Justification, Day 5

Today’s reading is drawn from Romans 3:23-24 and Acts 13:39.

We live in a culture that thinks hard work gets us what we want or what we think we deserve. This is especially true in the workplace. If we work hard enough, we get a raise, bonus, or promotion. And if something goes wrong, we can usually work hard enough to make amends. We live in a meritocratic culture.

But God’s kingdom functions differently. He has given us something we don’t deserve: right status before him.

The doctrine of justification tells us that we are considered righteous before God, not by our obedience to the law—for no one can fulfill the law’s requirements—but because of the perfect work of Christ. He alone lived perfectly according to the law and fulfilled it. Because of Christ’s work, God no longer sees us as sinful or guilty. He sees us as righteous and holy. Therefore, we do not have to fear God’s wrath, because our sins are forgiven and the weight of our guilt has been removed.

In his famous Institutes of the Christian Religion, reformer John Calvin says that no sinner could ever justify himself. Not only that, but wherever there is sin, there also “the wrath and vengeance of God show themselves.” Conversely, a justified person is one “who is reckoned in the condition not of a sinner, but of a righteous man; and for that reason, he stands firm before God’s judgment seat while all sinners fall.” This happens when we trust not in ourselves and our own works—because we will find nothing righteous within us— but in the righteousness of Christ through faith. That’s good news!

Connecting

As human beings, we are constantly trying to justify ourselves before others. Fearful of our inadequacies and sins being exposed, we work tirelessly to prove ourselves. This leaves us only exhausted and joyless. But when we begin to grasp the truth that in Christ we are wholly accepted by God regardless of what we do, we experience a peace that allows us not to be preoccupied with ourselves—our successes or failures. Further, we can have confidence as we perform the work God has set before us, even with all of our human limitations. The doctrine of justification brings an incredible freedom in our work, because if God, the ultimate judge, has already deemed us righteous, then no one and nothing can steal our security or status in him.

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Justice in the Book of 1 Peter, Day 5

Today’s reading is drawn from 1 Peter 4:17-18 and 1 Peter 5:6-10.

First Peter offers hope that by living reverent and quiet lives, members of the new Christian community can avoid suffering. Clearly, though, Peter’s greatest hope is that by imitating Christ, who also suffered and did not pursue retaliation, Christians can be redeemed by God. He will set all things right (4:17–18). He will lift you up (5:6). He will make you strong (5:10).

An insight gained from 1 Peter and the life of Nelson Mandela: it is possible that the (unjust) suffering of an individual can mean the freedom of an entire people. More importantly, if an individual sacrifices his or her freedom for the sake of the freedom of the entire community, it is now up to the community to provide a space where all will enjoy being safe, free and blessed. That was so of Nelson Mandela; it is even more deeply and eternally true of Jesus.

What Mandela suffered on behalf of justice has created a new country, where justice should be the norm. And yet it is not. Many years after Nelson Mandela became the first democratic president of South Africa, unemployment ranks among the highest in the world, as do intimate partner violence and sexual violence. The rape and murder of women and children are a common occurrence; “corrective rape” of lesbians and homophobic attacks are on the increase; the HIV infection rate is among the world’s highest; and foreigners from neighboring African countries suffer xenophobic attacks. In short, Mandela’s suffering served for the liberation of a nation, but that liberation is far from complete.

And Jesus’ suffering served for the liberation of the whole world, but that liberation—of body, mind and spirit—is very far from perfected, even in the lives of those whom he has chosen. The church, of all places, should be where liberation is seen.

The first readers of 1 Peter were called to act justly by conforming to submissive behavior and suffering for a little while (3:6; 5:10). This was deemed righteous because such suffering was for the well-being and survival of the family of believers as they waited on the return of Christ. We too are called to act justly in our contexts of suffering—mindful that, as a family of believers, we may face different challenges than did the churches Peter first addressed.

— Miranda Pillay, South Africa (Excerpted from the book introduction to 1 Peter)

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Forgiveness Brings Freedom, Day 5

Today’s reading is drawn from 1 Kings 8:22-61.

A recurring theme in Solomon’s prayer of dedication for the temple is forgiveness. He asks God to hear the prayers of the people and forgive their sins. This emphasis on forgiveness is a key element in all our relationships.

To forgive is very difficult. It means letting go of something that someone “owes” us. But forgiveness brings freedom from the past; it brings freedom from anyone who has hurt us. To forgive means to write it off. Let it go. Tear up the account. It is to render the account canceled. “[God] forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13–14). He asks us to forgive others in the same way that he has forgiven us (see Matthew 18:21–35).

To forgive means we will never get from that person what was owed us. What is done is done and can’t be undone. But the result of forgiveness is freedom from that reality and the chance to have a future unfettered by resentment and grudges from the past. It takes the power away from others, and we get our lives back. It is an arrangement that cannot be matched.

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