Before continuing with Romans, I want to look deeper into the meaning of justice, since it plays such a prominent part in this epistle. But what does it really mean? In Romans it mainly makes its appearance in the form of “justification.” As I mentioned in my first post on this subject, Righteousness and Justice: What are they?, the Greek word most commonly declined as dikaiosune in the NT is translated alternatively as righteous or just with variants for righteousness and justification, right and just.
If you take a moment to read the previous post on this topic, you’ll see that this word is also allied to kindness and mercy. We tend to see justification as a legal process whereby Christ’s righteousness covers us like a garment, making us acceptable to God. It is true that we are made righteous by Jesus’ blood; by His sacrifice on our behalf, but that may not mean quite what we thought. This is not a tricky bit of legal fiction whereby God can justify His acceptance of such miserable, filthy pieces of trash as we have become to Him. It isn’t like that at all; it’s REAL.
I submit that righteousness and justice and kindness and mercy are all part of the same package. I’ve heard it preached that righteousness means right standing with God, and in studying, I’ve found that to be a good and a true definition. It doesn’t go far enough, though. Righteousness comes from an old English word: right ways ness. To be righteous means to have right ways in all of our relationships. Our relationship to our Father and relationships amongst our fellow humans; all of these are included in dikaiosune. We are to treat one another with righteousness, justice, kindness, and mercy.
That is God’s way. That is the way He treats us. And when He justifies us, it is so much more than a legal fiction to enable Him to do something that goes against His innate sense of justice. He is drawing us close, into right relationship with Himself. You’ve heard it said that Jesus catches His fish before He cleans them? Well Jesus is just like the Father. We are justified with the Father because our relationship with Him is restored. It is right that we should be in the house of our Father; that’s where He wants us, whether we are snotty brats or joyfully obedient children. Sanctification will follow. We will learn to obey. But as of the moment we return, we are restored to relationship with Him.
In Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son, who rejected whom? Was there a need to persuade the father to receive his son back to his bosom? No way! He RAN to meet his son (and I’m told such behavior is highly undignified even today for a middle eastern adult). He didn’t even allow the miscreant child to give his speech of repentance. He called for the best robe and a ring for his son’s finger and shoes for his feet. He threw a feast with music and dancing. Has the prodigal said a word all this time? The focus is not on the son, but on the father’s joyous reception of him.
Are you seeing this? THE FATHER DID NOT NEED TO BE RECONCILED TO HIS SON. We were the ones who did the leaving. WE took the good things our Father provided and WE turned our backs on Him and walked away. He has always only wanted us back and has been ready all along, eager to receive us the moment we returned. It was WE who needed to be reconciled to HIM.
But we couldn’t return. We couldn’t escape our evil master. That was Jesus’ gift to us. He died as our representative, not to save us from the wrath of the Father, but to set us, the captives of sin, free. He gathered all the children of Adam back into one bundle in His own body and He put the whole race of mankind to death in Himself. He has set us free from the law of sin and death. This is the gospel. As He conquered the grave, so we also can now be free and alive in our Lord. We are no longer the slaves of sin unto death, but we can now offer ourselves as the slaves of righteousness and have the fruit of that; the never ending life of God. Rejoice! For the next post on righteousness, click here: How to Right a Wrong