September 12 – Justification
Which, speaking of terms, we encounter quite a bit of specific terminology in this passage, so below the questions are some quick definitions and explanations, both for your understanding and for your reference if they come up during group.
Taking in the broader context of Romans, Paul is intent on explaining that no one can be justified apart from faith, presenting the alternative to faith, law-keeping, as a false promise of salvation. Back up one verse and you’ll see that the law offers no benefit before the bar of God’s justice: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight.”(3:20) Again, this is the law of Moses, which Paul’s former colleagues, the Pharisees, had erroneously thought they could keep to the very letter.
It’s important to note that the Pharisees understood God’s law incorrectly, since it was never intended to justify anyone. Note that Israel was given the law after the exodus, not before, so God rescued them before their efforts at law-keeping, not after. So the law was given as a communication of what it means to walk in covenant fellowship with God, not a means of earning it. Plus, the law contained instructions on how to make sacrifices for sin, so it was written with the assumption that no one would keep it perfectly and that forgiveness is given by God. Now, all that might sound like boring Old Testament stuff to you, but it’s really important that we understand a little bit about why God gave the Mosaic law so that when Paul says “the law never justified anyone” we know he’s not contradicting the Old Testament, just correcting his contemporaries.
So obedience to God’s word isn’t bad, it just can’t save us—only faith in the saving work of Jesus can do that. This week, in our salvation series, we’re looking at justification, the moment in which a believer is declared righteous before God. Now, few of us are trying to keep the Mosaic law to the letter, but we off and on we all look to something other than Jesus to save us, whether it’s our own ideas about ethics, or our performance before God or mankind, or being a “good” person. All of these fall into the same category as the law, they are all false promises of salvation because they don’t solve the problem of our sin and, in particular, they don’t satisfy God’s anger towards sin. That’s why propitiation is bloody but necessary, because until God’s wrath towards our sin is emptied we’ll remain guilty before it.
But this week we see yet another reason to praise God, because the criteria for our justification has already been met in Jesus. This talk about being justified can sound like impersonal legalities, but don’t miss the personal cost of your justification or the personal extension of it. It cost Jesus everything, his life, his comfort, even his relationship with his father (temporarily) while he stood under God’s wrath. The cost was dear and total for him. But your justification is also personally extended; it’s not some voucher you just write your name on. The Holy Spirit works in your life through your own personal circumstances to bring you to a point of faith and relationship with Jesus. Jesus doesn’t just extend forgiveness to Christians in general and let you cash it in anonymously. He looks you right in the eyes, speaks your name, and says, “I forgive you.”
• Let’s process together—what is this passage talking about?
• According to this passage, why do we need to be “justified” before God?
• Why can justification only be received through faith?
• How does this passage help you understand God’s work in your life?
• What false means of being made right before God are you prone to trust in?
• How does this passage help us worship God and approach him with confidence?
• How does this passage help us pray for others to come to faith?