Tuesday, July 20, 2010

“Justified by Faith”

 “Justified by Faith

 “Justification by faith” has been one of, if not the most discussed idea in Christian theology for millennia. How are we saved? What exactly are we being saved from? What do all these Latin terms like justification and sanctification mean? What exactly is faith? Is righteousness a “covering” or an actual experiential reality? Does it really need to be so seemingly complicated, and technical, and “theological”? Do I have to learn Greek?

As I’ve had the opportunity to read, study, dialogue, and listen to dozens of honest, thoughtful, and God-fearing Christian brothers and sisters, both within Adventism and Christianity at large,
I’ve come to see that there are two fundamental ways of viewing salvation and religion. To put it succinctly, in one religious system or thought process, salvation is about a change occurring in
God in order for us to be accepted by Him (“saved”). While in the other religious system or thought process, salvation is about a change occurring in us, in order to accept and love God.

Now some false religious systems are fairly obvious to us and we call them paganism. For example, I have an idol in my home or temple, and I give gifts to that idol so that the gods relate to me in a more favorable way. The gifts or sacrifices may be food, money, personal sacrifices such as journeys, or in the extreme they may be things like human sacrifice. But the bottom line is that god(s) standing toward us is an attitude of hostility, anger, aloofness, or withdrawal, until something is done by a person outside of god to alter their attitude or feelings towards us.

In Christian circles this may be a bit more subtle. We may have the idea, consciously or subconsciously, that things like faith, repentance, confession, discipleship, etc, will cause God to change His attitude or feelings towards us from one of condemnation or lack of acceptance, to one of acceptance. But again, the basic idea is that something we do alters or changes God’s attitude or stance towards us.

In its most subtle form, the idea is not that anything we do changes God’s acceptance or attitude towards us, but that what Jesus has done, or is doing, changes God the Father’s attitude or feelings towards us. The idea is expressed somewhat like this:

We are sinners and therefore God the Father cannot accept us. But Jesus has died in our place, so now God the Father can accept us because of Jesus, who stands between us and God the Father.

Sometimes this is expressed as the righteousness of Christ covering us so God can accept us.

The root issue is the same. God is relating to us in a somewhat hostile or “unaccepting” or condemnatory way – maybe even just a little bit – and He needs to be changed by something, and in this case Jesus causes the change to occur in God the Father. God the Father changes from an attitude of condemnation towards us, to an attitude of acceptance towards us.
While we are generally spiritually savvy enough not to use words such as appeasement or placation to describe what is going on in this system of religious thought, it looks quite close to appeasement. We would need to be very cautious that other words such as expiation or propitiation aren’t communicating the principle of appeasement.

Let’s now look at the second religious thought system. The idea that salvation is about God working to change our attitude towards Him. Frequently in Scripture we are described as relating to God as an enemy. “The carnal mind is enmity against God” (Romans 8:7). We are by “nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:4). “We were enemies” (Romans 5:10). We were “alienated and enemies in our minds” (Colossians 1:21). Etc. In each of these verses, and many others, the point is that we have been relating to God as our enemy. We have had hostility and wrath towards Him. God by contrast has been relating to us a lost sheep and prodigal sons, working to woo and win us back to Himself. God has not been our enemy, but we have been His enemy.

When we see salvation through this paradigm we realize that God has indeed loved us with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3). The problem has been that sin and Satan have introduced into our minds and psyches, dark thoughts about who God is and how He relates to us. We see Him as needing appeasement in order to relate to us with acceptance and reconciliation. In some religions this appeasement is met by the sinner, in Christianity it is frequently seen as Jesus providing the change in God’s attitude and stance towards us.

All throughout Scripture, there are no verses about God being reconciled to us, but they are all about us being reconciled to Him. God has reconciled us to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:18). God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). Be reconciled to God (2
Corinthians 5:20). Christ suffered once for sins… To bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). With loving kindness have I drawn thee (Jeremiah 31:3). We were reconciled to God (Romans 5:10).
Reconcile them to God (Ephesians 2:16). Repeatedly in Scripture the message is about God working, extending Himself, pursuing us, in order to help us to see that He has always related to us with the attitude of the prodigal’s father – waiting for us to see His unchanging love and acceptance – in spite of our abuse and hostility towards Him.

Justification by faith then becomes merely, but oh so significantly, a change in our attitude towards God as we realize the grace and goodness and benevolence with which He has always related to us. We are “justified”, meaning we are changed in our thoughts and feelings towards
Him, by “faith” which is a heart appreciation of the love He has always manifested towards us and especially revealed at the cross.

I want to have my still existing, subtle, and sometimes subconscious misunderstandings about
God removed. I want to be changed (justified) by an ever growing appreciation and trust (faith) in God’s goodness and grace, especially as it is most clearly revealed in the death of God the Son.  God the Son, manifesting and revealing God the Father, to those of us who have related to Him as an enemy. May I not treat Him as an enemy or see Him as needing to be appeased any more.

--Bob Hunsaker
For an excellent companion book to these studies, please see Waggoner on Romans: the Gospel in Paul’s Great Letter, by E. J. Waggoner. You may access the complete book at: http://www.1888mpm.org/book/waggoner-romans

For Jack Sequeira sermons on Romans click here: MP3; Windows Media; Real Audio
 For the written version click here
 For a paraphrase on Romans click here