But now, irrespective of law, 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.
Then what becomes of boasting? It is excluded. By what law? By that of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.
Reflection The court room is silent, expectant. You are standing accused in the dock, facing the bench, awaiting judgement. You are guilty and you know it. You have no defence, you are in the wrong, there are no mitigating circumstances, your behaviour has been inexcusable. The judge has considered the case and looked at the evidence. He is said to be just. You wish he’d get on with it. Then the words ring out – not guilty! You’re stunned, you take a deep breath, step down from the dock and stumble out of the court. You don’t understand. The judge is aware that you are culpable, but he acquits you, sets you free? This is ludicrous. A judgment like this turns the law on its head. But this is precisely the point that Paul is making. God can and does act apart from the law. In Jesus he reconciles all people to himself, sweeping away by sheer grace and goodness all that stands between a holy God and a sinful people. Not a grim balancing of accounts but life, grace, self-giving, love. So we are set free from the guilt of sin to start a new life in God’s grace. God acquits the guilty; we are set free.
This love of God is totally unconditional. It shows an abiding commitment to the liberation of all people. It is, quoting Martin Luther King, “the love that does justice.” That doesn’t give us any easy answers to deep rooted economic or social problems but it provides different motivations from which alternatives can grow. If in our inner lives we cultivate loving-kindness and compassion, then we are making it possible for society to be radically transformed. A renewed human dignity flows from the self-giving of Christ. God’s justice transforms and reconciles. We no longer have to live in a sin-ridden, death afflicted world. We have a project for a better future. God is creating a new heaven and a new earth and in the end, love prevails.
Prayer Gracious God, turn us and all people to yourself, that by the power of your Spirit, the peace which is founded on justice may be established throughout the world, through Jesus Christ your son our saviour. Amen.
The Rev’d Fleur Houston, retired minister, member of Macclesfield and Bolllngton URC.