By Kevin McFadden, Professor of Christian Studies at Louisiana College
[img_assist|nid=7242|title=Kevin McFadden|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=78|height=100]Many Christians know that Jesus Christ died for their sins but have difficulty seeing how this has any direct bearing upon their daily lives. The goal of this and next issue’s essay is to explain how Paul understood Christ’s death for our justification to make a remarkable difference in the believer’s life. I will be reflecting on Romans 5-8 where Paul explains the results of justification by faith. These chapters are meant to give Christians, who live in a world plagued by sin and death, the hope that God through Christ has secured our freedom from this sin and death.
I must begin by explaining what exactly justification by faith is. Perhaps the easiest way to define this doctrine is by contrasting it with its opposites.
First, justification is the opposite of condemnation. Both are declarations of a courtroom – condemnation is the declaration that a person is evil and guilty; justification is the declaration that a person is righteous and innocent.
This is important, because some have argued that justification means that God makes a person righteous, but when Paul contrasts justification with condemnation it is clear that it means God declares a person to be righteous (Romans 2:12–13; 5:16, 18).
The act of condemnation does not make a person evil but declares him or her to be evil. Similarly the act of justification does not make a person righteous but declares him or her to be righteous.
Second, justification by faith is the opposite of justification by works of the law. In a just human courtroom a person is declared to be righteous only if he or she has done what is good. Similarly, Paul tells us in Romans 2:1–16 that, through Jesus Christ, God will judge each person according to his or her works on the final day of judgment. Those who have done what is evil will be condemned (Romans 2:8–9, 12). Those who have done what is good, or obeyed the law, will be justified (Romans 2:7, 10, 13).
Here is where all hope is lost for human beings, because Paul’s gospel accuses every person of being under the power of sin and liable to condemnation at the final judgment – that is, no one can be justified by doing the law (Romans 3:9–20).
If we are going to stand at the final judgment, we need a different kind of righteousness, a different kind of justification – we need salvation. And this is exactly what God has done for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God justifies those who believe in Jesus Christ, not by their works but by their trust in Jesus (Romans 3:21–22).
This declaration of righteousness is a free gift from God, for it is not earned but is by grace (Romans 3:24). And most fundamentally, this declaration of righteousness is not by the law but by the sacrificial death of Christ (Romans 3:24). How can a just God declare sinners to be righteous? Because God has already condemned our sin in the death of his Son, so that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1, 3).
Thus, justification by faith means that God, in his grace, declares sinners to be righteous by means of their faith in Jesus Christ and because of his sacrificial death for our sins.
This forgiveness is the foundation of the Christian’s hope.
But the good news does not end here, for Paul teaches in Romans 5 – 8 that justification by faith secures a believer’s freedom from the powers of sin and death which have wreaked havoc on the world and on our lives. This freedom from sin and death, given freely to us by the death and resurrection of Christ, makes a remarkable difference in how the Christian lives his or her life.
In the rest of this essay I will explain how justification by faith secures the believer’s freedom from the power of death. In the next one, I will explain how justification by faith secures the believer’s freedom from the power of sin.
Death is the most significant problem facing the human race. None of us escapes the pain of losing those we love, and none of us will escape the decay, the disease, or the tragedy which will end our own lives.
Even modern medical science, with all of its advances, has no answer to the problem of death. Paul, reflecting on Genesis 1–3, tells us that death entered the world through the disobedience of Adam, our first father (Romans 5:12).
However, Paul says, just as one act of disobedience unleashed this plague on our entire race, so Christ’s one act of obedience in going to the cross for our sins, has healed us from this plague and given to us a justification which leads to eternal life (Romans 5:18; cf. 5:21) – that is, the resurrection from the dead.
This eternal life is what he refers to when he says that justification secures “the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1–2). Believers will one day partake in the very radiance of God when their countenance shines with his own glory at the resurrection.
As Paul says it, “those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:30).
How does this make a difference in the Christian’s daily life?
Paul argues that the certain hope of the resurrection from the dead gives the believer a new perspective on their present suffering in the world.
Everyone in this world experiences suffering – sickness, anxiety, relational conflict, abuse, the death of those we love, and the pains of old age. Even the natural world, Paul argues, suffers because it has been subjected to futility of Adam’s sin (Romans 8:19–20). This is why we see natural disasters like hurricanes.
Moreover Paul warns that Christians will normally experience exceptional suffering in the world, which he establishes by quoting Psalm 44:22: “For your sake, we are being put to death all the day, we are considered as sheep for the slaughter” (Romans 8:36). What hope do we have?
Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, we have the hope that we will be raised from the dead. And after Christians are freed from death at this final redemption of our bodies, even the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay (Romans 8:21). This hope of the freedom from death allows us to “boast in our sufferings” (Romans 5:3).
These sufferings cannot possibly compare with the glory which will shine from our faces when we are raised from the dead (Romans 8:18). This boasting in present suffering makes us different than the world around us.
Our hope is not in our lives in this world, but in our resurrection lives in the world to come – that is our hope is in our coming freedom from death, a freedom secured through justification by faith in Christ.