Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Recognition or Reckoning?

We have seen that pre-Damascus Saul’s boast of blamelessness as to the righteousness that comes from the Mosaic law was indeed a valid claim. The problem, however, was that the earthly blessings promised for obedience to the law were "refuse" compared to the eternal joy of gaining Christ and attaining the resurrection from the dead (Phil. 3:4b-11).

Because of human sin and the subsequent inability to secure the eternal, heavenly blessings by the ordinary means appointed at creation (obeying God’s commands), righteousness must be attained in an extraordinary way: through faith in Christ.

(And just so we're clear: The phenomenon of justification by faith is the divine response to the crisis brought on by universal sin (Rom. 1:18ff), and not, as the New Perspective claims, simply the solution to the exclusivity of Torah's boundary markers such as circumcision, sabbaths, and dietary laws.)

A comparison of Romans 2:13 and 5:8-9 demonstrates the necessity of another type of righteousness beyond the ordinary. In the former verse, one is justified because he is just—he is a "doer of the law." In the latter, however, the one who is justified is "ungodly" (v. 6) and a "sinner" (v. 8). This is an example of what Westerholm calls "extraordinary righteousness," and what Paul calls a "free gift of righteousness" and "justification by faith" (Rom. 5:17; 3:28).

Please don't miss this point: When it is ungodly sinners who are justified, it cannot be on the basis of their righteous conduct or "doing of the law" that this sentence is passed. Rather, they must be reckoned as righteous, receiving their justification "freely by grace" (Rom. 3:24), "without works" (Rom. 4:2, 5, 6), and as a "gift of righteousness" (Rom. 5:17), none of which can be said of those who are recognized as righteous because they are "doers of the law."

The contrast between ordinary righteousness and extraordinary righteousness, then, amounts to nothing less than the distinction between the law ("Do this and live") and the gospel ("It is finished!").

And this is precisely the distinction that the New Perspective misses.