Romans 3:28 'a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law'
Galatians 2:16 'we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law. But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin.'
What does it mean to be 'justified by faith apart from works of the law'?
'I'm justified - just as if I'd never sinned!' was the slightly cheesy answer that I grew up with. Justification was seen to be synonymous with 'becoming a Christian', and 'forgiveness of sins.' Well, I think it is indeed connected with these things, but to identify justification with them hardly does justice (ahem) to this complex theological term. For one thing, it makes it all about me as an individual. It says nothing about God, his purpose or his people.
Here we will try and examine the idea under 4 headings - justification is a declaration of God, it sets people in right relationship with God, it includes us within and defines the people of God, and it is present and future. In other (more theological) words, it is forensic, relational, covenantal and eschatological.
Things get quite complicated quite quickly when we scratch the surface of what is going on with this significant Pauline concept. Many further questions will be raised. What is the relationship between 'justification by faith' and works? How is justification by faith connected to the 'righteousness of God' (whatever that is!) What is the place of justification by faith in Paul's thought? How has justification been understood through church history? Does any of this really matter? Or is this whole discussion just 'text trading and theological arm wrestling', 'a curious indoor sport for those who might like that sort of thing but not enormously relevant to wider concerns facing the church.'? 1.
1. T. Wright (2009), Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision (London: SPCK)