Past Present and Future Justification

N.T. Wright explains the 3 tenses of justification in the New Testament:

In Romans 1-4, Paul has set out the three tenses of justification. Justification is the future verdict in 2.1-16: there will come a day when the righteous creator will put the world to rights, and on that day some will be declared to be in the right, even though at the moment, within the poetic sequence of Romans, it is not exactly clear who will come into this category (2.7, 10, 14-16). Justification is also the past verdict pronounced over Jesus in his resurrection: as the reurrection declared that Jesus was indeed god’s son (1.4), so it declares in principle that he is the true Israel, the vindicated people of the creator. The famous doctrine of ‘justification by faith,’ as articulated in 3.27-30 and undergirded in 4.1-25, consists in the present justification (c.f. 3.26, en to nun kairo [‘in the present time’]) in which the past verdict over Jesus is brought forward and applied to those who have faith in the god who raised Jesus, and in which the future verdict is brough backwards with the same application and result (c.f. 8.1: there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus). (103)

The transforming power of Justification

The gospel (and justification in particular) never leaves us as we are, but transforms us:

Justification means, at one level, that God accepts us as we are. But God’s acceptance is always transforming acceptance of holy love, demanding from us not a slack acquiescence in whatever state we happen to be in, but serious and Spirit-helped moral effort in becomeing what God intends for us. Without this, we slip back into the worst of both worlds, holding the form of a bare and caricatured Protestant justification-theology but without any of the lively devotion that has traditionally accompanied it. An integrated Pauline ethic never says, ‘Because God has accepted me, I can stay as I am.’ It always says that the mercy of God invites me to present my body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable. ‘It never askes, what am I allowed to do? Can I get away with this?’ It always asks, ‘How can I live according to the Spirit, not according to the flesh? How can I be transformed by the renewing of my mind, rather than being conformed to the present age?’ (234)


  1. Wright, Pauline Perspectives, 103
  2. Wright, Pauline Perspectives, 234