Sunday, July 31, 2011
Achieving Righteousness: God’s Justification of Sinners - Part 3
This is the third and final installment of this series. You can read part one here and part two here.
As has been previously stated, man receives justification as a gift from God; righteousness is imputed, based upon faith in God’s promises, manifested by obedient living. This raises an important question: by what right does God impute righteousness to a sinful person? As Fr. Paul Tarazi states: “the verdict of condemnation has been issued not against us, but against someone else for our sake”. It is through Christ’s choice to be incarnated as a man, to live perfectly, to die on a cross, and to be raised that the way for man has been opened to return to God and to live in eternal communion with him. He took on a human body, fully participating in a human life, though he did not sin. When he allowed himself to die on the cross, he entered Hades, conquering death, for he is immortal and sinless, and rose again to life. It is that life, death, and resurrection to which we are joined, as stated in Romans 6:3-4. Since this is an affirmative look at what St. Paul teaches about justification, it is not an appropriate place to delve deeply into false teachings that have arisen in the “Christian” world, however, it is relevant to note that it was not God’s anger that lies behind Christ’s sacrifice, but rather God’s love. St Symeon the Theologian taught that Christ redeemed humanity through his sacrifice and then offered that redeemed humanity to God as a gift, releasing the redeemed from the power of the devil, able to live in eternal communion with God.
Finally, St. Paul elucidates the point that though he used imagery of slavery to make his point about being united with Christ (such as being slaves of righteousness), in fact, those who are justified in Christ are made a part of God’s family, adopted as children. Though we have focused on the Father’s and the Son’s roles in justification to this point, St. Paul indicates that it is the whole Trinity that is involved: “[t]he Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Romans 8:16-17). Furthermore, the Holy Spirit will help the faithful, both in prayer and living the obedient life. In this way, we see that we, as Christians, are justified by the will of God, through the sacrifice of Christ, and helped by the work of the Holy Spirit, who bears witness to our familial relationship. As a part of God’s family, we have security. “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies” (Romans 8:33). As God’s children, we have Christ as our advocate, interceding for us, and the Holy Spirit affirming our status as God’s children, so we have a secure, eternal relationship with God.
The strength of our justification allows St. Paul to declare that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8: 38-39). Our own past sinfulness has been forgiven, as well as any future failures, as long as we remain in Christ. Regardless of what happens to us, even to the point of being killed, nothing can separate us from God. He did not even hold back His own Son, but allowed Him to suffer a criminal’s death in order for us to receive His righteousness. Nothing that the world can throw at us could hinder that faith-based relationship, as long as we maintain our faith and live our obedient lives. For those who follow St. Paul’s instructions in this matter, the eternal relationship is assured, and we can positively say that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).