The theme Justified by Faith has been very much on my mind recently, with it coming to the fore as I re-read Romans in the context of a Biblical Studies class on the book. Part of the class was to use E.P. Saunder’s approach to Romans to rediscover a more authentic reading of Romans that is more in keeping with a Hellenised Jew, rather than the heroic caricature of a protestant hero that has been so prevalent since the writings of Martin Luther. This view, where the notion of Works (that it, things that you do to make yourself righteous) was thoroughly condemned was used throughout Christendom to condemn, harras and murder Jews, eventually culminating in the Nazi Holocaust, who’s legacy still reverbarates around the world, and despite widespread reaction to the evils of it, still Jews are persecuted on the back of the traditional reading of Romans.
Crucial to the understanding of this idea, is exploring St. Paul’s idea of what precisely the role of the Law is, and precisely how one is Justified by Faith, and just who’s faith are we justified by anyway?
“Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3).
Righteousness, according to E. P. Sanders is primarily relational. It is the requirements placed upon someone in a relationship. For example, to use a well-worn biblical metaphore, in a marriage, you are righteous to your spouse by being faithful, caring, kind, supportive and generous. So, righteousness to God is our response to our relationship with him. This was the Law for the Jew. Their response, as a covanented people, was to uphold their side of the Law. It was not through the law that righteousness was given, but righteousness was given, and the response was keeping the law.
This brings me into a deeper understanding of what being a “realational God” actually is. To be righteous is to be in a relationship with God, to be faithful to him, and to respond in this relationship under the rules of love and generosity that make up that relationship.
We are brought into this relationship, Justified into this relationship through Faith. The Greek here in ambiguous (or so my lecturer said ((Citation needed)). It could either be the a Person’s Faith in Jesus, or more radically, Jesus’ Faith in Us. Mother Julienne of Norwich says something similar, “In our own eyes we cannot stand, in God’s eyes we do not fall”.
It is not, then, our own faith in Jesus that brings us into a relationship with God, but rather Jesus’ Faith in Us that brings us into that relationship. To be Righteous in the eyes of God is simply to respond to that faith, and take this good news out to the world.