So today we delve into a theological concept that is fundamental to our faith, and yet is one with which theologians over the ages have struggled. The term we are going to look at is justification. If you break that word down you see that it is composed of the root which is “justify”. How is a person made just, made right, even made righteous before God? In the past, or at least in the past for Paul which would have been in his Jewish days, one was made righteous before God through the law. It had to happen every year. Every year there would be a sacrifice made of a lamb, its blood would be shed and it would be sent over the cliff outside of Jerusalem as a symbol that God had laid the sin of all of His people on this lamb who carried it away. Now, before you think: how cruel, think of the symbolism that we have in communion. Our symbolism is that we eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus, which allows us to be cleansed. So, before you hold your nose to the savagery of the past, keep in mind that we are not much better. That is the value of symbolism.
Paul states in this chapter that no longer are we justified under the law, but rather, if you look at vs.21: “if justification comes though the law, then Christ died for nothing.” Instead, Paul tells us, justification comes by “faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” This is the difference between the Old Covenant that was tied up in the law and an act that we had to perform in order to be justified, and the New Covenant which is tied up in the cross and the act that Jesus did and offered to us freely. According to Hebrews, Jesus was/is the sacrificial lamb who was killed once and for all for us. Go back to vs.16 and you can read these exact words and explanation by Paul that is noteworthy. He states: “a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” This is the single most important difference that Jesus made. He connects the chasm between us and God. We do not try to connect it, he does it for us.
The beginning part of this chapter is a bit of a diatribe, again, again those who would insist that the only way to be a Christian is to first become Jewish. Specifically, and this is where he objects the most, if anyone would require a person to be circumcised before they were welcomed into the fold, then that is simply wrong. If you look at vs.12 you will see that there is a circumcision “faction”. So, just in case you thought the first century church was perfect, it was not. It had factions which caused church leaders, Barnabas at that, to be stifled and change their actions in such a way that it did not fulfill the will of God. Paul says he approached them and talked to them to their face about their errors. Now you know how you are made right before God. It has nothing to do with what you do. It has everything to do with Jesus and what he did for us. If we have faith in what he did for us, we are in that number. On that note see below.