Our tendency in our evangelical churches and our evangelical lives is to believe in and uphold and love justification by faith (i.e. justification by simply refusing to self-justify) but then to move on to other ideas and strategies when it comes to our emotional life and the daily pressures that do not lie directly in the "moral" realm.
This is a great mistake.
Take fear, for instance. Why do get anxious? Because we are afraid that our functional god will condemn us--not justify us--if we fail it. So for example, we are fearful of not succeeding in a job, or not impressing someone we respect, or failing the test, or botching the sermon, or missing the shot. We fantasize about succeeding in those real life situations and have nightmares about failing. Why do we do that? Because we have not let the radioactive nature of the doctrine of justification by faith destroy our malignant idolatries. Sensing our inadequacy we set up our career, our relationships, our studies, our public speaking, our athletic abilities as functional gods to which we are looking for justification--to know we're okay. More than any other human drive, we all want to know, simply, that we are okay. And there is a concrete security in mixing in some self-achievement to get there.
But it is an insecure security, because it rests on performance. What I'm wondering is: what if we went into the interview, the conversation, the classroom, the pulpit, the game, already okay? Already justified. Not just theologically, but emotionally. Not just in our mind but in our gut. And what if the one who had declared us okay knew our inadequacy far more deeply than we do--yet had still, not in a grumpy voice but with singing (Zeph 3:17), justified us? That would be a relief and a courage no self-achievement could ever touch.
And it can be ours. How? By simply opening ourselves up to it. Christ was the one person who ever lived who was, from the womb, "okay." "Justified." But he allowed himself to be made un-okay, he allowed himself to fail, so that you and I, failures, can be fully justified--not just declared okay in the presence of God, but also in the presence of the many idolatries that beckon our worship throughout life.
If you have been justified theologically, have you also been justified emotionally?
Luther understood this. Here's what the irritable churchman says in his Romans commentary on 9:30-10:4.
One who believes in Christ is secure in his conscience; he is righteous and, as the Scripture says, "bold as a lion (Prov 28:1). And again: "Whatever shall befall the righteous shall not cause him anxiety" (Prov 12:21). . . .
All this means: one who believes in Christ does not hasten or flee; he is not frightened, because he fears nothing; he stands quiet and secure, founded upon a firm rock, according to the teaching of the Lord in Matt 7:24. But one who will not believe in him . . . will flee, yet he will not be able to escape when tribulation and anxiety and, above all, the judgment of God assail him. (Luther: Lectures on Romans, ed. W. Pauck, 282-83)
I took a doctoral seminar on Pauline justification last year; I think it's only in recent days that I'm finally figuring out what justification means.