Justification and the Time Element
There seems to be a lot of confusion these days in the Church as to when a man is justified. If it wasn’t enough to have Genesis 15:6 referenced time and time again let me try to support the biblical teaching of justification by faith the moment one believes from another passage of Scripture. After having appealed to Gen 15:6 in Romans 4, the apostle Paul then goes on to defend the teaching of the justification of the Gentiles as well as of the Jews. To anyone who believes in Christ this blessedness comes. All who believe are counted righteous in Christ because of his righteousness. Now in defending the fact that this blessedness comes to Gentiles and Jews alike Paul appeals to Abraham.
Why Abraham? Well, Abraham was the one with whom God chose to make a redemptive covenant. It was upon the promises of this covenant that Abraham believed and was accounted righteous (Genesis 15:6). But Abraham was also the father of ethnic Jews. When he was circumcised in Genesis 17, he formally became the father of the Jewish people. It was not only Abraham who was circumcised that day–his son Ishmael received the sign of the covenant–as also did his servants. This means that it was never just ethnic decent that made a Jew a Jew. All of Abraham’s household was Israel. But the apostle’s argument runs thus: “Is justification only for the Jew or is it also for the Gentile? What made a Jew a Jew? Circumcision! Well then, Is this blessedness for the circumcised only or also for the uncircumcised? Was Abraham justified when he was circumcised or while he was uncircumcised? Not when he was circumcised but when he was uncircumcised–so that the promise might be given to the uncircumcised also by faith!”
So then it must be clear that Abraham was justified by faith in Christ prior to his being circumcised. This means two things. (1) The Jews do not have any special privilege above the Gentiles after the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. (2) Abraham was justified at a particular point in time and so are all who believe. He was not counted righteous after circumcision but before he was circumcised. We have to carefully distinguish between the element of justification that occurs in time (pronounced [i.e. declarative in the sense of God delcaring us righteous] justification or actual justification) and the justification that is eschatalogical (demonstrative or declarative[i.e. openly vidicated before all men]). Though this can at times be confusing we must make clear that there is no future imputation of righteousness. When was Abraham justified, while circumcised or while uncircumcised? Not while circumcised but while uncircumcised. This is a very important point that has not been brought forth in the justification debates.