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Eschatological Justification in Romans 5

In commenting [1] on the fifth chapter of Romans, Martin Luther exclaims: “In the whole Bible there is hardly another chapter which can equal this triumphant text. The apostle here most clearly describes God’s grace and mercy and shows…how abundantly it has been poured out upon us” (88). Chapter 5 of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is the climax of the 4 previous chapters where Paul expressly lays down the foundations of justification by faith alone. From Rom. 1:1-3:20, Paul makes known that both Jew and Gentile are “storing up wrath” for themselves “on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Rom. 2:5). This is because “none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one,” (Rom. 3:9-20). Therefore, both Jew and Gentile—all of mankind—are condemned under the wrath of God for their failure to keep His law. But now, “the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law…through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom. 3:21-22).

For the rest of Paul’s epistle to the Romans, especially chapters 4 and 5, Paul unpacks the implications of the “redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:24-26). With Abraham in chapter 4 as a test case of justification by faith, Paul shows, through the climactic content and chiastic structure of chapter 5, that Christians, this side of eternity, exist in a state of eschatological justification. Justification is a present reality (5:1-2a; 11) that holds a future hope (5:2b-5; 9-10).  This hope does not put us to shame because it is built upon the person and work of Christ’s (5:6-8) as they are applied to the believer by the Holy Spirit. 

Justification as a Present Reality

The justification “which we have before God, in his sight through Jesus Christ,” is an eschatological reality because it “is but one, and at once full and complete” (John Owen, Works [2], 5:104). According to Paul in Rom. 5:1, the Christian is in a state of “having been justified” (Δικαιωθέντες) because the very righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer just as their sins were imputed to Christ on the cross (Rom 5:12-21; cf. 2 Cor. 5:21). Paul does not begin with the hope that Christians will be justified, but with the certainty that they already “have peace with God” in the present (Rom. 5:1). They stand before God as righteous and forgiven in Christ. This access is one gifted to believers “through” Jesus Christ. Paul explains justification as a past completed act because all that is necessary to justify the Christian was done by Christ on their behalf. Therefore, as Richard B. Gaffin states, for those who have faith in Christ “a favorable verdict at the last judgement is not an anxious, uncertain hope…but a present possession, the confident and stable basis of the Christian life.”[1] [3]

Eschatology is the study of what takes place at the end-time judgement and consummation, while justification is the act of God declaring those in Christ as pardoned of sin and right with Him on the basis of Christ’s person and work. Therefore, eschatological justification is the truth that Christians “have now received reconciliation” with God (Rom. 5:11) in a final and consummated sense through Christ’s obedience being imputed to them and his death and resurrection being their own. At the end-time judgement they will not face a second justification because justification is a declarative act of eschatological consummation in which God Himself has pronounced his final “justifying sentence” of which “there is no appeal.”[2] [4] This declaration of God is spoken from the age to come into the Christian’s Pneumatic existence, ushering them into a positional forensic state of full reconciliation with Him through their Spirit wrought faith-union with Christ. It is a declaration of eschatological vindication received proleptically; a declaration that bears no repeating as it manifests the in-breaking of the Christian’s day of judgement. As Paul would say elsewhere, God has judged the Christian as righteous in Christ, and has “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6, cf. Col. 2:12-14, 3:1); an eternal, unseen, Pneumatic (inner-man) existence in which the consummated age to come is a present, renewing reality otherwise untouched by the Christian’s fleshly (outer-man) existence (see 2 Cor. 4:16-5:5).

Justification as a Future Hope

Since Christians have “now been justified by [Christ’s] blood” (Rom 5:9) they can “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (5:2). This hope is a certain hope that “does not put us to shame” because “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (5:5) who is the seal and “guarantee of our inheritance” (Eph. 1:14). The reason Paul gives for Christians being “saved by [Christ] from the wrath of God” (Rom. 5:9) on the day of judgement is precisely the fact that they already have been “reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (5:10). The wrath that they deserve on the day of judgement has already been placed upon Christ, and the declaration of judgment they face has already been spoken through their faith-union with him. Therefore, as Douglas Moo observes, “The last day, by bringing the believer into the scope of the glory of God, will manifest the decision that has already been made on our behalf.”[3] [5] In short, the Christian’s bodily resurrection is their future judgement as it reveals the already declared judgement of God upon the Christian’s spiritual state. This is only possible because the justification that the Christian’s bodily resurrection manifests is a justification already received in the Christian’s union with Christ who was justified by his own bodily resurrection when he was “vindicated (ἐδικαιώθη) by the Spirit” (1 Tim. 3:16; cf. Rom. 1:3-4).

According to Rom. 4:25, this Christ was “raised for our justification (δικαίωσιν)” so that his justifying resurrection is presently the Christian’s justification through their union with him. As the justification of Christ takes place “by and at his resurrection,” so the justification of the believer takes place “in his having been raised with Christ, that is, in his having been united to Christ as resurrected.”[4] [6] This is why the Christian will “be saved by [Christ’s] life,” his resurrection life (Rom. 5:10). The Christian is justified because Christ was justified by his resurrection, and the believer, therefore, will forever be justified because Christ’s resurrection is their present possession. In short, the Christian’s bodily resurrection will not serve to justify, but to manifest the justification won by Christ himself in his own resurrection. It is this reason that the Christian can rejoice in suffering (Rom. 5:3-4), knowing that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18); a glory certainly hoped for since it is a glory already won. Here is the future aspect of justification and the Christian’s hope in suffering, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God,” and the sons of God wait eagerly with it (Rom. 8:19).

The future aspect of Justification, therefore, is the outer-man’s revealing of the inner-man’s eschatological existence. On the final day, “the eschatological verdict that is passed in secret in the present, is revealed through the resurrection of the outer man…justification is ‘already,’ and what remains ‘not yet’ is the revelation of the verdict that has already been passed.”[5] [7] (Fesko, 2008, p. 411). While the Christian’s Pneumatic (inner-man) existence is presently one of declared righteousness, the Christian’s fleshy (outer-man) existence will on that day be done away with and transformed into one of holistic, eternally realized righteousness. Though now we are declared righteous in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, on that day we will be made righteous through the transformation that takes place “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Cor 15:52). The Christian’s resurrection and final judgment are, as Herman Bavinck puts it, “intimately associated as in a single act.”[6] [8]

Justification in Christ

The eschatologically consummate reality that holds place within the Pneumatic existence of the Christian is held up by the fleshly existence of Christ as he operated in his redemptive work of history, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6). This is the center of Paul’s thought in Romans 5:1-11; it is the focal point of all that he is saying. God shows his love for us in that “while we were still sinners,” Christ faced the eschatological wrath of God on our behalf (5:8); not on behalf of good people but on behalf of sinners. The last day judgement-wrath that is due to all is poured out upon Christ on the cross; the last day pronouncement of perfection that is needed by all for eternity in paradise is already given to the believer in the imputation of the righteousness of Christ; the last day justification that is hoped for by all is already a present Pneumatic reality through the believer’s union with the resurrected and justified Christ. In short, because believers are united to Christ, they have “already passed through the final judgement in the crucifixion of Christ…Therefore the believer’s declaration of righteousness in the present has eschatological significance, as it brings the verdict of the final judgment into the present.”[7] [9] The Christian does not wait for the “not yet” bodily resurrection to receive the justification-benefit of Christ’s death and resurrection; it is presently theirs by faith. “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised” (Rom 8:33-34).[8] [10]

Conclusion

Paul’s doctrine of justification in Romans 5 is intimately tied to eschatology because “justification consists in final things performed by the Son of God and, by faith, those final things belong to believers because they belong to the justified and justifying Lord Jesus Christ.”[9] [11] “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Rom. 5:1, 11).

 

 

 

 

Cody Edds is pursuing an MDiv at Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary and a member of Christ Reformed Baptist Church in Lookout Mountain, TN.

 

 

 

 

[1] [12] “The Holy Spirit and eschatology,” Kerux: The Journal of Northwest Theological Seminary, 4 (3), 14-29, cited 18.

[2] [13]John Murray The Epistle to the Romans, combined ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980), 327.

[3] [14]The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 512.

[4] [15] Richard B. Gaffin, Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1987), 130-131.

[5] [16] J. V. Fesko, Justification: Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2008), 411.

[6] [17] Herman Bavinck, The Last Things: Hope for This World and the Next (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1996), 132.

[7] [18] Fesko, Justification, 411.

[8] [19] As Geerhardus Vos says of this passage, so it must be said of Romans 5: “The language of Rom. 8:33-34…could not be more absolute than the sentence rendered in the last judgement; in fact it is so absolute as to be indifferent to the categories of present, past, or future”. The Pauline Eschatology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1979), 57-58.

[9] [20] J. T. Dennison, “Geerhardus Vos and Michael Wolter on Paul’s Eschatology,” Kerux: The Journal of Northwest Theological Seminary, 30 (2), 9-15, cited 12.