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Lesson 2: Grace That Justifies

The only man who has the right to say that he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ.

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Devotion: Today we examine the most widely used metaphor of justifying grace: pardon. In a legal setting, a person may be declared guilty of a crime by a court but be pardoned and set free. This is a good way to think of how we come before God. We are guilty of sin and deserve the consequences of our broken relationship with the Creator—and yet God pardons us. We are not declared “innocent.” Rather, when we turn toward God with faith, God forgives our sin and welcomes us into a New Covenant through Jesus. To be pardoned means to be released from the guilt and threat of punishment for our sin. God’s justifying grace restores us to new life in Christ and makes a righteous response to God’s grace possible.

Read Romans 3:21-30. Although Paul is drawing on a legal metaphor, he stresses that we do not earn or achieve this grace by our good works. The grace that justifies us is a result of the atoning sacrifice made by Jesus on the cross and made effective in our lives when we have faith in Christ. What is the difference in basing a religion on receiving God’s grace versus earning God’s favor? What is the difference between emphasizing righteousness by inclusion in the covenant community (yesterday’s reading) versus being forgiven by Jesus’ sacrificial death? Which is a more powerful force in your life: community or cross? Is it possible we need both to gain a full understanding of God’s love? What happens if we ponder only one of these metaphors and forget the other?  

Personal Worship Option: Read Galatians 2:20-21. What does it mean to be “crucified with Christ?” In what sense does Christ live in you? What does it mean to you personally that Jesus loves you and gives himself for you? Take time to pray, thanking God for Jesus’ sacrifice.

Dig A Little Deeper:

3:21 The Law is not able to lead us into God’s righteousness, but the Law and prophets prepared us for that righteousness (Gal 3:24-25). It is now fully revealed and available to us through Jesus’ sacrificial death. Why are laws usually framed in a negative way? Can you legislate transformation? How should a local church view rules? What does an excessive list of rules indicate about a church?  

3:22 Righteousness comes to all who respond to God’s grace that goes before us and believe in Jesus. What does “belief” in Jesus look like? Can we be sure someone believes by watching them?

Notice 3:22b-24. Beginning with “there is no distinction…,” Paul gives is an explanation of “all who believe” receive righteousness (3:22a). As he does throughout this letter, Paul feels compelled to address the question of whether Gentiles can receive grace. This indicates a strong likelihood the church in Roman to whom he writes still struggles with this idea.

3:23 “Sinned” (Greek, “hamartano”) refers to a person “missing the mark” in individual actions, rather than habitual or original sin. How does this description of sin resonate with you?

3:24 If “justified” does not mean “morally perfect” but “not held accountable,” what is the difference between those who are forgiven and those who are not forgiven? How should the Church look upon those who do not yet know about Jesus Christ?

“Redemption” usually refers to the payment of money to set a slave free. In this metaphor for grace, the payment is supplied by Jesus’ life or blood (3:25). To whom does God pay the price? Remember, all metaphors fall short. What are the best aspects of this pardoning grace image?

3:25 Scholars differ over how to interpret the phrase, “he had passed over the sins previously committed.” Some think Paul suggests Jesus’ death puts to rest all those who doubt God is committed to justice because they do not see how all sins have been punished. Because God is willing to become incarnate and suffer crucifixion, the divine commitment to setting the world right is clear. Others interpret this passage to mean Jesus’ death effectively forgives the sins of people in the past who turned to God in faith, trusting that God would somehow, one day, provide a way to bring righteousness to creation. To support this interpretation, they point out Paul next uses Abraham as an example of faith (Rom 4).

3:26 The cross of Jesus occurs “in the present time” to show God’s complete commitment to justice. However, the final justification (ultimately setting things “right”) will happen in the future at the return of Jesus. So, Jesus’ sacrifice provides pardon for those who believe and anticipates a final, full justification at the end of time. According to Paul, the cross is the hinge on which all history swings.

3:27 What is the difference in “boasting” and celebrating what God has done in us? What helps us avoid boasting? Is faith something you achieve, possess, receive, or to which you submit?

3:30 It is impossible for Gentiles to keep the Law, which demands participation in the Jewish covenant community. However, one result of believing in justification by faith in Jesus is that all persons now have access to righteousness and peace with their Creator.

The final verse in this chapter (3:31) provides a natural transition into Paul’s next point, that salvation by faith is really the foundation for the Jewish connection with God. He continues this discussion in the next chapter, and we will examine his thoughts on Abraham’s faith tomorrow.  

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