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Prisms of Interpretation: Justification / Righteousness by Faith

Copyright © Andrew J. Shreeve 2015

 

(See the introduction of Prisms of Interpretation and the first prism: Blood Covenant).

 

Prisms of Interpretation

Justification / Righteousness by Faith

 

As we study the entire bible we see that the theme 'justification by faith' is an irrefutable truth. The scripture declares:

 

Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:1

 

As early as the time of Abram we see that Abram was made righteous in God's eyes through faith: and he believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness (Genesis 15:6).

 

Jesus said: your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad (John 8:56).

 

The apostle Paul reveals that the Old Testament scripture preached the gospel, of justification by faith, to Abraham many hundreds of years before Jesus Christ came to the earth: and the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, in thee shall all nations be blessed (Galatians 3:8). Note that the gospel is described as justifying the heathen through faith! The scripture, which the apostle is quoting from, is Genesis 12:3, which says: in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. When the Lord first called Abram, the father of the nation of Israel, the Lord had in mind the ultimate salvation of all the peoples of the earth through faith.

 

We see a similar blessing in Genesis 22:18 in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed. In this context, Abraham is instructed to offer His only, legitimate, son Isaac on the mountains around Jerusalem, where Jesus was subsequently crucified hundreds of years later. In the letter to the Hebrews, Abraham's offering of Isaac is described as follows: by faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it is said, that in Isaac shall thy seed be called: accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure (Hebrews 11:17-19). Abraham had faith that God was able to raise Isaac from the dead, which is a 'type' of the faith of believing that God would raise Jesus from the dead.

 

We can see that in the early chapters of the bible, 430 years before the Law of Moses, that the gospel of justification through faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ was preached to Abraham, and Abraham believed the gospel (Galatians 3:17).

 

The apostle Paul was formerly a strict and learned Jewish Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee, and blameless in the keeping of the law (Acts 23:6, 26:5, Philippians 3:6). The Lord Jesus called him and revealed to Paul the mystery of this great gospel of justification by faith (Galatians 1:12). In Paul's letters, especially to the Romans and Galatians, the doctrine of justification by faith is clearly explained. Let us now examine some more key verses in these two profound letters of the apostle Paul.

 

Paul's letter to the Romans

In the first three chapters of the letter to the Romans, Paul lays down the foundational truth that all men, Jew or Gentile, are unrighteous sinners and guilty before God (Romans 3:9-10, 19, 23). Paul explains that no man is able to attain to righteousness by obedience to law, rather law brings the realization of sin (Romans 3:20). Paul then explains that God's way of righteousness is through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22). It is through faith in Jesus' blood that we are appropriated a right standing before God, which justly comes due to Christ bearing the judgement for our sins (Romans 3:25). Therefore we conclude that a man in justified by faith without the deeds of the law (Romans 3:28).

 

In Romans chapter 4, Paul then links Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, into his treatise. Paul quotes from Genesis 15:6, Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. It is by grace, through faith, that the reward of righteousness is given (Romans 4:3-5). Abraham was credited as righteous before circumcision, emphasising that it is not obedience to law which brings right standing before God, but faith (Romans 4:10-13).

 

Later in the letter Paul describes the gospel as, the "word of faith" or, faith in the Word of God (Romans 10:8). Paul specifically adds to faith in Jesus' blood, faith in Jesus' resurrection from the dead and, confession of Jesus as the Lord over our lives as being the necessary ingredients for receiving justification from God and eternal salvation (Romans 10:9-10).

 

Paul's letter to the Galatians

In Paul's letter to the Galatians he strongly condemns any teaching which does not emphasise the grace of Christ as being a perversion and another gospel (Galatians 1:6-7). Justification does not come through works of law but rather through faith in Jesus Christ (Galatians 2:16). In fact, if righteousness come by law, then Christ is dead in vain (Galatians 2:21). In other words, if humans could be right with God through their own efforts or obedience to laws then it was unnecessary for God to put on a human body in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and the work of the Cross was unnecessary. This is a most serious error because if people teach that righteousness can come without Christ, people are given a false and misleading hope of salvation. In fact, any teaching which promises eternal life, apart from faith in Christ alone, leaves people in their sins, and therefore leads them into a cruel and misguided hope of salvation. When is fact, apart from faith alone in Jesus Christ, people remain in their sins and are still under the wrath of God and will ultimately spend eternity in the lake of fire (Romans 5:9, 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).

 

It is abundantly clear in scripture that justification, or righteousness, before our creator is through faith in our creator - the Lord Jesus Christ. This prism of justification / righteousness by faith is closely linked to last month's prism of blood covenant, specifically the blood of Jesus Christ. Let us now look through the prism of justification / righteousness by faith to expose some common biblical errors of interpretation.

 

Looking through the prism of justification / righteousness by faith

The implication of justification / righteousness by faith is that it refutes justification by continual repentance, law, and good works. These three common errors can be easily seen when we look through the prism of justification / righteousness by faith:

 

1. Error of justification by continual repentance

Repentance implies, a reversal of a decision (Strong's dictionary) or, a change of direction. Repentance, therefore, is a necessary ingredient to being born again and entering the Lord's kingdom, as it is necessary to confess Jesus as Lord which is an act of repentance (Romans 10:9-10). However, some erroneously teach that born again Christians must continually repent of sin to maintain their state of, righteousness or, justification. In other words, they erroneously teach if a Christian sins and dies without specifically repenting of each sin they will go to hell.

 

The error of 'justification by continual repentance' lies in a misunderstanding of the nature of righteousness. We don't need to live in constant fear, wondering whether we have repented enough to be righteous in the Lord's eyes. Righteousness is a position which is given to us when we are born again; it is who we are in Christ, and is a gift (2 Corinthians 5:17, 21, Romans 5:17, Ephesians 4:24). Righteousness is not based on whether we are 'up-to-date' with our repentance of sins or not. When we commit sins of the flesh, which we all do from time to time (1 John 1:8, Galatians 5:17), we do not loose our righteousness position in Christ (Ephesians 2:6). Righteousness is maintained, through faith, not by continually repenting of every sin we may have committed.

 

Note that all sin is wrong and should be discouraged and repented of. However, sin only damages our fellowship with the Lord and does not remove us from our righteous relationship (1 John 1:7-9). Sin grieves the Holy Spirit, but does not remove us from the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:30). Scripture teaches that victory over sin is attained through an emphasis of walking with the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16).

 

2. Error of justification by law

The Law of Moses is holy, just and good (Romans 7:12). It is clear that though Israel was commanded to keep the law they were unable to do so perfectly. Nobody was without sin and therefore able to perfectly keep all the commandments of the law. The purpose of the law was, not to justify people before the Lord but rather, to reveal to Israel their sin and point people to the lamb of God (Jesus Christ) as the solution to their sin problem (Galatians 3:19, 24). The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith (Galatians 3:24). Clearly the purpose of law was not to bring justification but rather the knowledge of sin, and therefore our need to place our trust in the substitution of Christ for the just payment of our sins.

 

3. Error of justification by good works

Many think that if they try and be a good person that the Lord will welcome them into heaven when they die. Unfortunately this is misguided thinking as the Lord's holy nature prohibits Him from receiving anything unholy into heaven. Good works are admirable, and many non-Christian people have done much good, but good works are unable to remit sins. Only Jesus' holy, blood can remove, or remit, human sin (Hebrews 9:22, 10:14); thus the absolute need for faith in Jesus Christ to become holy and therefore eligible to enter heaven (Ephesians 4:24, John 14:6).

 

Conclusion

Justification, or righteousness, by faith is a major and irrefutable theme in scripture. Starting with Abraham, in the book of Genesis, and the teaching of the New Covenant of Jesus Christ as revealed by the apostle Paul, the bible reveals that all families of the earth can be blessed through faith in the redeeming work of God's only Son, Jesus Christ. It is through faith in Jesus' blood and Jesus subsequent resurrection from the dead, coupled with confession of Jesus as Lord, that humans are declared righteous in God's sight.

 

When we accept the prism of justification / righteousness by faith we are liberated from the bondage of fearfully believing that our eternal salvation rests upon our ability and diligence to be: up-to-date with repentance of all our sins, perfectly obedient to law, and striving for an unknown quantity of good works. Repentance, obedience to law, and good works are all admirable actions, and are encouraged, but righteousness and certainty of acceptance by the Lord does not rest upon these human efforts. Righteousness and justification before God rests upon our faith in Jesus Christ!

 

Prayer

"Dear Lord, thank you for the clear scriptural truth that we are justified in your sight, and made righteous, through faith in Jesus Christ. Thank you that when we look through the prism of justification / righteousness by faith we are freed from the uncertainty and fear of rejection by you based on our human frailty, sins and weakness. Thank you that, as long as we hold our faith in Jesus Christ, we are assured of your loving acceptance, eligibility to receive every promise of God, and welcome entrance into heaven when we depart this world. We love and bless you in Jesus Christ name, Amen."

 

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