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Justification by Faith

On his way to Spain, Paul developed an interest to visit the Church of Rome to preach the gospel to the Gentiles there. Being apostle of the Gentiles, such a task was the very best thing to do, since Rome was the center of heathenism. Nonetheless, prior to coming, his wish was to launch his ministry’s credibility with the Church of Rome, and he did so by writing down the gospel that he had been preaching.This is seen when he said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.’ Here, Paul was explaining that he was not embarrassed of the gospel because it was God’s power to save those who believed in it. Despite Jesus stating that salvation is for the Jews only (John 4:22), Paul claimed that as much as the Jews were to be given priority regarding the gospel message; the Gentiles also were to be included as intended beneficiaries of God’s word. He supported his argument with the citation from Genesis 12:3 when God told Abraham that in Him, every family on earth would be blessed.While God prioritized blessing Abraham, the intention was that everybody on earth, including the Gentiles, would be granted salvation through him.

Romans 1:17 states, “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed -a righteousness that is attained by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.’ In this scripture, Paul explains God’s righteousness in all individuals, who have faith in that only He can save. One might wonder how God shows His righteousness through an individual’s faith. He does so by demonstrating that every good deed of a man amounts to nothing and that only He can save mankind. In the subsequent chapters of the book of Romans, Paul demonstrates that every human requires salvation because “all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God” (Romans 3:24).[6] As such, a man has found himself in a tight spot where he cannot do anything to save himself because the problem is inside him.

Man is incapable of saving himself because he is crippled by sin; therefore, every good that he attempts to carry out will forever add up to nothing in terms of salvation. According to Paul, man has been condemned to death, and he can attain salvation only through Jesus Christ (Romans 5). A repentant heart and mercy deeds may be good, but they cannot do anything to ensure man’s justification with God.Paul makes it very clear that personal obedience to the law of God cannot save mankind; it can be achieved through the acts of righteousness, as it was stated in Romans 5:18, which says, “Through one act of righteousness there resulted justification”. The work of Jesus on the cross is the only act of righteousness, which justifies salvation in the sight of God. Consequently, the righteousness of God is shown from the one faithful to another (Romans 5:17). This is because faith concurs with the work of God in Christ, and confesses that every man’s good deed is worth nothing, and people are incapable of doing what Jesus Christ has done. Justification is not achieved through the mix of faith, hard work, baptism, or paying tithes etc; it is the fruit of faith alone. This paper presents a discussion on how Paul develops his argument with regard to justification by faith.

A full understanding of the subject of justification by faith (imputed righteousness) requires a reflection on Paul’s comparison between the first and the second Adam. According to Paul, man did not become a sinner due to what he did himself, but because of what a forefather Adam did. This is expressed as, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous’ (Romans 5:15-19).Being the founding father of the mankind, Adam’s fall into temptation meant that whole human race has fallen because the entire humanity is the offspring of Adam. That is why Paul concludes that through Adam, death gripped, and, through Jesus, righteousness reined the world. The same way the entire human race has been taken in Adam, so God accepts every faithful man through His Son, Jesus Christ.Consequently, Christ turned out to be the new Father, Head, and Representative of the fallen human race. The essence of God’s righteousness is captured well in Brinsmead’s statement when he states that Jesus was the outlay of the treasure of heaven, the accrued wealth and love of eternity, and the entirety of the righteousness of God.Even Paul shared the same thought about Jesus; he described him as the embodiment of mankind’s redemption, holiness and righteousness.

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It is only through the Cross that a person can understand God’s plan and intention, to reconcile sinful mankind back to Him. Apostle Paul demonstrated this fact through calling attention to Jesus as the hidden mystery, prepared since the world’s foundation.That is why a person, who is in Jesus Christ, is free from the wrath of God, the dominion of sin, the curse of the law, and condemnation (Romans 5, 6, 7, 8). Paul develops the idea of justification by faith throughout the initial eight chapters in the book of Romans. In the search for understanding of the concept of justification, a person gets conscious of the fact that justification is God’s act of saving the sinful mankind. In other words, justification has got more to do with what God does to people who have faith and trust in Him, as opposed to changing one’s moral conduct or state. God’s righteousness, therefore, is beyond human understanding.

Paul’s Argument Concerning Justification by Faith

Justification is the main focus of faith that describes God’s act of making a sinner righteous via the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The scope, extent, and means of justification have remained areas of considerable debate.[14]A majority of people deems that justification is a particular act where God pronounces an unrighteous person righteous due to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Justification, therefore, is granted to everyone who has faith. It was Paul who came up with the term “justification’, which became a key message of the New Testament epistles, like the ones to the Romans and Galatians.[15] Apostle Paul speaks of God’s wrath on sinners (Romans 1:18-32), and he presents justification as the only solution to God’s wrath (Rom. 3:21 – 26). People are justified by faith alone and not deeds.[16]To illustrate justification, Paul uses two men, Christ and Adam. In Romans 5:15 – 17, Paul states that sin came to the world through Adam, and its consequence was death. Jesus Christ, however, brought righteousness to the world, leading to justification of man’s life. He says that people who are justified cannot be alienated from Christ’s love.

Romans 1:17 forms the hub of justification by faith. Even though Paul puts emphasis on justification by faith alone (imputed righteousness) in the initial eight chapters of Romans, he talks about the fact that every Christian is a servant of righteousness. It is important to say that the main focus of the Epistle to the Romans is the imputed righteousness, i.e. being justified by faith.Imputed righteousness is wholly beyond the conduct of a believer; it is the fruit of dying and deeds of Jesus Christ. According to Romans 6:16-22, man was enslaved by sin prior to justification, but after justification, he became a servant of righteousness. As an illustration of justification by faith, Paul gave the example of Abraham, who, according to the scriptures, was not justified through circumcision, deeds, or law, but rather by his faith in God (Romans 4:4-25).Paul presented the justification of Abraham to support his claims that a person can attain justification through faith alone.

The Righteousness of God

It is important to answer the question of what the righteousness of God, as used by Paul in verse 17, is. The notion refers to the essential and eternal righteousness of God, which encompasses both mercy and justice, and is highly expressed in condemning sin, and nonetheless justifying the sinner. This attribute of God’s righteousness is seen in Paul’s statement when he says, “But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us?” (Romans 3:5). The same meaning is used when Paul stated, “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus’ (Romans 3:25-26).It may also mean the righteousness, through which man is made righteous by accepting Jesus Christ through his faith. In addition, it means the entire benefit God achieved through Christ for the redemption of a sinner. This is seen in Romans 1:18, which talks about God’s wrath and righteousness; the former is little recognized to nature and is disclosed by the law, while the latter is completely unidentified to nature, and is revealed by the gospel.According to Paul, righteousness by faith, salvation by righteousness, and salvation for both Jews and Gentiles are all summed up in one single sentence, “The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1: 17).The just here refers to those who have been forgiven their sins and justified by the gospel. This means that the just shall believe and act according to God’s word.

According to Paul, Jesus Christ is the righteousness of God. God’s righteousness is shown in history and carried out in Christ’s live. Paul makes it very clear that God’s righteousness was accountable for in Christ’s deeds, and believers are conversant with the righteousness of Christ owing to the fact that he was obedient, even to death. During the time of Jesus, the Jews had not understood the meaning of the external righteousness, which was credited to a man.Instead, they established their personal justice, as opposed to submitting to Jesus, who is God’s righteousness.

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While speaking of God’s righteousness, the subject that comes to one’s mind is justification by faith. In Romans 10:4, Paul states that there is righteousness for everybody who believes in Christ, since He is the end of the law. Therefore, all believers are free from the law. However, the Jewish people were practicing righteousness by deeds, as opposed to righteousness by faith. That is why Paul states clearly, in Galatians 2:16, that men are justified by having faith in Jesus Christ, as opposed to observing the law.He, therefore, encourages the Jews to put their faith in Christ, so as to attain justification by faith in Messiah. Paul based his concern for the Jews on the fact that the relationship they had initiated with God was based on physical deeds and not their faith.

It is important to note that Paul is not against obedience to the law, but rejects righteousness that is attained through deeds, i.e. obeying the law to place God in a person’s debt. That is why he advises people, “No one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin’ (Romans 3:20). He stated, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:2-24), and that God’s righteousness comes to all followers of Jesus Christ by believing in Him.Even if all are sinners, God has the power to pronounce every person who puts his trust in him, righteous. This statement is legitimate since Jesus had a perfect and pure life, and his death was intended to pay the price of the sins of the mankind; therefore, His righteousness was accredited to man.

The Relationship between God’s Righteousness and Justification by Faith

It is important to mention that there is a correlation between the righteousness of God and justification by faith. As mentioned earlier, God’s righteousness encompasses both mercy and justice, in that He has the power to condemn sin, but at the same time, He is merciful enough to justify those sinners who believe in Him and act according to His word. Thus, the righteousness of God enables the attainment of justification by faith.

The Relationship between God’s Righteousness and Wrath

As seen in Romans 1:1-17, the saving promises of God are meant both for the Jews and the Gentiles, and through His Son Jesus Christ, who gives a person a glimpse into how great God’s salvation to humanity is. Nonetheless, in verse 18, the focus of Paul’s argument changes from God’s righteousness to God’s wrath.[30] The issue is how to explain the relationship between God’s wrath and His righteousness. Because all men have sinned against God and fallen short of His glory, God’s wrath is upon all the mankind. On the other hand, God is merciful and just; therefore, He will save all sinners who repent their sins and turn back to Him. However, the wicked people, who will continue sinning, will experience God’s wrath, and they will burn in the eternal fires of Hell.

The Implications of the Wrath of God throughout Paul’s use of the word, “Salvation”

Even though all men were made sinners through the act of Adam, God sent Jesus Christ to bring salvation and eternal life to those who believed in Him. It is important to note that receiving God’s salvation is not mandatory; every person has a right to decide whether to reject or accept it. Sinners, who will decline to be saved, are bound to face God’s wrath.

Contemporary Evangelical Church and Association between God’s Righteousness and Wrath

Today, modern evangelical churches have not adequately maintained the link between God’s wrath and His righteousness. This is because numerous churches have been commercialized to the extent that preachers speak only about what people want to hear, so as to get more followers and money; hence very little about the truth of God’s righteousness and wrath is told. Consequently, churches do not maintain the association between the above two concepts sufficiently. In my opinion, this issue can be resolved by preachers strictly conveying the word of God the way it is, so that people can know the truth that if they do not repent and turn away from their sins, God will punish them.

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