daily biblical sermons


THE NEW LIFE OF JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Saturday, 28th Week of the Year, October 17, 2015
Rom. 4:13, 16-18, Ps. 104, Luke 12:8-12


Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted.

 

"The promise to Abraham and his descendents, that they should inherit the world, did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith" (Rom. 4:13).


St. Paul sees Abraham as the beginning of a new movement in the world, the movement of the righteousness of faith or of justification by faith, as opposed to the righteousness of law or justification by the works of the law. St. Paul sees in Abraham the beginning of the new covenant in Christ, which is only made clear in Christ, namely that henceforth our justification will work through faith in Christ; not through keeping the law. According to this new way of justification, already foreshadowed in Abraham but only revealed and made clear in Christ, it is those who put their faith in Christ who are justified. Henceforth God will declare righteous those who put their faith in Christ.


This is a profound truth of tremendous significance for all of us today. This means that we really do have a Savior. We are not just left on our own to try to do the impossible task of making ourselves righteous by doing more good works than sins, and of having enough good works left over to also make just reparation for our past sins, so that we might confidently stand before God, knowing that we are now righteous and will be accepted by him into the fullness of the kingdom of heaven when we die. This is the impossible task of the righteousness of the law, or of justification by the works of the law, that Christ has freed us from.


In the new covenant, we are no longer under the righteousness of the law and what we can earn by our own good works. We are now under the righteousness of faith, where Christ is our righteousness, where Christ makes reparation for our past sins, cleanses us from them, and makes us truly righteous and resplendent before God by his work on the cross, through our faith in him, not through our own works. We are no longer under the law, but under faith. It is our faith that now makes us righteous before God, not our good works in accordance with God's law.


This is truly a great liberation. It frees us from the fear of death and of what will happen to us after our death because of our sins. Under the righteousness of faith, we now know ourselves to be righteous, not because we have done so many good things, but because through Christ's death on the cross God has forgiven our past sins, since he died to make reparation for them and rose to clothe with his own righteousness all those who believe and trust in him for their salvation.


This, then, is our new life in Christ. It is a life freed from the fear of death, and filled rather with a joyful hope in God for our future life with him after our death. We can now live in joyful hope and longing to be with Christ forever in the fullness of his kingdom.


The reign of law is now over. It ended with the coming of Christ. "Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith" (Gal. 3:23-26).


Faith in Christ has now been revealed, which puts an end to the reign of justification by works of the law. The new way of being justified by God is now through faith in Christ. He is the one who makes us righteous by his death on the cross that paid for our sins and set us free from them, when we put our faith and trust in him. So we no longer live in fear of God's judgment of us, for our sentence has been served for us by our Savior. Christ has set us free with the freedom of the children of God.


So "there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:1-2). "Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies, who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us? (Rom. 8:33-34).


This is the salvation we have been given in Christ through faith, because of his death and resurrection. He died in reparation for our sins and rose for our justification (Rom. 4:25). "Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have attained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of sharing the glory of God" (Rom. 5:1-2). Because of our justification by faith we also rejoice in the hope of eternal life with God after this present life, for Christ saves us from sin and eternal punishment.

 

II


Now, then, once justified through our faith, we are to live a new life in accord with our new justified state, becoming in fact the "new man" (Eph. 4:22-24) and the new creation that Christ has made us (2 Cor. 5:17). We renounce a worldly life and live henceforth for the Lord alone with all the love of our heart. Married people do this together as a loving couple. Celibates do it in a still more literal, radical, and complete way (1 Cor. 7:32-34, 38). This is how we should live, now that we have been liberated from the impossible yoke of slavery of the law to henceforth live in justification by faith, not by our own works.


"For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery" (Gal. 5:1). "For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another" (Gal. 5:13). So how should we live? "Walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh" (Gal. 5:16-17). The flesh is whatever is illegitimate, false, and sinful for us in our particular state of life. For example, "the flesh" for a married man would be having sex with someone other than his wife. "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit" (Gal. 5:25). "Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life" (Gal. 6:7-8).


In Christ we have been liberated from the impossible task of trying to justify ourselves by our works. This simply cannot be done. So God now does this for us in Christ, through our faith, so that we might live a new life of good works as the fruit that we now bear for God of our justification by faith, avoiding the ways of sin and of the flesh, and walking in the newness of life, in the light of Christ's resurrection, in the Spirit.


In this new life in the Spirit, the moral law of God then shows us how we are to live as new creatures, new men, justified by Christ; but we do not keep the law now in order to try to justify ourselves thereby, for that has already been done for us by Christ, through our faith in him.

 

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