Justification and the Righteousness of God

Few topics stir up as much discussion and debate among theologians of different stripes as the concept of “Justification.” Justification is often viewed through a legalistic lens—a declaration of righteousness before God. Today, however, I want to discuss why it’s so much more than a mere legal stamp of approval. Let’s delve into why.

In our world rife with chaos and confusion, it’s evident that things are in need of repair. If we’re honest, we’re in need of repair too. For that, I have good news; the God of the Bible loves fixer-uppers. As theologian N.T. Wright observes, God’s righteousness—His justice—is not merely about fairness but about rolling up His sleeves and activity working to “put things to rights.” (Wright, “Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision”).

Biblical justification transcends a simple forgiveness for past wrongs. It embodies a profound transformation, a renewal from within. It’s about liberation from our flawed patterns of thought and behavior, ushering us onto a path of righteousness. It’s about God “putting us to rights”; making us “just” – justifying us.

However, this transformative journey is not one we embark on alone. In fact, we can’t. It’s a partnership—a covenant—where we pledge our loyalty and allegiance to God, allowing Him to mold us into his likeness as he always intended us to be. It’s about a faith that extends beyond mere belief, encompassing trust, loyalty, and unwavering commitment to do things God’s way regardless of the circumstances.

So, what does this mean for us? It means that justification isn’t a one-time event; it’s an ongoing process. It’s a continuous refinement; a righteousness that quite literally “comes by faith.” Justification doesn’t mean that we are “declared righteous even though we aren’t.” God is not a liar and he is a righteous judge. No, we are declared righteous because our faith—our allegiance—to Jesus Christ changes our thoughts, behavior, and attitude to align with that of Christ, himself. We are, in fact, literally becoming His righteousness! And this, my friends, is what salvation looks like: becoming more like Jesus.

This isn’t a “works-based salvation.” God doesn’t justify us as a reward for our improved behavior. Neither do we “do good works out of gratitude for him saving us”, though, as I’ve heard many others say. No. We do good works because, as justified followers of Christ, we are being transformed by the daily renewing of our minds to become more like Christ! Faith is is our willing submission and commitment to that renewal. That’s why Paul says we are saved by grace through faith and not because of faith. Faith isn’t a checkbox such that God saves us if we have faith and condemns us if we don’t. Our Faith—or faithfulness (the Greek “pistis” carries both meanings) is the vary means by which we are justified and thereby saved.

In a world marred by brokenness and confusion, the concept of justification offers us a glimmer of hope. It’s a reminder that amidst the chaos, God is at work, restoring and renewing the cosmos one life at a time. Let’s embrace his project of restoration and accept his invitation to participate in “putting things to rights” both in our own lives and in the world around us.

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