Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Declaration of Membership
Over the past month or so I have been devotionally reading through Paul’s letter to the Romans. Two tools that have been helping me greatly are the ESV Study Bible and N.T. Wright’s little book, “Paul for Everyone”. Using these resources have been giving me a fuller idea of what Paul means when he talks about being, “Justified” or “Declared righteous in Christ.”
The ESV SB has reinforced my strong conviction that Justification is a declaration whereby God declares sinners to be in a right relationship with himself. This is crucial. The greatest gift of the gospel is God himself and justification makes a relationship with him possible. If it weren’t for this doctrine we would all be enemies of God.
Paul for Everyone has helped me to appreciate the covenantal aspects of Justification. One of the greatest ways to see this theme in Romans is to read the letter all the way through in one sitting. Paul talks a great deal about Abraham and Israel in relation to Justification and if we’re not careful these can be sidelined. But for Paul, when God called Abraham it was all about God graciously acting within creation to deal with the problem of sin. Humanity had become evil through and through but God was determined to make a new humanity through which his grace and justice would be manifest.
When Abraham trusted God, God declared him to be righteous. This means that Abraham entered into a right relationship, a covenantal relationship. His sins were forgiven and he was given the glorious promise of inheriting the land of Canaan. God gave him the sign of circumcision after he declared Abraham to be in the right as a sign of the relationship that had come into being. Romans 4.11 says, “He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.” Genesis 17.11 says, “You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.”
So Paul says that circumcision was a sign of the “righteousness he had by faith” whereas Genesis says that it is a sign of the covenant relationship. God is passionate about creating a world without sin. As N.T. Wright says, “He will put the world to rights”. The way he does this in the present is by calling wicked sinners to himself, forgiving their sins through the atoning work of Christ, declaring them righteous, and by giving them all the promises that come along with being a member of the new covenant people. There is much more that could be said. Justification is truly a glorious doctrine; it gives hope to sinner’s and displays God’s great desire to put the world to rights.