Sin, Justification, and Reconciliation

Politics can be a messy game.  So can religion.  When the two are intertwined it can be like running into a hornets nest.  Everyone thinks they are right which makes them entitled to having their way over whatever the conflict is about and that is that.  The longer the conflict goes on, the more polarization takes hold and each side buckles down in their own self-righteousness as the slowly anathematize the other side.

How does such an ugly situation get resolved?  Perhaps it starts by telling them the truth.  The apostle Paul writes to some Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome who also had a conflict of sorts that is rooted in a theopolitical mess.  Here is what Paul has to say in Romans 3:21-26:

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. (NRSV)

The simplest explanation is that Paul is telling both Jew and Gentile that they are all sinners declared right (justified) by God through his redemptive work in Christ Jesus.

In the previous two chapters Paul has recounted the history of both Jew and Gentile showing why both are sinners.  Don’t mistake Paul’s earlier rhetoric with his fluid use of the Psalms (3:9-20) as a propositional degree about the nature of humanity.  It is simply Paul bringing his point home so that he can conclude that all people are sinners and will only be justified by God.

This is the genesis for bringing God’s ministry of reconciliation into reality.  Neither Jew or Gentile can boast.  Both have been justified by God in Christ and therein lies the reason why they can accept each other which Paul will eventually start addressing with practical application in chapter 12 and beyond.

This is what grace is all about.  No one can stand before God and boast in what they have done while condemning another person for what they have supposedly not done.  Grace is about what God has done in Christ!  Can people believe that, trusting in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ to justify them?*  Those who can stop trying to claim superiority while condemning the other because they realize that both have become a part of God’s family by God’s grace through faith.

That leads me to one final thought.  The body of Christ is currently made up of many tribes who have various points of disagreement on certain doctrines and practices.  Who is right and who is wrong?  That’s the question that often seems to get asked but the reality, all are wrong and have only been declared right because of what God has done in Jesus Christ – not because any one particular tribe has correctly achieved and maintained sound doctrine and practice.  So rather than any one tribe pretending as though they are the only Christians, it would be better off to recognize all who profess faith in Christ as people who belong to God.  Perhaps then there would be grounds for discussing theological differences without condemning each other.  Perhaps then, God’s people would present a picture of true reconciliation to the world.


* The alternate reading of v. 22 is, “the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe.”  The phrase “faithfulness of Jesus Christ” is a subjective reading of the genitive clause dia pisteōs Iēsou Christou which most English translations make mention of in a footnote.  This is a choice which translators must make but is far from an settled question.  I’m inclined to agree with scholars like Ben Witherington III and N.T. Wright regarding the subjective reading but there are certainly scholars such as C.E.B. Cranfield and James D.G. Dunn who think the traditional objective reading (“faith in Jesus Christ”) is correct.

5 responses to “Sin, Justification, and Reconciliation

  1. I too am inclined toward the subjective genitive reading of the pistis Christou phrases in Paul’s letters. I think there’s some added support when you look over at Rom. 4.16, Paul talks about God’s faithfulness to those who have ek pisteos Abraam–the faithfulness of Abraham. We’d never dream of translating that “faith in Abraham.” Anyway, it seems that if you look at the logic of Paul’s arguments in Rom. 3-4, ek pisteos Iesou and ek pisteos Abraam are parallel: we are to live by faith like Abraham’s, faith like Jesus’. That’s really a powerful word about discipleship, patterning our lives after Jesus, trusting that God will vindicate us as Abraham and Jesus were vindicated for their faithfulness. Anywa, great post as always, sir.

  2. As an Orthodox Christian….I believe that the doctrine has been faithfully preserved within the Church, not because any man is right, but because It is the Church, the Resurrected Body of Christ, and not subject to corruption. If the Church is just a collective of sovereign Bible interpreters, then yes, everything is up for grabs, and of course, that will produce humility in some; but the lack of unity Christ warned would produce unbelief in a watching world, and for that reason he prayed for unity in the Church, and that was a unity both visible and invisible that unbelievers could see.
    Irrespective of my High View of the Church, the fact of my pervasive sin, the reality of the Romans 7 entity within my members, not just as a theoretical construct, but an existential horror shown me in prayer, I am forced to more humility than I would have if I had not seen indwelling sin. But, if we are left to our individual and private opinions concerning the Truth, then we are led into an abyss of alienation, which belief in Holy Church is a most sufficient and precious ameliorant. Being is Communion, not private opinion. We can say the same thing and believe the same thing, and have before us orthodopraxis because the Church is the ground and pillar of the truth, Is the earthly expression of the Resurrected Body of Christ, known and preserved through the Three Witnesses of Water and Spirit and Blood. But private interpretation is not the pillar and ground of the truth, and the anarchy that results may result in humility, but it is not the humility that comes from finding and submitting to the Church- but the humility of an agnosticism that was not the intent of God in Christ when He came into the earth and through the Virgin and Holy Spirit became a man without ceasing to be God. As Cardinal Newman said, ‘evangelicalism is the halfway house to liberalism’; unbelief in the Church is unravelling of belief in the Resurrection and of the Incarnation.

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  4. FYI In the Catholic Church justification is granted by God from baptism firstly, (Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 1992 “Justification is conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith.”) instead of plainly by faith, and from the Sacrament of Reconciliation after if a mortal sin is committed.(Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 1446 “Christ instituted the sacrament of Penance for all sinful members of his Church: above all for those who, since Baptism, have fallen into grave sin, and have thus lost their baptismal grace and wounded ecclesial communion. It is to them that the sacrament of Penance offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification. The Fathers of the Church present this sacrament as “the second plank [of salvation] after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace.” ” A mortal sin makes justification lost even if faith is still present. Before baptism faith is required of adults. The baptism of babies requires the parents’ promise to pass on the faith to the child. Baptism is called the sacrament of faith.

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