The Evangel of Our Salvation
A LEADING THEME of the evangel is that “Christ frees us!” Indeed, “For [or “in”] freedom Christ frees us!” (Gal.5:1). Likewise, we are told that “in this One [Christ] everyone who is believing is being justified” (Acts 13:39). Clearly, the heart of Paul’s evangel is that, “Being justified gratuitously in [God’s] grace, through the deliverance which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom.3:24) is “for all, and on all who are believing” (Rom.3:22).
Most believers are familiar with these passages, even as with related texts. They are convinced that all such passages are important and are declarations of truth, often realizing as well that such texts are revelations of exceedingly good news.
Even so, it seems that few understand the nature of the “freedom” to which Paul refers, or what it means to be “justified.” While many will speak freely of having been “forgiven” and of being “saved,” few indeed will be found bearing witness to their “freedom” or “justification,” much less to their freedom and justification according to Paul’s evangel.
Perhaps we realize that surely we should be rejoicing concerning these specific themes. Yet how can our rejoicing be intelligent unless we understand these very subjects concerning which we are to rejoice?
Even in those instances in which some at least will voice the terms “freedom” or “justification,” it would seem that these expressions are not really understood. Justification is more or less equated with “forgiveness,” while freedom is generally conceived as freedom from “eternal damnation.”
It is gloriously true that “For freedom Christ frees us!” and that “[We] were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the spirit of our God” (1 Cor.6:11)! Since these things are so, surely we will do well to ascertain what we are freed from, as well as what we are freed for (or “into”). Likewise, we long to grasp what it means to be “justified,” and to perceive what this blessing entails.
“BEING JUSTIFIED IN THAT ONE'S GRACE”
Our Saviour, God, saves us, “not for works which are wrought in righteousness which we do, but according to His mercy” (Titus 3:5). He does so, “through Jesus Christ, our Saviour, that, being justified in that One’s grace, we may be becoming enjoyers, in expectation, of the allotment of life eonian” (Titus 3:6,7).
We learn from Romans 4:5, concerning those who are believing, that God “is justifying the irreverent,” those who are “not working.” Likewise, we recognize that all those who are “called” become believers, for the Lord graciously “overwhelms” their unbelief with “faith and love in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim.1:14; cp v.16). Thus, “to those who are called, . . . Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor.1:24). Now those “whom He calls, He justifies also; now whom He justifies, these He glorifies also” (Rom.8:30).
How wonderful! Even though we have yet to grasp what it means to be “justified,” we have already learned that (1) Our calling itself entails the certainty of God’s gracious gift of faith to us; (2) God “justifies” us even though we are irreverent and are not working righteousness; (3) Being now justified in Christ’s blood, we shall be saved from indignation, through Him (Rom. 5:9); and (4) Eonian life and glory is our happy expectation.
THE MEANING OF “JUSTIFY”
Now, from this grand perspective, let us seek to grasp the scriptural essence of the Greek verb dikaioõ, which, in English, is “justify.” First of all, let us note that the English adjective “just” (in Greek, dikaion) is the equivalent of the adjective “righteous,” which means, “to be conformed to right.” “Justify” is merely the verb corresponding to the adjective “just” or “right.” While there is no English verb which formally corresponds to the adjective “righteous,” nevertheless, the verb “justify” corresponds substantially to the adjective “righteous,” even as it is the formal correspondent of the adjective “just.”
“Justify” is used definitively, and very strikingly, in Luke 7. Jesus declared, “ ‘A greater prophet, among those born of women than John the Baptist, there is not one. Yet the smaller, in the kingdom of God is greater than he.’ And hearing the entire people, even the tribute collectors, justify God, being baptized with the baptism of John” (Luke 7:28,29).
The entire people, “righteoused” God. That is, they declared Him to be righteous. Thus we see that “justification” is a pronouncement of righteousness. “Righteousness” is “the quality or state of being righteous, the status of one who is justified.” 1
Consequently, we learn that, as those who are “justified,” our status is that of, in some sense, actually being righteous. Thus, whenever we read of or reflect upon the fact that we are “justified,” let our conception be that we are “declared righteous,” and that by God Himself.
“APART FROM LAW”
It is to be regretted that our acute awareness of our manifest unrighteousness, blinds us to the fact that God insists that we are righteous, though only so, “through the deliverance which is in Christ Jesus.”
We are aware that not only are many of our deeds unrighteous, but that we are constitutionally unrighteous as well. We are members of “the old humanity which is corrupted in accord with its seductive desires” (Eph. 4:22). We recognize, then, that “by works of law, no flesh at all shall be justified in God’s sight, for through law is the recognition of sin” (Rom.3:20).
Some, however, will say that we are righteous in an “imputed” sense. They claim that God “attributes” Christ’s righteousness to ourselves, and “legally reckons” us righteous, even though we actually are not. While this may be an attractive theory, it is only speculative reasoning. The fact is that the Scriptures do not set forth such a teaching.
It is true that when Abraham believed what God said, his faith was “reckoned (“imputed,” AV) to him for righteousness” (Rom.4:3). Yet it hardly follows from this that God, consequently, somehow “attributed” Christ’s righteousness to Abraham and thus, “legally speaking,” always “considered” him “righteous,” even in his most sinful deeds.
Such a claim is wholly unwarranted. Paul’s simple point (which he makes in light of the Jews, who were zealous for the righteousness which is of law) is that not only do a man’s upright deeds accrue to him as entities of righteousness, but that a man’s faith in God’s word thus accrues to him as well. This is true concerning ourselves when we believe God, even as in the case of Abraham (Rom.4:5; 4:22-24). Accordingly, then, we should not be startled to learn that faith alone, “apart from law” (Rom.3:21), has become the channel of our justification.
Some things that we do, even as some things that we believe, are right, even though–as God is well aware– we remain quite unrighteous on the whole. Yet nothing can be more right than faith in God, whether Abraham’s faith or our faith. This does not mean, however, that God, therefore, has granted us some type of “forensic” (pertaining-to-legal-proceedings) righteousness, even if this should be said to be based upon Christ’s sacrifice.
Those of us who are aware that all is out of, through, and for God (Rom.11:36), even as that He is operating all (Eph.1:11) and doing so for good (Rom.8:28), recognize that, “teleologically” (i.e., pertaining to the divine purpose), not only are we ourselves as well as our deeds justified, but that everyone and everything is “justified.” That is, we are aware that this is so in the connotative sense (which is the common English definition of “justify”) of “shown to be right and vindicated of the charge of unrighteousness” (cp Rom. 5:18; Rom.8:18-23).
God makes the world and all that is in it (Acts 17:24). Since whatever God does is right for Him to do, it is right for Him to make the world and all that is in it. And, likewise, all that He has made, including the experience of evil which He gives to us (Ecc.1:13; cp Rom.11:32), is right. It is not right intrinsically (i.e., according to its own nature), to be sure, yet it is right teleologically (with a view toward God’s purpose), no matter how wrong so much of it is in itself.
CONFORMED TO THE IMAGE OF HIS SON
In Paul’s basic presentation and defense of his evangel (primarily, respectively, in his epistles to the Romans and the Galatians), however, this teleological, connotative sense of justification, is ordinarily not in view. It is instead what we may term the “evangelical” sense of justification to which Paul draws our attention when joyously declaring that we are “justified.” By this, we mean that when Paul declares that, through the faith of Christ (which resulted in our Lord’s faithful obedience unto the death of the cross), we are “justified,” Paul is not drawing us into a consideration of, through the sacrifice of Christ, the consummate, teleological vindication of evil (cp “even the depths of God,” 1 Cor.2:10), but instead is simply announcing “the evangel of our salvation” (cp Eph.1:13).
That is, as those who, in the grace of Christ, are being declared righteous by God Himself, we may be becoming enjoyers, in expectation, of the allotment of life eonian (Titus 3:7).
Eonian life and glory is our expectation! Whenever Christ, our Life, should be manifested, then we also shall be manifested together with Him in glory (Col. 3:4). Factually speaking, God vivifies us together in Christ (in grace are we saved!) and rouses us together and seats us together among the celestials, in Christ Jesus, that in the oncoming eons, He should be displaying the transcendent riches of His grace in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus (Eph.2:5-7).
It is evident, then, when God speaks of us as those who “were justified” (1 Cor.6:11), or as those who are “being now justified” (Rom.5:9), that He does so in a proleptic sense.
The figure of speech termed “prolepsis” is a literary device by means of which that which is anticipated is spoken of as having already been accomplished. It is the means by which, due to our anticipation, we call “what is not as if it were.” 2
The phrase “calling what is not as if it were,” is actually a Pauline expression, in reference to Abraham. God had declared, according to His word of promise, “At ‘this season’ I shall come ‘and there will be for Sarah a son’ ” (Rom.9:9; cit. Gen.18:10). Thus God had declared to Abraham, “A father of many nations have I appointed you” (Rom.4:17; cit. Gen.17:5; cp Gal.3:8). And, as Paul goes on to say, “facing which, he believes it of the God Who is vivifying the dead and calling what is not as if it were” (Rom.4:17).
Similarly, “God did not appoint us to indignation, but to the procuring of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for our sakes, that, whether we may be watching or drowsing, we should be living at the same time together with Him” (1 Thess.5:9,10). In that day, God will be giving us a body “according as He wills.” We will be roused in incorruption, glory, and power: that is to say, our body will be roused a spiritual body (cf 1 Cor.15:38-44). This mortal must put on immortality (1 Cor.15:53).
Though it is too wonderful for us fully to grasp at present, what we are expecting (even though we are not observing) is that our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, “will transfigure the body of our humiliation, to conform it to the body of His glory, in accord with the operation [of God] which enables Him even to subject all to Himself” (Phil.3:21). Most glorious of all however, is our realization that, accordingly, God has designated us beforehand, “to be conformed to the image of His Son, for Him to be Firstborn among many brethren” (Rom.8:29). When we are vivified, we will be constituted in such a way that, in character, we will actually be “conformed to the image of [God’s] Son” (cp “to the measure of the stature of the complement of the Christ,” Eph.4:13). We will reflect Christ Himself not only in all that we say and do but in all that we are. Then, we will be righteous (thus, “justified”) indeed! Yet then our justification will no longer be proleptical, but actual.
So in the meantime, “we, in spirit, are awaiting the expectation of righteousness [i.e., of justification] by faith” (Gal.5:5). Thus, proleptically speaking, we are justified, for, literally speaking, we will be justified, in that day.
So long as we, however, like the Galatians, insist that we must do this or that in order that we might enjoy a righteous standing before God and thus be granted life eonian (not to mention life “eternal”), we will continue, practically speaking, to “fall out of grace” (Gal.5:4). Simply because it is grace, God’s grace will continue to be our portion; but it will not be our realization, nor our appreciation.
THE UNTRACEABLE RICHES OF CHRIST
There are only two ways to become justified before God, and one of them does not work. “What was impossible to the law, in which it was infirm through the flesh, did God, sending His own Son in the likeness of sin’s flesh and concerning sin, He condemns sin in the flesh” (Rom.8:3). Man (i.e., the human himself), is not being justified by works of law. Even if some of his works are righteous, this will not make him righteous, in God’s sight. After all, so many of his works are not righteous. Besides, more significantly, as a member of the old humanity, his very person is corrupted, in accord with the seductive desires inherent in the old humanity. In himself, no such creature can possibly be righteous in God’s sight.
Anyone who attempts to become “justified in law,” then, will not succeed in his quest. How foolish it is to imagine that we are somehow required to qualify for God’s gratuitous grace.
Thus it is that Paul declares, “For freedom Christ frees us! Stand firm, then, and be not again enthralled with the yoke of slavery” (Gal.5:1).
In the Greek, it is simply “to-YOKE OF-SLAVERY.” That is, we must not become “enthralled” (spellbound or enslaved) by any “yoke of slavery.” Yet any “Christian teaching” or ministry which takes the position that the believer’s righteousness, or at least the benefits which this righteousness entails, are granted to him in the last analysis, not because of what Christ has done but because of what he has done, is both a deception and a yoke of slavery.
This freedom, then, of which Paul speaks, for which Christ frees us, is freedom from any need even to attempt to become righteous by works of law. We enjoy the benefits of the untraceable riches of Christ (Eph.3:8). We are not participants in the economy of the law, and are by no means subject to its curses. Christ reclaims us from the curse of the law, becoming a curse for our sakes (Gal.3:13). Consequently, since God is for us, who is against us (Rom.8:31)?
We were conciliated to God, not through our faith in God’s Son or through our faith in His death, but through the death of God’s Son (Rom.5:10). God did not reciprocally take us to Himself consequent to our acceptance of Christ. That would not have been a choice (cf Rom.9:11), but an obligation. Instead, He actually chose us in Christ, even “before the disruption of the world” (Eph.1:4). God graciously grants faith to all His chosen ones (cp 1 Cor.1:24-29; Rom.12:3; Phil.1:29). Therefore, the believer’s faith does not constitute an entitlement to salvation. Instead, it constitutes a surety to the believer that he (or she), indeed, is one of God’s chosen ones.
This glorious evangel, however, is simply unacceptable to those who wish to boast in something of themselves–something that they have done. In most circles today, “accepting Christ” (or, alternatively, obeying Him as Lord) has supplanted first-century circumcision as the fancied “requirement” for salvation. Among the exponents of such views today, just as surely as among the circumcisionists in Galatia, thus the “snare” (skandalon) of the cross is nullified (cp Gal.5:11). Yet thus the offensiveness (to human pride) of the truth is removed. The truth is that we are justified gratuitously, solely through the deliverance which is in Christ Jesus. Accordingly, Paul declares, “Now may it not be mine to be boasting, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal.6:14).
Since Christ has so gloriously freed us, let us become grounded and settled in the faith. May we not be transferred from that which calls us in the grace of Christ to a different evangel (Gal.1:6), an evangel which is a distortion of the evangel of Christ (cp Gal. 1:7). May we not be “bewitched” (Gal.3:1), being “enthralled” by the persuasive arguments of our fellow believers who simply do not understand.
“For the rest, my brethren, be rejoicing in the Lord” (Phil.3:1). “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren! Amen!” (Gal.6:18).
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