Although we catch him in the middle of an important discourse on justification by faith, Paul opens today’s New Testament lesson with a powerful statement that, in and of itself, has substantial implications for our lives: “Since we are justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” When I read that this morning, I really didn’t get any further before letting my mind wander through that assurance of peace. We live in that peace because we are justified by faith. I think there’s an important connection there.
For starters, it implies that we aren’t justified by works. That’s really important to Paul, and he drives that point home in lots of different passages in several different ways. To be justified means to be made right—to be given right standing—and it carries the overtones of a legal connotation. We are not made right (justified) by anything we do. We are made right by our faith. It’s what we believe rather than how we act. For Christians, that’s a central principle—even though it’s one we often forget.
Have you ever had a boss that made you feel like you weren’t good enough? No matter how hard you tried to get everything right, he or she always seemed to find something out of place or inadvertently forgotten? Maybe you had a parent whose primary way of motivating you to reach you potential was to always leave you wondering whether he or she was satisfied with the work you’d done. That parent, although loving, always reminded you that you could have done just a little bit more. And, even though the love that parent offered wasn’t really contingent on the job you did, sometimes it felt that way. Well, that’s justification by works. In order to be made right in eyes of the authority figure who is watching you, you must do something, accomplish something, or achieve something.
But then what? That’s the real problem with justification by our efforts. When are we finished? When have we done enough to remain in that place of good-favor? Probably never—at least not until we’ve found a new boss or paid for enough therapy to forget our parent’s insatiable demand for excellence. And that, my friends, is not peace. That’s agony. That’s being on a job interview every day for the rest of your life. That’s living in constant fear that we’re not measuring up.
But God offers us something different. He offers us the peace that comes from knowing that we have been given right standing (justification) not by something we’ve done but by something we trust. And our consciousness of that justification depends only on our willingness to trust it. In other words, our right place before God, as nothing we have done in and of ourselves, is a given. And as long as we believe that—as long as we trust and have faith that no matter what God will keep his promises to love us—we can’t do anything to jeopardize that love or that right standing before God. And that’s what real peace means. We have peace because we know we will always be loved and because we also know that even if we forget that love and stray away God our justification—our being made right with God—is only something we need to trust again.