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Great themes: Salvation, faith and justification

Published: October 26, 2017   
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Oct. 18 at St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana.

A whole course of theology could be given on our first reading from Romans today. Here Paul announces the great themes of the Good News that he proclaims:

  • Salvation from sin, from “lostness,” from the wrath of God, from eternal death.
  • It is available to all who put their faith in Jesus, trust him, are loyal to him, accept the truth of his teaching and place their hope in him.
  • This faith leads to justification. God will treat us sinners as if we had not been sinners at all. He will reckon us righteous through no merit of our own, but only because of his desire to welcome us into a new, life-giving relationship with him.

That’s quite a lot to take in and quite appropriate for us to take a look at as we approach the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation at the end of this month. Martin Luther placed a great deal of emphasis on St. Paul’s language about justification through faith that we find in today’s reading from Romans.

We know that more recently Lutheran/Catholic dialogue has resulted in two joint statements that have more or less resolved the main sticking points in our theological dispute on this topic: we are saved by a living faith, a living faith which will of necessity produce good works.

The negative consequences of our evil deeds are not due to anger on the part of God. Rather, they are simply the natural consequences of our own folly.

But let’s set aside theology for a moment and ask what does this mean for us personally? And specifically, what is the wrath of God from which St. Paul says we are being saved? This is language that is alien to the way we normally speak of God.

The Old Testament speaks a great deal about the wrath of God. The prophets threaten divine punishment for all kinds of infidelities and by Jesus’ time many people had strong eschatological expectations. They looked forward to the end of the world in which God’s wrath would destroy all their enemies. Of course, at the same time they feared the wrath of his judgment of their own personal lives.

But notice this difference; while Paul does speak of God’s wrath, he never speaks of God as being angry. In Paul, our loving God loves, our gracious God gives, our faithful God stands by us and most importantly, the negative consequences of our evil deeds are not due to anger on the part of God. Rather, they are simply the natural consequences of our own folly — what we call “the temporal punishment due to sin.”

This woundedness, much of it self-inflicted, is a big part of the reason why God has intervened in our lives by sending us Jesus.

We all know that Jesus came to save us from the power of sin and death, but consider this, he also came to free us from our own self-condemnation.

He knows that if we repent of our sins — and this is what I find most encouraging — even though we continue to fight a sometimes losing battle against temptation, if we embrace God’s will as fully as we can, placing our trust in him, he’ll see us through. Indeed, he’ll reckon us righteous even though we know that objectively speaking we are not.

Today St. Paul proclaims that access to this salvation is available to everyone who believes, everyone who puts their trust in Jesus and especially in his great mercy.

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