Justified by Faith and Judged by Works: A Biblical Paradox and Its Significance -- By: Mark A. Seifrid

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 05:4 (Winter 2001)
Article: Justified by Faith and Judged by Works: A Biblical Paradox and Its Significance
Author: Mark A. Seifrid


Justified by Faith and Judged by Works:
A Biblical Paradox and Its Significance

Mark A. Seifrid

Mark A. Seifrid is an associate professor of New Testament at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he has taught since 1992. Dr. Seifrid received the Ph.D. in New Testament from Princeton Theological Seminary. His dissertation on justification was published by Brill and his most recent work, Christ, Our Righteousness: The Justification of the Ungodly as the Theology of Paul (IVP) was published in 2001. This article is a slightly revised version of Dr. Seifrid’s faculty address delivered on February 16, 2000 at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

The Challenge of Listening to the Whole of Scripture

Within the space of two short chapters in Romans, Paul declares, “It is not the hearers of the Law who are righteous before God, rather those who do the Law shall be justified” (Rom 2:13); and, “According to our evaluation, a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law” (Rom 3:28).

One can find no indication in the text that Paul was embarrassed by the seeming incongruity of these affirmations. Nor is it likely that he fell unawares into inconsistency, when we consider that the letter to Rome is carefully constructed and composed by the apostle in his maturity. We must assume that in some way these two widely different perspectives on the momentous matter of our standing before God cohere with one another. It is this point of cohesion that I would like to consider.

It is worth reminding ourselves at the outset that in seeking a biblical synthesis, we must take care to listen to all the biblical evidence and guard ourselves against diluting either one of the Pauline statements we have just cited. We should remember that it was the rediscovery of Paul’s latter affirmation, that justification is a gift given to faith, which prompted the Protestant Reformation in a Church that had grown dull of hearing. The Reformers, whether Lutheran or Calvinist, came to understand that believers shall stand at the final judgment by a righteousness given to faith alone as a gift. In other words, the righteousness that saves us is found outside us in Jesus Christ, incarnate, crucified and risen. In taking this position, the Reformers were making a conscious break with traditional understandings of justification, according to which the initial gift of justification had to increase and grow internally in order for the believer to attain salvation. Their disagreement with their contemporaries was not over whether salvation was a divine gift. Everyone at that time was a follower of Augustine, or at least thought themselves to be. ...

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