Justification is a Location

In Romans 5, Paul begins to interpret the conflicted situation in the Roman church(es) from an apocalyptic perspective.  There’s far more going on than just a social tug-of-war between two factions in the Roman Christian community.  That’s an interpretation from a merely human perspective.

Paul sets their situation within a larger drama on a bigger stage—there’s more going on than they’ve realized, and they won’t be unified until they come to grips with how their behavior is being affected by cosmic realities.

Paul, therefore, gives them a heavenly vision of reality that has a cosmic scope.

From this perspective, they need to see that there are two realms within reality.  There’s a realm called “Adam,” in which all humanity is located.  In Romans 5:12-17, it appears that Paul is giving something of a biblical history lesson, talking about what happened with Adam, Moses, the entrance of the Law, etc.

Paul is doing far more than recounting salvation-history, however.  He speaks of these things in order to more fully describe this realm called “Adam.”  It’s the realm with a history of oppression, enslavement to sin, and a future of condemnation.  In this realm the cosmic powers of Sin and Death “reign” and the guilt of Adam spreads to all humanity.

And this is key for Paul’s argument throughout Romans 5-8: when the Law enters this realm, the cosmic power of Sin hijacks it to serve the purposes of Death (we’ll return to this when we get to Romans 7).

Everyone in the Roman church(es) was formerly located in that realm, but by virtue of being justified by faith, all those in Rome have been relocated.

They don’t live “in Adam” anymore.  As Paul says at the beginning of this section,

having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand (Rom. 5:1-2).

Justification is more than a status that God declares in the heavenly court.  “Justification” in this sense is something more like “rectification”—an act whereby God actually does something to us.  He sets us right, rectifies us—transferring us from the realm where Sin and Death reign into a new location in the cosmos.  Paul calls this new realm “this grace” throughout Romans 5.

It is a location within the cosmos in which we enjoy God’s shalom, and over which Christ reigns as life-giving Lord.  God’s resurrection presence and renewing power radiate to all inhabitants of this realm by God’s Spirit.  Because God himself permeates this realm and animates it, it has distinct operating dynamics and is subject to certain pressures.

It has a glorious history, stretching back to the death and resurrection of Christ.  And it has a radically hopeful future, which is the “hope of the glory of God” (v. 2).  The “glory of God” points to the full transformation of human bodies so that we finally will play our rightful role in God’s creation, a role called “the glory of God.”

This realm, then, called “this grace,” or “the gift,” is the realm of the “already” aspect of salvation, in which we are reconciled to God and in which the renewing power of God is at work.  It’s the realm headed for the “not yet” of salvation, the final renewal of human bodies and all of creation—final “rectification.”

The distinction of these two realms is huge for understanding Paul’s argument in Romans 5-8, and especially for untangling what’s going on in Romans 7.  Frankly, it’s huge for the whole of Paul’s theology.  I’ll draw out Paul’s argument in Romans 5 over the next few days and hopefully we’ll see how Paul’s pastoral counsel hangs together.

6 thoughts on “Justification is a Location

  1. elijahworkz

    The reality of christian life is that we don’t always live in shalom (in a heavenly bliss). We’d like to, like Peter, stay on the mountain in the glorious presence of God all the time and never come down to the world where we are faced with problems and our own imperfections (demon-possessed boy and disciples who couldn’t help him) but we can’t. Like Paul in Romans 7 we are faced with our own inability to always do what we know is right. If Justification is a place – does it mean we move in and out all the time?

    1. timgombis

      Good question! God justifies (or, rectifies) and transfers us to this new realm, the realm in which all things are being made new. The struggle of Christian discipleship is to faithfully inhabit that realm. Individually and corporately, we seem to live from this realm inconsistency, stirring up the dynamics of the old realm quite often, and basically enacting a dynamic of constant repentance and transformation, identifying destructive behaviors and trying to cultivate behaviors and habits of goodness. But the reality of what God has done to us doesn’t change. Those whom God has made new, though living inconsistently, don’t actually move in and out constantly. God’s act (his declarative word that enacts a reality) doesn’t change. Our growth in faithfully living into that reality is, however, inconsistent.

  2. elijahworkz

    The words you use – realm and place – speak of transformed reality around us, not in us. It sounds like our problem is inability to be consistent in this new environment. But I don’t think God just wanted to create a box full of grace for us to live in. I don’t think he creates new realm – he just makes us aware of the one that was always there – in Him. I think he wanted to change us from within. The kingdom of God begins in a heart and then flows out into everything we do and touch. But the first step is to have that peace with God and to realize what God wanted from the very beginning.

    1. timgombis

      Paul’s conception of ‘rectification’ includes human transformation. Elsewhere in Romans, Paul does touch on that–spirits being transformed with a view to the holistic transformation of bodies and all of creation at the end. So, you’re right to say that salvation includes inner transformation. It’s just that Romans 5 is touching on a different issue–the new realm into which God has brought the people of God.

  3. Andrew Spink

    Your exegetical thoughts on Romans (and Ephesians with its connected themes) are so helpful! I really appreciate how you use the dramatic language when drawing insights from Paul’s writing! My thought is about the transfer that you suggest in Justification. You speak about God “transporting” us through justification to the new realm. Could the “realm” and the “reign” (of sin/death or of grace) be the same thing. (I know we’re talking about a metaphor mainly). This would mean that Justification is the result of Christ (new king) defeating (“overcoming”) Sin/Death (old king) and bringing the new realm to us – a realm without condemnation, but with righteousness and freedom, etc. This, I think, fits the language of Rom. 5:12-21 well, as well as chapters 6-8 (which I think flow directly out of 5:12-21 – their formative story, if you will). I think this would help with the question above as well, regarding moving in and out of the sphere. The question for Paul in chapter 6 is whether or not we’re living like the old king is still alive or not, as opposed to: “you’re running back to your old sphere” or “you’re not inhabiting this space as you should!” If we keep the “space” we’ve always had, but have a new king would this fit with your over-arching study? Would this also help fight the “escapist” mentality that may result from thinking about two different spheres (i.e. heaven vs. earth)? Just my thoughts… thank you!

    1. timgombis

      Well-said, Andrew! I do think that’s how Paul articulates things in Romans 6. If you’re transferred to a new realm with a new master, how can you go back to the old realm and serve the old master. And that’s a communal dynamic, too, not just individuals. But that’s precisely the shape of Paul’s argument.

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