about what the Spirit of God has done for them [see verse 2]
Verse 6: This mindset is life and peace
Verses 7-8: Not hostile to God, can and do submit to God’s law; those who relate to God according to what the Spirit has done [verse 2] are pleasing to God.
Verse 9: Don’t live on the basis of what they can do, but on the basis of what the Spirit has done for them; the Spirit of God lives in these people. Has the Spirit of Christ; belongs to Christ.
Verses 10-11: Their spirits are alive because of the righteousness of Christ; have the hope of resurrection life
Verse 13: Those who, through the ministry of the Spirit of God [verse 2], discard their own human works, count it rubbish, and live
Verse 14: Led by the Spirit of God; are the sons of God
Verses 15-16: Confident in their relationship to God as sons
D. 5 Justification affirms that God is for us
Having commenced chapter 8 with the strong affirmation that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, Paul moves onto the question of believers suffering [8:18-39]. This seems at first to be introducing an unrelated topic, but a deeper look at the issue reveals that the question of suffering is immediately related to the question of justification and the absence of condemnation. Suffering was then, as now, commonly understood to be an indication of God’s judgment. And here the issue comes into focus: if Paul says that Christians have been removed from the jurisdiction of the ‘law of sin and death’, if Paul says that the righteousness of Jesus Christ has been credited to those who believe, and that there is therefore now ‘no condemnation’ for Christians, then is not the presence of suffering in the lives of the believers an indication that Paul is wrong and that there is after all still some legal guilt for which God is justly paying them out? Paul includes in his answer to this problem, this seeming contradiction of all that he has taught, the following statements about justification
- Justification is a part of God’s eternal plan, and for those who are justified, suffering is but a tool in his hand that he uses for their good [8:28-30]
- If God gave up his Son for our justification, there is no way that present suffering can indicate that he is now against us [8:31-32].
- God is the one who justifies us; if God justifies us, there is no one else who has any authority to bring a charge against us [8:33]
- Jesus Christ died for our justification, and is at the right hand of God as our advocate. If Jesus Christ did this for us, there is no one who has the authority to condemn us.
On the basis of these indisputable evidences of God being for us Paul affirms that no suffering or situation that we find ourselves in can ever be an indication that we are being rejected by God and cut off from his love. God has justified us through the death of his Son: nothing can undo that.
This perspective of justification that reaches out and embraces all the circumstances of our lives and removes from them the appellation of judgment or condemnation is of extreme significance for contemporary Christianity, where the damning and guilt generating accusations of ‘not enough faith’ and ‘hidden sin in your life’ are hurled at those who are suffering. Justification by faith, justification because of the righteousness of Christ, outlaws such a mentality for ever. It identifies such a mentality as the kata sarka mindset of Romans 8, a mindset void of faith and ignorant of justification.
E. JUSTIFICATION IN GALATIANS
When writing to the Galatians Paul was confronting head-on teaching that was forcing the believers to embrace a law-based relationship with God.
Task #2: Questions on Galatians
 Study Galatians 2:15-21. Answer these questions:
[Discuss their implications for your perception of [a] your good works, and [b] your acceptance with God.]
What potential does our observing the law have to gain us acquittal by God the just Judge?
What is the only way that a ‘not guilty’ verdict can be obtained?
Why is it foolish to add our own works to the work of Christ as a means of being justified?
How does verse 19 express the concept of justification?
How does verse 20 express the concept of justification?
If we think we can be justified [declared righteous] on the basis of what we do, what are we implying about the death of Christ?
 Discuss and answer these questions from Galatians 3:6-29
What is the significance of Abraham for the doctrine of justification by faith?
Why is it impossible for anyone to escape the curse of the law by their own efforts?
What is the sole means of escaping this curse?
What is the role of the law in justification by faith?
 Discuss and answer these questions regarding what Paul says in Galatians 5:1-12
If we try to be justified by the works of the law, what impact does this have on the work of Christ and on our salvation?
Are we meant to see this impact as actual and objective, or as the subjective impact that a works-based mindset has on our perception and enjoyment of salvation?
Martin Luther comments:
[On Galatians 5:2] ‘Paul is incensed at the thought of the tyranny of the Law. His antagonism to the Law is a personal matter with him. "Behold, I, Paul," he says, "I who have received the Gospel not from men, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ: I who have been commissioned from above to preach the Gospel to you: I Paul say to you, If you submit to circumcision Christ will profit you nothing." Paul emphatically declares that for the Galatians to be circumcised would mean for them to lose the benefits of Christ's suffering and death. This passage may well serve as a criterion for all the religions. To teach that besides faith in Christ other devices like works, or the observance of rules, traditions, or ceremonies are necessary for the attainment of righteousness and everlasting life, is to make Christ and His salvation of no benefit to anybody.’
[On Galatians 5:3] ‘The more you endeavour to perform the Law, the more you will become tangled up in the yoke of the Law. The truth of this I have experienced in myself and in others. I have seen many work themselves down to the bones in their hungry effort to obtain peace of conscience. But the harder they tried the more they worried. Especially in the presence of death they were so uneasy that I have seen murderers die with better grace and courage.
This holds true also in regard to the church regulations. When I was a monk I tried ever so hard to live up to the strict rules of my order. I used to make a list of my sins, and I was always on the way to confession, and whatever penances were enjoined upon me I performed religiously. In spite of it all, my conscience was always in a fever of doubt. The more I sought to help my poor stricken conscience the worse it got. The more I paid attention to the regulations the more I transgressed them.
Hence those that seek to be justified by the Law are much further away from the righteousness of life than the publicans, sinners, and harlots. They know better than to trust in their own works. They know that they cannot ever hope to obtain forgiveness by their sins.’
[On Galatians 5:4] ‘Paul in this verse discloses that he is not speaking so much of circumcision as the trust which men repose in the outward act. We can hear him say: "I do not condemn the Law in itself; what I condemn is that men seek to be justified by the Law, as if Christ were still to come, or as if He alone were unable to justify sinners. It is this that I condemn, because it makes Christ of no effect. It makes you void of Christ so that Christ is not in you, nor can you be partakers of the knowledge, the spirit, the fellowship, the liberty, the life, or the achievements of Christ. You are completely separated from Him, so much so that He has nothing to do with you any more, or for that matter you with Him." Can anything worse be said against the Law? If you think Christ and the Law can dwell together in your heart, you may be sure that Christ dwells not in your heart. For if Christ is in your heart He neither condemns you, nor does He ever bid you to trust in your own good works. If you know Christ at all, you know that good works do not serve unto righteousness, nor evil works unto condemnation. I do not want to withhold from good works their due praise, nor do I wish to encourage evil works. But when it comes to justification, I say, we must concentrate upon Christ alone, or else we make Him non-effective .You must choose between Christ and the righteousness of the Law. If you choose Christ you are righteous before God. If you stick to the Law, Christ is of no use to you.’ [Commentary on Galatians, online at http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/luther/gal/web/gal5-01.html ]
Task #3: Discussion
In the light of Galatians 5:1-12, and Luther’s comments above, discuss evidence of emphasis on human merit and the accompanying loss of the knowledge of and confidence in Christ’s grace in contemporary Christianity.
F. JUSTIFICATION IN PHILIPPIANS
In chapter 3 of Philippians Paul warns against the false teachers who were making the ritual of circumcision essential for salvation. Referring to his own experiences he contrasted his former ‘confidence in the flesh’ with his current confidence in Christ. It is obvious that by ‘flesh’ – sarx - he does not mean moral sinfulness, for when he lists the credentials of the flesh in which he used to place his confidence they include his circumcision, his race, his faultlessness in terms of legalistic righteousness and his Pharisaic regard for the law. Humanly speaking Paul was a very good man; in terms of piety and sincerity he was avidly zealous for God [as he perceived him] and God’s honour. This was the flesh - this goodness, this ritual and legal blamelessness - in which Paul was confident and in which he boasted, before his encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road. That encounter totally and radically changed his perspective about the deity of Jesus Christ; but it also, as an automatic consequence of this vision of the real Jesus, changed his perspective about the validity of his flesh-based righteousness.
As it did to Isaiah [Isaiah 6], the brilliant and holy presence of the Lord shredded to irrelevant fragments all of Paul’s human claims to acceptance and acquittal. As Paul points out in Philippians 3 such flesh-based ‘righteousness’ is worthless. Rubbish. Dung. Seeing the Lord, he also sees sin for what it really is, and knows that this human quest for righteousness, this human confidence in our own righteousness, is itself an expression of our sinfulness – an expression of our independence from God and of our rejection of God.
Task #4: Questions on Philippians 3
Read Philippians 3:1-9. Discuss and answer the following questions.
What is the role of ‘rejoice in the Lord’ in Philippians 3:1-9? Is it merely an encouraging Christian cliché or does it have some relation to what Paul is saying about trusting in the righteousness of Christ rather than the righteousness of the flesh?
What is the significance of verse 3 for our understanding of justification? Notice the flesh/Spirit contrast. We worship by the Spirit of God … and put no confidence in the flesh. [‘worship by the Spirit’ and ‘glory in Christ Jesus’ go together.] Note that some translations read ‘rejoice in Christ Jesus’. The word here is different from the word in verse one. Here the Greek word means to boast, rejoice or glory.
Why is counting one’s own righteousness dung, and trusting the righteousness of Christ a reason for rejoicing?
What does this passage teach us about the significance of the word ‘flesh’? What does it embrace? How much and what aspects of our human activity does it include?
How does ‘knowing Christ Jesus my Lord’ put an end to all perceptions of human merit?
How does Paul describe Gospel righteousness? – How do we get it? Where does it come from? On what does it depend?
G. JUSTIFICATION/RIGHTEOUSNESS IN OTHER NEW TESTAMENT SCRIPTURES
Task #5: Further questions on justification in the New Testament
Discuss the meaning and implications of justification and righteousness in the following texts.
[This passage looks at the truth that true faith expresses itself in action]
H. DOUBLE-BARRELLED RIGHTEOUSNESS
Gospel righteousness is double barrelled. It is not just the declaration ‘not guilty’ on the basis of the death of Christ by which our sin and guilt are taken and borne by him. It is also the imputation [crediting] of his positive righteousness. By this gift of God we are not simply restored to a zero balance in God’s account books. On the one hand, all of our debit is cancelled by the sin-bearing substitutionary death of Christ [which we look at in subsequent studies]; on the other hand, our empty credit balance is filled up with the positive righteousness of Christ credited to us. Thus we have an equation of an incredible exchange:
Christ was legally righteous [innocent] : His righteousness [innocence] is imputed to us
We are legally unrighteous [guilty] : Our unrighteousness [guilt] was imputed to him
Just as Christ did not become sinful when our sin was imputed to him, so we do not become righteous when his righteousness is imputed to us. God accused, condemned, declared him guilty on our account. God acquits, justifies, and declares us righteous on his account. God treated Christ as if he was guilty; God treats us as if we are not guilty. God treated Christ as if he was actively a sinner. God treats us as if we were, at this present moment, totally and actively fully in the right.
This double-barrelled imputed righteousness is evident in the following:
- All the scriptures that state that our righteousness etc is ‘in Christ’.
- All the scriptures that stress that it is a gift of God, and ‘by faith’ not by works.
- 1Corinthians 1:30: ‘Christ Jesus … has become for us … our righteousness’
- 2Corinthians 5:21: ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’
- Romans 5:12-21, where the obedience of Christ is contrasted with the disobedience of Adam, and presented as the means by which life is restored to those dead as a result of Adam’s sin.
- Hebrews 2:10-18; 4:14-5:10, which stress the importance of the obedient human life of Christ.
‘This righteousness of Christ, therefore, includes two aspects: satisfaction and obedience. The New Testament speaks of Christ as our “second Adam” or “last Adam” [1 Cor 15:45; cf. Rom. 5:15-21]. In order to redeem us Christ had to do a twofold work: he had to suffer the penalty for Adam’s sin and for all the sins his people had committed [and would still commit], but he also had to render to God that perfect obedience to God’s law which Adam should have rendered but had failed to perform. What is therefore credited to our account in our justification is not only Christ’s satisfaction of the penalty for our sins but also his perfect obedience to God’s law. Because of the imputation of Christ’s law-keeping obedience to us, we who are justified are now looked upon by God as if we “had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for” us'. [Saved by Grace, p182, and citing the Heidelberg Catechism in the last sentence.]
The prophet Jeremiah encapsulates this righteousness credited to us when he prophesied of Christ:
‘This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness’ [Jer 23:6; 33:16]
I. BEHIND JUSTIFICATION
Behind the whole concept of justification by faith is the justice of God. God is the just and righteous Judge of all the earth. He does what is right. His Law cannot be altered. The Scripture states:
‘… for when you eat of it you will surely die’ [Genesis 2;17]
‘Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?’ [Genesis 18:25]
‘The LORD is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face’ [Psalm 11:7]
‘And the heavens proclaim his righteousness, for God himself is judge’ [Psalm 50:6]
'Righteous are you, O LORD, and your laws are right. The statutes you have laid down are righteous’ [Ps 119:137]
‘The soul who sins is the one who will die’ [Ezekiel 18:4]
‘… for the LORD our God is righteous in everything he does …’ [Daniel 9:14]
‘I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law’ [Matthew 5:18]
‘The wages of sin is death’ [Romans 6:23]
‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law’ [Galatians 3:10]
God has saved us in and through Jesus Christ. This free gift of salvation, however, does not mean that God has repealed the Law. God has not at all changed his mind or changed the law. He has not lowered his standards. His standards always have and always will be the same: that we humans should be perfect, that we should keep one hundred percent of his law, one hundred percent, one hundred percent of the time. That is his standard. If we default, if we fail, the outcome in terms of his justice, is death – eternal severance from him, the source of life. The standard is set. The penalty is set. The reality of this spiritual death is evidenced by the reality of physical death.
If God were not this just and righteous Judge whose law is absolute, the entire biblical concepts of sin, judgment and the need for salvation are meaningless. Gospel justification/righteousness are redundant and also meaningless. Thus the teaching of God’s free gift of justification/righteousness, his declaration of acquittal, presupposes the existence and reality of his eternal law and standard [irrespective of the actual giving of the codified law of Moses], the existence and reality of our human sin and failure, and the existence and reality of his justice wherein he justly judges and condemns sin.
Whenever we minimize God’s law, whenever we minimize human sin, whenever we minimize God’s just condemnation of and penalty on sin, then we also minimize his gift of justification/righteousness. Those who hold to a minimal view of sin have of necessity a minimal view of justification. Similarly those who hold to a minimal view of the condemnation/death in which every human being exists apart from salvation, radically minimize, and alter the nature of, gospel righteousness/justification.
As we have already seen in Romans 3:26 God demonstrates his justice in his amazing plan of salvation through the death of his Son, Jesus Christ. This justification by means of a righteous substitute affirms the reality of God’s justice, the reality of human sin, and the reality of the condemnation and death from which it rescues us. We will look at this further in later studies. For the moment consider this Old Testament passage where the justice and mercy of God are spoken of together:
‘The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion’ [Psalm 116:5]
This then is justification/righteousness: that we stand today in the presence of God and are pronounced ‘not guilty’, declared ‘right with God’:
It comes not from our performance, but from God’s pronouncement.
It comes not from our goodness, but as a gift of God’s grace.
It depends not on our doing but on Christ’s dying.
It cannot fluctuate because of our fickleness and failures, but stands fast because of God’s faithfulness.
It is not, and never will be, our own, but is always a gift, a declaration, given to us but alien to us, his righteousness, counted as ours.
Task #6: Personal impact of justification
Make a list of the concepts from this study that have impressed you. Discuss and describe the difference between a relationship with God based on personal good deeds and a relationship with God based on the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Think in terms of peace with God, assurance, certainty, confidence, right of access into God’s presence and motivation for service.