Justification in Pauline Epistles


The noun, “justification,” is found ninety-two times in the New Testament (fifty-eight times in Paul’s letters), while the verb “justify” occurs thirty-nine times in New Testament (twenty-seven times in Paul’s writings).

For Paul all believers were made Abraham’s seed and became sons of God and heirs of the covenant. (Gal 3: 26-29). Unhappily in this situation most Jews proved to be legalists; they sought to establish a righteousness of their own by works of the law and would not believe that faith in Christ was the God given way to righteousness. So, Paul insists both Jews and Gentiles would be saved not through their own works and efforts, but through the free grace of God justifying the disobedient and ungodly; and the glory of salvation will be God’s alone.

Paul speaks of the model of Abraham in both Galatians 3 and Romans 4. Letter to Galatians was written in the context of fiery polemic and letter to the Romans is calmer in tone and carefully constructed. But each has its background – Paul’s controversy with those Jewish Christians who insisted that the gentile converts to Christianity must observe the Mosaic Law or at least, its capital prescription or circumcision. Only so, they argued, could gentiles be saved? For them, Christianity was a sect of Judaism, distinguished from parent religion by the belief that Jesus was the messiah.

Justification means to Paul God’s act of remitting the sins of guilty men and accounting them righteous, freely by his grace, through faith in Christ, on the ground, not of their works and of the representative of the law keeping but faith in the shedding of the blood of Lord Jesus Christ on their behalf (Rom 3: 23-26, 4: 5-8, 5: 18ff). Paul’s doctrine of justification is his characteristic way of formulating the central Gospel truth that God forgives believing sinners.

St. Paul’s personal convictions made him to formulate this concept of justification as of his personal need of Christ in terms of the law’s condemnation and need, which only God’s justifying sentence in Christ could relieve.

Justification for Paul is God’s fundamental act of blessing, for it both saves from the past and secures for the future.

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