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“Since we are justified by faith …” These words are taken from the opening of our second reading this Sunday, the feast of the Holy Trinity. The come from the fifth chapter of St Paul’s letter to the Romans.
To be “justified” means, literally, to be in line with a guiding standard. When you do a word document on the computer, for example, you can set it up so that the letters on the left and/or the right will be justified according to the standard of the margin you have set. When it comes to life, the question about justification is what will be the standard according to which we strive to align our lives.
Paul compares two such standards, the first being the Mosaic Law, the second being faith in the person of Jesus Christ. Being justified in relation to the Mosaic Law means being in line with or obeying the dictates of the major and minor commands and precepts of that Law. Paul proposed a different standard, that of faith, according to which one is justified by striving to live a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Attempting to be justified by the Law may encourage good moral conduct, but such a focus has some major drawbacks. No one is able to be successful at following the law 100% of the time. When one estimates that he or she is doing well by this standard, there is a tendency to be prideful for one’s personal accomplishments and judgmental towards others who do not observe the Law as perfectly.
Justification by faith recognizes personal dependence on God, seeks God’s guidance, and humbly counts on God’s forgiveness when we fail. It still challenges us to strive for perfection in moral life, but not as a mark of personal achievement but rather as part of one’s response in relationship to Jesus Christ. What does having faith and a personal relationship with Jesus mean to you?