The Lord expects his covenant people, his Saints to be justified. As on target as the Saints in Rome were, Paul was concerned about those who were going around to the different congregations and teaching them that the Law of Moses was the only way to live their life. So even with the Roman Saints Paul spends some time explaining the difference between the results of living the Mosaic law and living by faith in Christ. Let’s talk about what it means to be justified.
Reading Assignment: Romans
Additional reading: Bible Dictionary, “Grace,” 697; “Pauline Epistles: Romans,” 745.
We cannot walk back into the presence of our Father until we have been reconciled or justified with God’s laws. When we violate a commandment (a law) of God we commit sin. Sin is defined as doing something we know not to do or not doing something we know we are supposed to do. It only takes one violation of a law to lock ourselves out of God’s presence forever. Here is what we learn about violating God’s commandments in Alma 7:21:
21 And he doth not dwell in unholy temples; neither can filthiness or anything which is unclean be received into the kingdom of God; therefore I say unto you the time shall come, yea, and it shall be at the last day, that he who is filthy shall remain in his filthiness.
Unless we can find a way to settle our debt to God’s laws for breaking the commandments, when the last day comes and we are called up to be judged according to how we have lived our life, we will be found to be filthy or in violation of the law. We will have to pay a very steep penalty for those violations.
We do not have the ability to satisfy the demands of the laws of God we have violated, so we can never get out from under the condemnation of those laws on our own. Once we are justified we are no longer condemned by any of God’s laws, because we are in complete compliance with all of His laws. But we can’t justify ourselves. We don’t have the capacity, but Christ does.
Our only opportunity to come back into compliance with the Laws of God is to accept the payment Jesus made for us in Gethsemane and on the cross. Christ’s payment to God for our sins is called the atonement. He reconciled our debts with our Father, becoming the new owner of our souls. Now we answer to Christ for what we do in mortality. Christ’s commandments can justify us and rid us of the condemnation we are under for breaking the laws of God.
Our Father offers us, through His Son, something called grace. There are two parts to grace. The first part is a free gift of resurrection. We are promised that we will be resurrected and receive an immortal body that will never die. The only catch is the nature of that body. Will we receive a celestial, terrestrial, or telestial resurrected body? This is determined by the second half of the gift of grace.
Christ’s grace is a healing power, an enabling power that strengthens us and helps us to accomplish things that we don’t have the capacity to do on our own. That is partly why we say that we are saved by grace after all we can do. We simply cannot DO enough to qualify to reconcile ourselves with the eternal laws we have violated. It is only by exercising faith in the payment Christ made for us in Gethsemane and on the cross that we can receive His grace that enables us to have our hearts changed so we lose the desire to sin (break the law). His grace is what permits us to be forgiven of our sins.
Those who are forgiven by Christ will get to the judgment bar of God and find that none of their forgiven sins will be mentioned or held against them. It will be as though those laws were never violated. That person will be justified before the laws of God because he/she will be deemed in compliance with those laws. This is what it means to be forgiven.
The Law of Moses
What Paul is trying to make sure the Saints in Rome understand is that justification cannot be had through the Law of Moses. It is only through faith on the name of Jesus Christ that they can find forgiveness and become reconciled with God. No amount of feeling special as a Jew may feel will justify them before God. Just being of the “chosen” race is not enough. The forgiveness of sins is based on one thing only, and that is repentance through faith in Christ. Repentance can be done equally well by either a Jew or a gentile (non Jew).
Because of verses like Romans 3:24 many people have gotten the impression that Paul teaches that grace is all that is needed to be forgiven of sins. Here is that verse.
24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
Because Paul says that it is through grace that we are justified (forgiven) of our sins, they think that is all that is needed. This is one of those examples of where people take one point and base the whole gospel around that one single point of doctrine. They miss the bigger picture. In this case they are missing all the times that Paul tells them they need to set an example of righteousness for others, take care of the widows, and do good works. They focus on this one small principle and build the gospel to fit this one small bit. It doesn’t work that way.
Here is a quote from the manual:
The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “To be justified before God we must love one another: we must overcome evil; we must visit the fatherless and the widow in their affliction, and we must keep ourselves unspotted from the world: for such virtues flow from the great fountain of pure religion, strengthening our faith by adding every good quality that adorns the children of the blessed Jesus. We can pray in the season of prayer; we can love our neighbor as ourselves, and be faithful in tribulation, knowing that the reward of such is greater in the kingdom of heaven. What a consolation! What a joy!” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 76).
Becoming a Saint
When we live for the pleasures and comforts of mortality the Lord refers to us as being carnally (the flesh) minded. A Saint is someone who started out carnally minded, but made covenants with God to become better than just carnally minded. The Saint works to become spiritually minded, to focus on things of eternity, not just the temptations and lusts of the flesh. In Romans 5:5 – 6 Paul says:
5 For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.
6 For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
Saints are expected to honor their covenants by striving to overcome the allures of the flesh and focus on those things that will bring us eternal happiness. That happiness begins in this life as the grace of God forgives us of our sins, gives us strength to overcome our weaknesses, and changes our hearts, removing the desire to commit sin in the first place.
One who wants to live as a Saint needs to live life to a higher standard than the world lives. The world is not concerned with loving our neighbor, paying tithes and offerings, attending church on Sunday or keeping the Sabbath day holy. These are the kinds of things that concern someone who wants to become spiritually minded, to focus on the things of eternity.
Receiving forgiveness for our sins, which is being justified before God, is possible through Christ’s atonement. It takes exercising faith in Christ and learning to be obedient to God’s commandments. Our lives can be changed through the enabling and healing power of Christ’s grace. Our hearts can be changed over time to dislike evil and avoid temptation. We can become different people, like is symbolized by the baptismal covenant where we enter the waters of baptism, and like Christ’s burial in the tomb we go under the water only to arise a new creature, one whose desires and appetites have changed from being carnal to spiritual in nature. This is how we become true Saints.