Judgment, Justice, and Faith (Romans 3)

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project

Judgment, the Source of Broken Relationships (Romans 3:1–20)

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What can be done with a world of people separated from God by idolatry and from one another by judgment? God’s true justice is the answer. In Romans 3, as Paul describes what happens in salvation, he puts it in terms of God’s justice. “Our injustice serves to confirm the justice of God” (Rom. 3:5).

Before proceeding, we need to say a bit about the terminology of justice and righteousness. Paul uses the Greek word for justice, dikaiosynē and its various forms, thirty-six times in Romans. It is translated as “righteousness” most often and as “justice” (or “justification”) less fre­quently. But the two are the same in Paul’s language. The primary use of dikaiosynē is in courts of law, where people are seeking justice to restore a situation that is not right. Therefore, salvation means being made right with God (righteousness) and with other people and all of creation (jus­tice). A full exploration of the relationship between the words salvation, justification, righteousness, and salvation is beyond the scope of this chapter but will be addressed in any general commentary on Romans.[1]

If this seems abstract, ask yourself whether you can see concrete implications at work. Is it the case that the (false) judgments people make about one another are the root of broken relationships and injus­tice where you work? For example, if a manager and employee disagree over the employee’s performance review, which of these causes greater damage—the performance gap itself or the hostility arising from their judgment? Or if someone gossips about another person at work, which causes greater damage—embarrassment over the item that was gossiped about or resentment over the judgment revealed by the gossiper’s tone and the listeners’ snickers?

If our false judgment is the root of our broken relationships with God, other people, and the creation, how can we possibly find salvation? The thing we need—justice/righteousness—is the one thing we are most incapable of. Even if we want to be put back into right relationships, our inability to judge rightly means that the harder we try, the worse we make the problem. “Who will rescue me?” Paul cries (Rom. 7:24).

We cannot hope to be rescued by anyone else, for they are in the same boat we’re in. “Everyone is a liar,” Paul tell us (Rom. 3:4). “There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, there is not even one” (Rom. 3:10–12). “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).

Yet there is hope—not in humanity, but in God’s faithfulness. “Will their unfaithfulness nullify the faithfulness of God?” Paul asks. “By no means!” he replies (Rom 3:3–4). On the contrary, “injustice serves to confirm the justice of God.” This means our workplaces are settings for grace just as much as our churches or families. If we feel that our work­place is too secular, too unethical, too hostile to faith, too full of greedy, soulless people, then it is exactly the place where the cross of Christ is effective! God’s grace can bring reconciliation and justice in a factory, office block, or petrol station just as fully as in a cathedral, abbey, or church. Paul’s gospel is not only for the church, but for the whole world.

See, for example, N. T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans,” vol. 10, The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994).

God’s Justice, the Solution to Our False Judgments (Romans 3:21–26)

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Given that our judgment is false and hypocritical, how can we ever find righteousness and justice? This is the question that leads into the dramatic crux of Romans 3. God’s response is the cross of Christ. God gives his justice/righteousness to us because we are unable to bring justice/righteousness ourselves. God accomplishes this through the cross of Jesus, in which he demonstrates that “he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).

God’s means of accomplishing this is through the death and resur­rection of Jesus. “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). God freely chose to accept the cross of Christ as though it were a holy sacrifice of atonement in the Jew­ish temple (Rom. 3:25). As on the Day of Atonement, God chose to pass over people’s wrongdoing in order to establish a kind of new beginning for all who believe. And although Jesus was a Jew, God regards the cross as an offer of salvation to all people. Through the cross, everyone can be restored to a right relationship with God.

Although we lack righteousness/justice, God has both in infinite sup­ply. Through the cross of Jesus, God gives us the righteousness/justice that restores our broken relationships with God, other people, and all creation. When God gives us salvation, he gives us righteousness/justice.

The righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3:21–26; emphasis added)

 

The cross is God’s surprising justice—surprising because although God is not the sinner, God makes the sacrifice. Does this mean any­thing in today’s secular workplaces? It could be a very hopeful note. In situations where the problems in our workplaces are caused by our own errors or injustice, we can count on God’s righteousness/justice to overcome our failings. Even though we can’t make ourselves right, God can work his righteousness/justice in us and through us. In situations where others’ errors and injustice cause the problems, we may be able to set things right by sacrificing something of ourselves—in imitation of our Savior—even though we did not cause the problem.

For example, consider a work group that operates in a culture of blame. Rather than working together to fix problems, people spend all their time trying to blame others whenever problems arise. If your work­place is a culture of blame, it may not be your fault. Perhaps your boss is the blamer-in-chief. Even so, could a sacrifice by you bring reconciliation and justice? The next time the boss starts to blame someone, imagine if you stood up and said, “I remember that I supported this idea the last time we talked about it, so you’d better blame me too.” What if the time after that, two or three other people did the same thing along with you? Would that begin to make the blame game fall apart? You might end up sacrificing your reputation, your friendship with the boss, even your fu­ture job prospects. But is it possible that it could also break the hold of blame and judgment in your work group? Could you expect God’s grace to take an active role through your sacrifice?

Faith/Faithfulness, the Entry to God’s Justice (Romans 3:27–31)

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In the previous section we looked at Romans 3:22–26 and high­lighted the righteousness/justice that God gives us in salvation. Now let us look again at the passage to highlight the role of faith.

The righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the pres­ent time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3:21–26; emphasis added)

 

Clearly, God’s gift of righteousness/justice is intimately tied up in faith and belief. This brings us to one of the most famous themes in Ro­mans, the role of faith in salvation. In many ways, the Protestant Refor­mation was founded on paying attention to this and similar passages in Romans, and their importance remains central to Christians of virtually every kind today. While there are many ways of describing it, the central idea is that people are restored to a right relationship with God by faith.

The Greek root-word pistis is translated as “faith” (or sometimes “believe,” as in one instance above), but also as “faithfulness” as in Ro­mans 3:3. The English language distinguishes between faith (mental assent, trust, or commitment) and faithfulness (actions consistent with one’s faith). But in Greek there is only the single word pistis for both faith and faithfulness. There is no separating what a person believes from the evidence of that belief in the person’s actions. If you have faith, you will act in faithfulness. Given that in most workplaces our faithful­ness (what we do) will be more directly evident than our faith (what we believe), the relationship between these two aspects of pistis takes on a particular significance for work.

Paul speaks of “the pistis of Jesus” twice here, in Romans 3:22 and 3:26. If translated literally, the Greek says “pistis of Jesus,” not “pistis in Jesus.” The literal wording of Romans 3:22 is thus that we are saved by Jesus’ faithfulness to God (the pistis of Jesus). In other passages, pistis clearly refers to our faith in Jesus, such as Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” In truth, our faith in Jesus cannot be separated from Jesus’ faithfulness to God. Our faith in Jesus comes about because of Jesus’ faithfulness to God on the cross, and we respond by living faithfully to him and placing our trust in him. Remembering that our salvation flows from Jesus’ faithfulness, not merely our state of belief, keeps us from turning the possession of faith into a new form of works-righteousness, as if our act of saying “I believe in Jesus” is what brings us salvation.

The full meaning of faith/faithfulness in Paul’s writing has two im­portant implications for work. First of all, it puts to rest any fear that by taking our work seriously we might waver in recognizing that salvation comes solely by God’s gift of faith. When we remember that Christ’s faithfulness on the cross has already accomplished the work of salva­tion, and that our faith in Christ comes solely by God’s grace, then we recognize that our faithfulness to God in our work is simply a response to God’s grace. We are faithful in our work because God has given us faith as a free gift.

Second, the faithfulness of Christ impels us to become more and more faithful ourselves. Again, this is not because we think that our faithful actions earn us salvation, but because having been given faith in Christ, we earnestly desire to become more like him. Paul speaks of this as the “obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5, 26). Without faith, it is impossible to be obedient to God. But if God gives us faith, then we can respond in obedience. In fact, much of the latter half of Romans is devoted to showing us how to be more obedient to God as a result of the grace God has given us through faith.