Saturday, January 15, 2011

Justified Once and for All

“Being justified as a gift by grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” The Greek participle di-kai-ou-men-oi is a present tense participle. This participle is describing the aspect of being justified as a continuous state. Once justification is declared, it is finished. We say, “I am innocent of those charges.” That innocence describes the present state. This is true for all believers alike. How do we know this is true for all believers? The participle modifies “all” of v. 23. All of us are presently justified. We have all (those who have faith in Christ) once for all been declared innocent of the charge of breaking God’s law. Legally, we are not guilty. The absence of guilt however cannot be ascribed to works we have or have not done. This state of justification is a result of a gift by grace. That is to say that this grace we receive is entirely a gift from God. Moreover, this gift of grace is made visible through the completed work of Christ in redemption. The Greek word redeem is apolutroseos and it means to purchase out of the market place. It carries the idea of purchasing a slave out of the market for the purpose of releasing him/her from painful interrogation. It means to release from a captive condition. We are all on equal footing here. We were all slaves. Not one of us was good, not even one. (Rom. 3:10) As far as God is concerned, we are all cut from the same filthy cloth. The CEO of the bank is the same as the custodian who cleans the toilets. The unregenerate boy-scout is no different from the unregenerate prostitute. We are the same. The powerful, wealthy politician is no different than the powerless, poor widow living in the one room apartment. The preacher who rips widows off on TV is no worse off than the little old unregenerate lady at church who spends all her time stirring up discord, strife, and engaging in continuous malicious gossip. The act whereby we have been made righteous or innocent of the charges against us is entirely the act of God from beginning to end. Now that is mercy. Now that is kindness. Now that is love. You cannot soften the sinful condition without the unintended consequence of diminishing grace. If I am not a wretch, then grace isn’t amazing.

But there was a cost involved. God is holy. God is eternally righteous. He is a just God. Sin cannot go unpunished. God, because He is holy, cannot simply dismiss sin. Sin must be punished. This is where so many in contemporary cultures around the world run aground. Christ’s atonement was not simply God in His wisdom, providing us with an example of what Christian service looks like. Jesus’ death on the cross was far more than the ultimate example of service. Paul says that God displayed Jesus (as a propitiation) publicly in His blood (through faith) to demonstrate His righteousness. What is Paul getting at? Paul is continuing to assert that there is nothing in us or in our works that merits God’s grace or deserves His legal declaration of our innocence. The Greek word hilosterion means both expiation and propitiation. In one act, God’s anger and wrath is averted while his favor is directed toward us. And this act is based on the work of Christ in the atonement. Even though we are all from the same lump of vile clay, God, in His kindness and mercy, has called us out of darkness and made provision for our justification through faith in Jesus Christ. There is no distinction. Just as we are all vile sinners before God, taken from the same sinful lump, now we are all declared righteous through faith in one and the same person, Jesus Christ. This will come back to our sinful desire to categorize one another, and judge each other before this is over. So please be patient with me. It cannot be overemphasized that we all come from the same sinful lump of clay, and that it is the same work of Christ on the cross that justifies all those who believe. We are the same.

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand.” The Greek word for justify again is in the aorist tense which points to action that has taken place. Justification is a declarative act of God that is applied to our lives by faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. We all have peace with God because God has declared us righteous. The Greek word “have” is in the present tense which indicates continuous action. In other words, having been declared righteous by God, we are having peace, or we are in a state of peace, with God. Because we have been reconciled to God and declared righteous, we are no longer His enemy and as such, we are in a state of peace with Him. When an adversary conquers, the peace is imposed on the terms of the conqueror, not the one conquered. We will revisit this when we discuss sanctification and how all this works its way out in the unified whole of the Christian scheme of thinking. We were all the enemies of God. The sin nature desires to keep us in a hostile state toward God. Having been justified, we have now been set apart. We have been declared righteous, and now have been adopted by God into His family, and we are no longer enemies, but now we are called friends. Again, this is true of all of us. There is no distinction.

It must also be pointed out clearly that God’s basis for declaring us righteous is the atoning work of Christ. This atoning work did not simply provide for God’s ability to potentially declare us righteous depending on what WE would do. That is not the grammar used here by Paul. This act of declaration is viewed by Paul as in the past with the result continuing in the present. Christ’s work at Calvary did not provide for potential justification, nor did it lay the groundwork for contingent justification. It IS the basis for actual justification. Calvary is the basis for the once for all declaration by the Father that all the believing ones have been justified before God. This declaration is realized in actual justification at the point in time when faith is placed in Christ. The declaration precedes the application. Were this not the case, no one could have been declared just at the cross. And justification could not have been looked at as an event that happened “then,” but rather as an iterative process that is on-going even to this day.

Paul spends Romans 1-3 establishing the fact that there is none righteous, no not one. We are all sinners cut from the same sinful lump of clay. In chapter 4, he introduces us to Abraham, the father of the faithful. Abraham believed God and his faith was credited to him as righteousness, apart from the law. Finally, in chapter 5, Paul begins by informing us that those who believe in Christ Jesus are also justified and now have peace with God. Paul elaborates further on our condition in Adam, pointing out that because sin belongs to us all, we all die. Get it? We ALL die. We are ALL the same. We are all sinners, born into sin, and as a result we all die. Those who believe in Christ do so as a result of the free gift of God’s grace on their lives. They are declared righteous by the work of God from top to bottom.

Now we enter the part of this discussion where controversy is alive and well. If justification is an act once for all declared by God, how is it that not everyone is righteous? How is it that God can declare us righteous because of the work of Christ while most human beings are still unrighteous, and most of them will enter eternity damned? God has declared only those righteous who exercise faith in Christ. So God has declared all those who exercise faith in Christ to be righteous. This justification is applied to the individual at the point that this person places their faith in Christ. But isn’t this personal application based on the actions of the human subject? The answer is yes and no. Yes, they are expressing faith in the person of Jesus Christ. That action certainly belongs to them. But the faith they possess, they do not possess on their own. God grants to them this gift of faith by grace so that they will believe. Unregenerate people do not possess saving faith and remain unregenerate. James pointed this out when he said “even the devils believe in one God and tremble.” That isn’t genuine faith. Genuine faith is the gift of God upon those whom God has called to salvation. So the question then is how do we know who is truly justified and who isn’t. That is the subject of the next portion of this series. On the one hand, there is a way to tell who has been declared justified and who likely has not. There is a very specific mechanism in place to help us recognize when a person has genuine faith in Christ and when they probably do not. On the other hand, this is a very serious and sober area. You want to avoid blindly accepting everyone who says “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” as genuine Christians, while at the same time, the last thing on earth you want to engage in is hypocritical judging. Do not call a believer an unbeliever. Moreover, do not call an unbeliever a brother when the evidence is clearly pointing in the other direction. But take care in how you arrive at your conclusions. There are very specific steps in place designed to help us hold one another accountable as well as help us understand the difference between a genuine member of the Christian community and a pseudo member. This will all come out in our discussion on sanctification. Yes, sanctification matters and the balance here, as you will see, while possible is not easy.

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