In the thought of Paul and the New Testament as a whole, the basis upon which believers are justified and forgiven is not Jesus’ death on their behalf but the new life of righteous that God brings about in them through faith by pure grace. In spite of their sinfulness, God accepts believers as they are, not because Jesus atoned for their sins in his death, but because as they look to Christ in faith they are transformed into the persons God desires them to be for their own good.
In some ways, Luther’s understanding of justification by faith and the gospel was fundamentally different from that of the other theologians of the Reformation period. In particular, his conception of justification as a healing process can be seen as providing the basis for an alternative paradigm for the doctrine of justification by faith that resolves many of the problems associated with the traditional Protestant formulations of that doctrine and also recaptures the logic and power of the New Testament gospel.
Behind Paul’s language regarding the justification of believers in Christ is the conviction that it is through Christ and the faith associated with him that God brings about in believers by pure grace the new life of justice and righteousness that he wishes to see in all for their own good out of love for them. Because it is not necessary to submit fully to the commandments of the Mosaic law in order to attain that life, even non-Jews can receive it as a gracious gift through faith in Christ.
Pauline scholars commonly look to the ideas of substitution and participation to interpret Paul’s affirmations that believers have been justified, redeemed, and reconciled to God through Jesus’ death or blood. Here it is argued that both of those ideas as traditionally understood are foreign to Paul’s thought and that a proper understanding of the narrative that lies behind his allusions to Jesus’ death is sufficient to grasp their meaning.