Bird’s Eye View of Paul (14) Justification by Faith

In chapter 6 of Michael Bird’s excellent book, we are into what the gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ actually achieves.

Paul uses a bunch of metaphors to unpack and explain the significance of the atoning death of Christ. I might deal with just justification / righteousness or this series will become a marathon.

Unless dear readers there are any requests?! – the others are reconciliation, sacrifice, redemption, adoption, renewal, victory.

Righteousness / Justification

Bird has written a big technical book on this The Saving Righteousness of God: studies in Paul, Justification and the New Perspective. Paternoster, 2007. And he compresses a huge amount into a few pages here without getting into the New Perspective on Paul.

The righteousness of God is best seen as a subjective quality – as something that belongs to God. It is seen in the gospel as an outworking of his saving power.

The righteousness of God is manifested most supremely in Jesus’ sacrificial death which brings believers into a right relationship with God (Rom 3:21-25).

In this sense righteousness involves the entire plan of salvation – it encompasses justification, redemption, atonement, forgiveness, new covenant membership, reconciliation, the Holy Spirit, power for Christian living, union with Christ, freedom from sin, vindication to come.

You can’t get a much bigger doctrine than that! Righteousness in this sense is the good news of who God is.

This reminds me of Luther and his dramatic shift to seeing the righteousness of God as good news of God’s saving action in Christ, as opposed to the terrible bad news of his holiness and Luther’s sinfulness

What it means is explained helpfully in 4 categories:

1. Forensic: it refers to one’s status before God, being declared right or acquitted of wrong in light of Christ’s satisfaction of God’s justice. Legal imagery here.

2.  Covenantal: explanations of justification occur in Paul in wider discussions of the place of Gentiles as full members of the people of God through faith in Jesus, not conversion to Judaism. [The New Perspective makes a very big deal of this element of justification].

3. Eschatological: the verdict anticpated on the last day has been declared in the present. Jesus’ death atones for sins, his resurrection enacts their justification.

4.    Effective: following acquittal, believers, whether Jew or Gentile, are enabled by God’s transforming power to free believers from sin, law and death and live in relationship with God.

“Justification is the act whereby God creates a new people, with a new status, in a new covenant, as a foretaste of a new age.”

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