As shown by the preceding post, “works” refers to far more than works of the Law of Moses — indeed, to anything that is claimed to be a path to justification other than faith in Jesus. Therefore, passages such as Galatians 2:16 do not allow us to create a New Testament version of the Law of Moses as a path to justification.
(Gal 2:15-16 ESV) 15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
The usual conservative Church of Christ response to this is to assert that “justification” is only our initial salvation and so Paul is only talking about how saved we are the moment we arise from the baptistry. After that, we’re dealing with “sanctification,” and the rules get tougher!
“Justified” is a legal term, meaning “not guilty” — not in the American sense of “not proved” but in the Roman sense of “found guiltless.” It’s God’s decree that we are free from the accusation of sin.
You can hear the law court language clearly in such passages as,
(Rom 8:33-34) Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
“It is God who justifies” means “It is God who renders the verdict of not guilty.” And in this passage, “justifies” is a present, active participle, indicating continuous action. After all, how often might a charge be brought against us? Well, for me, pretty much continuously. How often do I need God to find me not guilty?
Hence, we see that Jesus “is … interceding” (present, indicative active, meaning that it’s happening right now) not “has interceded” for us.
Of course, there are plenty of verses where Paul speaks of our having been justified when we were first saved. But there are also verses where God’s justification is spoken of as continuous. For example,
(Rom 3:22-24) This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
“Are justified” is a present, passive participle, indicating continuous action — we are continuously justified freely by his grace!
Which brings us to Galatians. In chapter 5, Paul condemns those who seek justification by law –
(Gal 5:4-5) You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.
“Justified” is present, indicative middle — indicating action taking place right now. And “await” is the same tense. Those who are seeking a works justification are presently lost, while we are presently awaiting righteousness by faith. Neither sentence looks to a past saving event but both speak to how we expect to make it to be with God right now.
(Gal 2:15-16) “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ 16 know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.
Not surprisingly, the first “justified” is also present, indicative middle (present action), showing how the brilliant Paul brings his argument full circle from the first to last mention of the word in Galatians. A man is “not justified right now by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.” Again, he’s not looking back to a past saving event.
(Gal 3:11) Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.”
“Justified” is present, indicative passive, meaning action taking place right now: presently justified.
Thus, the idea of being “justified” by faith is not a reference to a special, better, more gracious forgiveness we get only when baptized, but to the nature of the forgiveness we receive from beginning to end.
All doubt is removed by —
(Rom 5:7-8 ESV) 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Before we were saved, we were “sinners,” not good and not righteous. In Rom 5:10, he says we were “enemies.” In v. 9, he says we were subject to God’s wrath.
And yet, despite being God’s enemies, Christ died for us.
(Rom 5:9 ESV) 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
And when he died for us, we were “justified” (aorist, participle) by his blood and saved. The aorist participle is not continuous and refers to action prior to the main verb (shall be saved). “Justified” isn’t redefined by Paul but rather Paul uses the form of the verb appropriate to refer to initially becoming justified.
Paul’s point is that we — having been initially justified — are “much more” saved because we are no longer God’s enemies.
(Rom 5:10 ESV) For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.
It’s so important that Paul says it again! In a Hebraic parallelism, “reconciled to God” parallels “justified by his blood” and “saved … from the wrath of God” parallels “saved by his life.”
Paul makes clear that the salvation of those who’ve already been saved/justified/reconciled is “much more” than the salvation of those who’ve just arisen from the baptistry.
Therefore, the notion that the rules change after our initial justification is entirely correct. But it’s exactly wrong to assert that the standard becomes tougher. Rather, now that we’re part of God’s family, adopted children, and part of the bride of Christ, we are much more saved.
And 20th Century Church of Christ theology cannot cope with this — even though Paul not only says it, he repeats it for emphasis. You see, if you get this wrong, you’ve missed Romans, grace, and salvation by faith.
The hard question is why it’s true.
Next, understanding Romans 4:5.