When Paul talks about justification by faith, he normally contrasts it with justification by works. But elsewhere in Paul, “by faith” is contrasted with “by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul is speaking of two different “walks,” but can the same contrast apply to justification? Does it make sense to say that we are justified by faith rather than by sight?
It would seem so. Justification by sight would be something like this: God makes it publicly evident that some individual stands in the right before Him. That public justification will occur at the last day, and so the future justification is a justification “by sight” – just as we will see face to face in the eschaton.
For now, though, our standing with God is not public and obvious. When Jesus stood before Pilate, it was not obvious that He stood righteous before the Father. When Jesus hung on a Roman cross, it was not evident that He was in the right with the Creator. So too, when we share in His sufferings, there is no indisputable proof that we have been declared right in God’s court. The world might be excused for thinking the opposite, that, if there is a God, He cannot be the Father and Savior of a people so beleaguered. And we ourselves are tempted to doubt our right standing.
Justification by faith means knowing that God favors us, counts us as righteous covenant partners, even when all the empirical symptoms indicate the opposite.
Reminded me of something I preached on justification by in 2000 or 1999:
First of all, we all have been taught that justification is a legal declaration. But it is hard to understand how our belief corresponds to a declaration on God’s part that we can’t hear or experience. Perhaps understanding how Jesus was justified will help. When we are marked out by God by the gift of faith we are joined to Christ by that faith. At that point, the verdict God declared about Jesus applies to us because we belong to Jesus. The declared verdict was almost two thousand years ago. We share that status when we share in Christ by faith.
God tells us in many ways that we belong to Jesus: By arranging providence so that we are baptized into his Kingdom; by showing us we are his family in feeding us at his table in the Lord’s Supper as a Father feeds his children; by enabling us through the power of the Holy Spirit to declare that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from the dead; by summoning us to corporate worship as his army under his command and care; and by many other means.
Let all those things give you confidence in knowing that Christ’s status as acceptable to the Father—as a friend of God’s much more than Abraham was—is yours as well. Your sins are already dealt with so God now forgives them freely for the sake of Christ. He took your curse and condemnation and God receives you as having the status of his own beloved son.
Secondly, this might help us understand that, even though we have, in substance, our entire salvation in Jesus Christ, we really are still waiting for it to be revealed. Right now, we look and feel like the wicked around us. We too get cancer and deal with old age, and have our children get sick, and struggle with finances, just like all the unbelievers around us. We too are under the general curse that was imposed on the sinful human race.
But one day, we will experience for ourselves the declaration that we are righteous in God’s sight through Jesus our Lord in a new way. Just as Jesus was declared righteous—justified—in his resurrection, so in our resurrection we too will be personally justified. That’s why now justification is by faith. We must believe that we have status with God as his friends even though we don’t see much difference between how we are treated and how God treats his enemies. But then we will see with our own eyes as we are reborn from the grave in the image and glory of the resurrected Jesus Christ our Lord!
Thirdly, if we understand that we have this status and yet God has not seen fit to yet reveal it as he will at the Final Judgment–that last courtroom scene which will end human history–then we might be able to understand some of the frustration we feel. Living by faith means living by hope for what we do not yet see. And, as Paul writes in Romans 8.25, “if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” If you are dissatisfied with your present life, maybe you should not be discouraged by that fact, but realize that the reason you are dissatisfied is that God has promised to bring you into something better–something you will not just hope in or trust him for, but that you will actually experience for yourself. Your resurrection in glory, when you see Jesus face to face and reflect his image as a mirror, will be God’s public declaration that he accepts you. You have status with him and you will see it then with your own transfigured eyes.