BIBLICAL MESSAGE OF JUSTIFICATION
8. Our common way of listening to the word of God in Scripture has led to
such new insights. Together we hear the gospel that "God so loved the world
that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not
perish but may have eternal life" (Jn 3:16). This good news is set forth in
Holy Scripture in various ways. In the Old Testament we listen to God's
word about human sinfulness (Ps 51:1-5; Dan 9:5f; Eccl/Qo 8:9f; Ezra 9:6f)
and human disobedience (Gen 3:1-19; Neh 9:16f,26) as well as of God's
"righteousness" (Isa 46:13; 51:5-8; 56:1 [cf. 53:11]; Jer 9:24) and
"judgment" (Eccl/Qo 12:14; Ps 9:5f; 76:7-9).
9. In the New Testament diverse treatments of "righteousness" and
"justification" are found in the writings of Matthew (5:10; 6:33; 21:32),
John (16:8-11), Hebrews (5:3; 10:37f), and James (2:14-26).(10) In Paul's
letters also, the gift of salvation is described in various ways, among
others: "for freedom Christ has set us free" (Gal 5:1-13; cf. Rom 6:7),
"reconciled to God" (2 Cor 5:18-21; cf. Rom 5:11), "peace with God" (Rom
5:1), "new creation" (2 Cor 5:17), "alive to God in Christ Jesus" (Rom
6:11,23), or "sanctified in Christ Jesus" (cf. 1 Cor 1:2; 1:30; 2 Cor 1:1).
Chief among these is the "justification" of sinful human beings by God's
grace through faith (Rom 3:23-25), which came into particular prominence in
the Reformation period.
10. Paul sets forth the gospel as the power of God for salvation of the
person who has fallen under the power of sin, as the message that proclaims
that "the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith" (Rom
1:16f) and that grants "justification" (Rom 3:21-31). He proclaims Christ
as "our righteousness" (1 Cor 1:30), applying to the risen Lord what
Jeremiah proclaimed about God himself (Jer 23:6). In Christ's death and
resurrection all dimensions of his saving work have their roots for he is
"our Lord, who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our
justification" (Rom 4:25). All human beings are in need of God's
righteousness, "since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God"
(Rom 3:23; cf. Rom 1:18-3:20; 11:32; Gal 3:22). In Galatians (3:6) and
Romans (4:3-9), Paul understands Abraham's faith (Gen 15:6) as faith in the
God who justifies the sinner (Rom 4:5) and calls upon the testimony of the
Old Testament to undergird his gospel that this righteousness will be
reckoned to all who, like Abraham, trust in God's promise. "For the
righteous will live by faith (Hab 2:4; cf. Gal 3:11; Rom 1:17). In Paul's
letters, God's righteousness is also God's power for those who have faith
(Rom 1:16f; 2 Cor 5:21). In Christ he makes it our righteousness (2 Cor
5:21). Justification becomes ours through Christ Jesus "whom God put
forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith"
(Rom 3:25; see 3:21- 28). "For by grace you have been saved through faith,
and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God - not the result of
works" (Eph 2:8f).
11. Justification is the forgiveness of sins (cf. Rom 3:23-25; Acts 13:39;
Lk 18:14), liberation from the dominating power of sin and death (Rom
5:12-21) and from the curse of the law (Gal 3:10-14). It is acceptance into
communion with God: already now, but then fully in God's coming kingdom
(Rom 5:1f). It unites with Christ and with his death and resurrection (Rom
6:5). It occurs in the reception of the Holy Spirit in baptism and
incorporation into the one body (Rom 8:1f, 9f; I Cor 12:12f). All this is
from God alone, for Christ's sake, by grace, through faith in "the gospel
of God's Son" (Rom 1:1-3).
12. The justified live by faith that comes from the Word of Christ (Rom
10:17) and is active through love (Gal 5:6), the fruit of the Spirit (Gal
5:22f). But since the justified are assailed from within and without by
powers and desires (Rom 8:35-39; Gal 5:16-21) and fall into sin (1 Jn
1:8,10), they must constantly hear God's promises anew, confess their sins
(1 Jn 1:9), participate in Christ's body and blood, and be exhorted to live
righteously in accord with the will of God. That is why the Apostle says to
the justified: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it
is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his
good pleasure" (Phil 2:12f). But the good news remains: "there is now no
condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom 8:1), and in whom
Christ lives (Gal 2:20). Christ's "act of righteousness leads to
justification and life for all" (Rom 5:18).