Justification sets people in right relationship with God.
The new status of 'righteous' that a person has as a result of being justified sets them in right relationship with God. They have right standing with him. He has found in their favour. Justification, however, is not primarily about 'my personal relationship with God'.
It is here that Wright believes we need to be careful. Although 'righteousness' in the bible is a relational term, it is not strictly about what we would call a personal relationship. Just because the judge has declared someone righteous does not they are going to 'go off arm in arm for a drink' together. Justification effects relationship between God and humans, but justification and reconciliation are not the same thing, Wright argues. It is perhaps here, more than anywhere, that Wright may be accused of hair-splitting. He is determined, however, to keep justification in the law-court and not confuse it with the interpersonal relationships which are its outworking (reconciliation).
He quotes from Alistair McGrath in his huge volume on the history of the doctrine of justification -
'The doctrine of justification has come to develop a meaning quite independent of its biblical origins, and concerns the means by which man's relationship to God is established. The church has chosen to subsume its discussion of the reconciliation of man to God under the aegis of justification, thereby giving the concept an emphasis quite absent from the New Testament. The 'doctrine of justification' has come to bear a meaning within dogmatic theology which is quite independent of its Pauline origins...' 1.
I can appreciate that Wright is aiming for clarity in the way Pauline language is being used. However, I must admit, I'm not sure the Pauline usage will sustain the kind of precision Wright is attempting. Paul seems to be able to slide between justification and reconciliation pretty quickly, see Rom. 5:9-11.
'Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life.'
Wright says of this passage in own commentary - 'The fact that this deeply personal notion (reconciliation) is offered in explanation of, rather than in addition to, the mention of justification in the first half of v. 9 indicates that the meaning and effect of justification is to bring humans into the forgiven, reconciled family of God.' 2. (emphasis mine)
This last reference to being brought into the 'family of God' brings us to the next aspect of justification we shall look at, the covenantal. Justification by faith includes us within and defines the people of God.
1. A. McGrath (1996), Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification from 1500 to the Present Day (Cambridge: CUP)
2. N. T. Wright (2002), Romans in the New Interpreters Bible Vol. X, 393-770 (Nashville: Abingdon)