The Justification of Grace Through Faith
21But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.
22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference,
23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
It is considered one of the most, if not the most important doctrine in modern Christianity, that salvation is granted through faith in Christ alone, and that this is not something we humans could ever achieve on our own strength, but rather that God has performed the final finished work for us. In Jesus Christ, so the line of thinking goes, God conquered sin and death forever, and made it possible to enter into a relationship with Him and subsequently into the promise of eternal life.
The reasoning, as demonstrated by the above passage, is that all have sinned and fallen short. That no one is righteous on their own strength, and indeed cannot attain salvation on their own, because each one of us is afflicted with the condition of sin which separates us from God. The natural penalty of sin, according to the Bible, is death, and so in love God (in the form of Jesus) took this penalty upon Himself and effectively “paid it off” for our sake, so that through faith in Christ alone we might live forever. And as the New Testament is consistently clear, it is by faith alone, not by works, ie, any effort we could make ourselves.
Now I would not disagree with the traditional interpretation of this doctrine; I do feel that faith is what reconciles a person to God as opposed to human efforts. I would not necessarily say that mankind is “totally depraved” as some Christians put it, but perhaps that we are “totally unable” to enter into a relationship with God via anything we might do ourselves. Our good works, as is commonly believed, are merely the outflowing of the gift of faith, that although good works do not save us, they are (or ought to be) a necessary consequence of our faith in Christ.
However, what does salvation by faith mean for us in the here and now, what are its implications? In his train of thought, Paul uses the example of Abraham in a very interesting way:
16Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.
17As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.
Paul’s idea is that because Abraham had faith in God, it was “credited to him as righteousness,” reinforcing the idea that righteousness can only truly be attained through faith. However, Paul also stresses the importance of the blessing God gave Abraham, because by it Abraham became “the father of many nations.” His idea is that as Abraham founded the Hebrew religion, and because in Christ the Hebrew religion found its fullness, then Abraham has fathered many offspring as those who have faith in the risen Christ. More simply, what God started in Abraham, He finished with Christ extending to those who believe in Him.
What is intriguing, however, is the social event this seems to imply. It would seem that by Christ, and ultimately by faith, I am connected to Abraham, and indeed, to every other person in the timeless community of faith, in an almost cosmic manner. Abraham’s faith allowed a global multitude of people to find the same blessing he was given, a multitude of each having faith in God.
Consider this next passage:
26You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,
27for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
28There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
29If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Again, Paul is affirming that the children of God attain their status through faith, and emphasises the idea that we have been blessed through the promise of Abraham. However, he also makes an important point; that there is no longer a distinction in our humanity. There are no longer any divisions keeping us apart from each other, whatever our load in life or who we happen to be by gender or race. God has indisciminately loved us and granted us equal inheritance. More than this, by faith the recipient is now connected to everyone else in the community of faith and into a freedom whereby he sees all humanity in the same way God does; with indiscriminate love. Faith is not just reconciliation with God, but reconciliation with humanity. The act of faith is very much a social event, the drawing together of persons near and far into unity.
The means by which Abraham was able to father many nations, is because he had a faith which allowed him to be connected by indescribable ways to a whole future of people sharing that same faith. Likewise we, by faith, are connected to one another, are able to see our place within the mutual network of humanity, are reconciled to God, and are at peace with the whole of existence.
2 Corinthians 5:16-17
16So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.
17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
Amen. Being a “new creation” means that we no longer view humanity in the way we once did. The shackles of division between us and our neighbours have ceased through the act of faith, and now the outward display of works is simply in endeavouring to be the medium or the means by which further reconciliation to God, humanity, and creation is brought about.