Monday, 9 March 2015

Justified on justification

I had a chat last week with a "Jehovah's Witness" called Norman about the subject of justification. There are a couple of things worth reporting.

I asked him what he thought about the subject as presented by Paul in Romans. He said that he thought that God looked at the whole of our lives and if we have tried hard enough then, even though we still don't deserve it, He will justify us.

I told him I saw a couple of problems with that view. First of all, when Paul speaks about people being justified he does it in the past tense, e.g. "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). Both Paul and the people to whom he was writing were in the position of having already been justified - obviously this was not something they were working towards.

The second problem was that Paul says this justification is by faith and not by works:
Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law...
What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness... (Romans 3:28; 4:1-5).
At this stage Norman said that he thought Paul's point here was that works alone aren't enough, we must believe. I just put my finger on Paul's words and read them again, "But to him who does not work but believes..." It does not say, "Now to him who does not merely work but believe as well, his faith and works are accounted for righteousness."

He got the point because he then got a bit aggressive and said, "So you can live whatever way you like and commit as many sins as you want? How do you answer that?"

I told him I was really glad he asked that question because it showed that my understanding of what Paul was teaching is exactly what Paul intended, because Norman asked the very question Paul anticipated people would ask following his teaching on justification:
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? (Romans 6:1).
I told Norman that there is absolutely no way anyone would be led to ask that question if Paul was teaching the same as him on the subject of justification. Can you imagine? "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith and trying...To him who works and believes...Therefore hoping to be justified by our efforts and faith we hope to have peace with God..." Would anyone ever say, "Paul, you're just saying we can live as we like!"? Of course not. The question would never arise if justification had anything to do with our works.

Notice also how Paul answers the question, he doesn't say, "No, you can't continue in sin because your justification depends on your righteous living!" He says, "Certainly not! How shall we that died to sin live any longer in it?" (Romans 6:2). He is saying that at conversion we are not only set free from the penalty of sin but from the power of sin too, and so we are no longer enslaved to sin's mastery, why then would we ever continue in its service?

This is something I pointed out to Norman, at conversion I received new life, the Holy Spirit and His power. This is an internal guarantee of my salvation. Something he doesn't have but desperately needs. So do you today. I wanted Norman to know that the Gospel offers something far better than what the Watchtower Society offers. It offers far something far better than any religion and all this world can offer - justification from all sins, present peace with God, and eternal salvation. It's offered to you through the Lord Jesus Christ.