Understanding Justification and Righteousness

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INTRODUCTION John Calvin described justification as “the main hinge on which religion turns,” while Martin Luther described justification as “the doctrine on which the church stands or falls.”

DEFINING TERMS Two terms must be defined before we go further: righteousness and justification. The basis of this paper is to look at the doctrine of justification as Paul presents it in Romans, but clarification of these two terms will be helpful at this point. As N.T. Wright states, “English and American have two quite different root words, just and righteous, where Greek and Hebrew have one each, dikaios and its cognates in Greek, tsedaqah and its cognates in Hebrew.” In order to properly understand justification we must begin with an
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Packer explains, “there is virtually no lexical support to interrupt “to justify” to mean “to make righteous.” In Romans 3:19-4:9, Paul provides explanation how God can be both “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26). A fundamental difference between the Old Testament and the book of Romans is that no one has the ability to fulfill the law, there is no one righteous (Rom. 3:10; 20). In verse 21 Paul tells us “the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law” and that “this righteousness is from God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (v. 22). Therefore, when Paul tells us “one is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (3:28) we understand justification being defined as a judicial act of God. And by the atoning work of Christ, God reckons sinners absolved from sin, their penalty dismissed, declared righteous, and placed in a right relationship with God.

PAUL’S CASE FOR JUSTIFICATION Paul presents his readers with a clear and simple thesis in the first three books of Romans: mankind is inherently in opposition to God, “none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks God” (3:10-11). The whole of his teaching from 1:18-3:20 is

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