Gal 2:16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. (ESV)
What is the real issue regarding justification? Why can’t we be justified through the law?
I’ve always heard it taught that we can’t be justified through the law because “we can’t get it right. The law is perfect so if I am trying to attain perfection it isn’t possible.” There may some truth to that. The Law of Moses is “perfect” because it came from God. It is an impossible standard for a fallen human because we can be selfish and rebellious. Actually that nature is aroused when we are fending for ourselves or doing it out of our own effort. The selfish option is the only option when we are independently approaching life with no resources or provision. We rebel and act out when we aren’t loved. When we are out of relationship with God, who is love, we will take matters into our own hands. So we need a relationship with God.
What if justification has nothing to do with the law or performance? What if justification is relational not provisional? What if trying to be justified by the law (performance) is like using a spoon to cut a steak? What if we have mixed apples and oranges? What if our fallen fruit ingestion has us clinging to lists for approval instead of running to God for acceptance (righteousness)? Is it possible that the Nation of Israel had become so infatuated with the law that the LAW became their relationship?
Imagine the wedding day. They are so happy and in love. They head out on their honeymoon and their first act as a married couple is to sign the performance contract of a conditional relationship. This contract says that either one is justified to take action if any condition of the contract is violated. Now imagine the husband is feeling rejected. He comes up to his wife and shows her the contract. He insists that he has faithfully adhered to every condition on the list. He then demands that his wife stop neglecting him. Or imagine the wife believes she hasn’t followed all the rules of the contract precisely and feels her husband is justified in being mean to her based on the conditions of the contract. Or imagine the wife discovers the husband has been bending one of the rules and now she feels justified to kick him out.
Can you see how ridiculous that is? The relationship is built on love and grows in trust. The more they know how much the other loves them unconditionally then the more they trust.
Our relationship with God is the same. It has always been that way. Think about it. Look at these passages:
Mtt 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (ESV)
Rom 1:17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (ESV)
Does God have behavior or performance issues? Is there any thought of God misbehaving? Of course He doesn’t so “His righteousness” is relational not provisional. God is always right towards us. His perfect goodness is perfect rightness. He loves us unconditionally. He loves us so unconditionally that He died for us when we were making Him our enemy and rejecting His advances. Our relationship with God was broken on our side not His. This is our Father in Heaven. This word righteousness is not a grade on performance. It is an assessment of relationship. Can you see it?
Justification comes from the same word in the Greek as righteousness. Justification is a relational word not a performance word. In that fictional marriage the husband is not justified by a set of conditional rules but by the love of his wife. Likewise the wife is justified by the affections of the husband. Justification based on a law would be like using a crowbar or gun to manipulate the other in the relationship. That isn’t God. That isn’t love. That is why justification by the law is not an option. Now read this passage:
Rom 3:21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: (ESV)
Can you begin to see it? How can I say that I am justified by faith apart from the law? God loves me. He proves it by coming to this Earth and dying for me. Human justice implies balancing scales. That is a man-made system based on a fallen nature. God is unbalanced. God is unconditional. What God does can’t be balanced by anything. A human understanding of justice it “tit for tat”, crime…punishment. The word justification in the Bible is not the same thing. Don’t believe me? How about this passage for balance?
Romans 4:4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (ESV)
When the husband in the story demanded affection or attention because he had been following the rules of the contract, he was collecting on his wages like verse 4 above. He made self-righteous demands on his wife. That is why it doesn’t work with God. He is not a manipulator. He is not a coercer. He is not using a law as a tool. He isn’t withholding His love to get us to perform better. We are righteous because He is righteous. We are justified because He justifies us because He loves us.
We really need to see this clearly. When we get it wrong we are putting God in a manipulation box. When we act this way towards others we are missing the love of God. When I believe justification is based on performance and rules then I will “justify” all my own junk. I will hold offenses. I will justify anger. I will justify selfishness. I will justify my actions when another doesn’t perform as I expected. When I am the one not performing I live in fear of rejection. I am a nail-biting worrier who can’t sleep and lives from anxiety. None of that is from God, of God or like God.
It has always been about His faithfulness. It has always been about His righteousness. It has always been about His justification. It is based on His goodness and His rightness and His love. He moves from glory to human to prove it. He goes from heaven to “hell on Earth” to demonstrate it. The very source of life steps into death at the hands of man to show us absolutely that it is Him that does it. He is the I am. He is everything we need. He expects nothing from us but to let Him save us.
Rom 3:20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (ESV)
The law has other purposes and utilities. I’ll cover some of those in the next post. But know this with certainty. The inability to be justified by the law is not because we can’t perform. Performance has nothing to do with it. The truth is there is no way a law can justify anyone with a God that loves us unconditionally. We are justified by His love for us. Using the law for justification is using a spoon to cut a steak.