Justification refers to a change in the legal status of the believer in Jesus Christ. God legally declares righteous the sinner who puts his trust in Jesus Christ.
THE NEED FOR JUSTIFICATION
Justification answers the question, "How is a sinner accepted before God?"
The apostle John declares, "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but who does not believe the son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:36). "We were by nature children of wrath" (Ephesians 2:3). We are guilty because we are guilty. "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). The result is "The wages of sin is death . . ." (Rom. 6:23). “The soul that sins will die” (Ezekiel 18:4).
How does God receive a sinful person?
The Bible teaches that God declares the believing sinner righteous based upon the sinner putting his faith and trust in the death Jesus Christ to cover all his sins. Justification does not mean that God makes us righteous; that is the doctrine of progressive sanctification. The sinner is declared righteous. The key word is “declared.”
We are sinners who have failed to what God wants us to be. Jesus Christ died for our sins. He died in our place on the cross. God the Father sees us looking to Jesus to be saved. The moment we trust in Christ His blood cleanses us of all our sins. The Father pronounces us acquitted.
Since the Father is satisfied with His Son, He is also satisfied with those who believe in His Son's death and resurrection. He is satisfied with those who are “in Christ.” He sees us in our sin. God sees our faith and declares us right with God! Pardoned! Forgiven! Acquitted! It is a once and for all act of God whereby He declares us righteous in His sight.
THE NATURE OF JUSTIFICATION
By the free gift of God's grace we are declared to be right with Him through Jesus Christ who died to set us free.
The Scriptures that specifically deal with the question of sinful man's acceptance before God are clearly used in the forensic sense. This is also true when using the word "condemnation" (Rom. 5:16; 8:33, 34; cf. Psalm 32:1; 142:2; Rom. 2:2, 15; 8:33; 14:10; 1 Jn. 2:1). A justified person is brought into a changed judicial relation to God (Rom. 4:3, 6-8; 2 Cor. 5:19, 30).
God sees the believing person as constituted righteous in Christ, and accepting him "in the Beloved," He pronounces him to be what he is—“in Christ.” It is only a "righteous" man who can be declared righteous or "acquitted" on account of the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus.
The Westminster Catechism of 1643 states clearly, "Justification is an act of God's free grace unto sinners, in which He pardons all their sins, accepts and accounts their persons righteous in His sight; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone."
Another reformer said, "It is a judicial but gracious act of God, whereby the elect and believing sinner is absolved from the guilt of his sins, and has a right to eternal life adjudged to him, on account of the obedience of Christ, received by faith" (Witsius).
It is important to keep in mind that justification does not refer to any subjective change wrought in a person's disposition, but is solely an objective change in his standing in relation to God's law. Justification has solely to do with the legal side of salvation. It is the sentence of the judge.
Justification is the gracious act of God whereby He declares a believing sinner righteous because of the finished saving work of Jesus Christ. According to 2 Corinthians 5:21, God puts to our account the righteousness of His Son. "He [God] made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." As a result of that great exchange, "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). Because of our acceptance of the death of Jesus Christ God forgets that we are sinners.
THE GROUNDS OF JUSTIFICATION
The apostle Paul wrote, "being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Romans 3:24-26).
We are "justified freely by His grace," and not by anything we can possibly do. We are sinners who are unworthy and cannot merit God's favor. If I am ever to be "justified" by God it must be by the pure grace of God alone. Our salvation was rendered certain in the eternal covenant of grace.
William Temple said, "The only thing of my very own which I can contribute to my redemption is the sin from which I need to be redeemed."
Our sins broke the law of God and we stand guilty before Him. We deserve the wrath of God on us. "The one who believes in the Son has eternal life. The one who rejects the Son will not see life, but God’s wrath remains on him" (John 3:36, NET). "For the payoff of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23, NET).
Whoever disobeys the Son will not have eternal life with God, and remains under God's punishment. We deserve and are destined to suffer God's anger.
God alone can justify the guilty sinner. His free grace is the sole moving cause. We have not the slightest degree of merit as a basis of acceptance with God.
However, God intervened and His own Son paid our debt in full by dying in our place on the cross. It was a punishment in our stead. "He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him" (Isaiah 53:5). "His own self bare our sins in His body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24). "He who knew no sin was made sin for us" (2 Cor. 5:21a). God laid all our sins on Christ and punished Him in our place.
The death of Jesus Christ takes away the reason for the wrath of God. "When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son." We were God's enemies, but He made us His friends through the death of His Son.
Our justification is based solely on the objective mediatorial work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. It is important to keep in mind that justification is not internal. It is external to us. It is not something done either by us or in us. It is not obtained by our virtue, works or merits. It is what was done—once-and-for-all for us. We are justified "by the blood of Christ" (Rom. 5:9), by His "righteousness" (Rom. 5:18), by His "obedience" (Rom. 5:19), "in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 6:11). "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:5-7).
The grace of God transferred all my sins to Christ. God’s holy justice crucified Christ on account of those sins. Grace reached down and applied the atoning sacrifice of Christ and gave me eternal life.
In Christ we become the righteousness of God. The total complete perfect righteousness of Christ is the righteousness which is imputed to the believing sinner. Christ is not divided nor can His righteousness be divided. The righteousness of Christ, His perfect obedience in His atoning sacrifice and suffering the will of God is imputed to the believer. It is on this ground that the believer is pronounced righteous and entitled to eternal life.
Let us be very clear, this is not a grace infused, or inherited righteousness, obtained through the church's sacraments, baptismal regeneration, etc. In our justification we are not made righteous in a moral sense.
Jesus Christ was made sin by bearing our sins, therefore we are made righteous by bearing His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). Our sins are imputed to Him and therefore become the judicial basis of His humiliation and suffering. His righteousness is imputed to us and becomes the judicial ground of our justification.
It is the formal announcement, or to legally declare righteous. It does not refer to a change of moral character, but to a change inlegal status. A radical change of character invariably will accompany as a result of forgiveness and acceptance with God. The legal change is based solely upon God's unmerited grace and is founded upon the righteousness of Christ being imputed to His people. We who are unrighteous in ourselves are considered as righteous in Christ.
THE CHANNEL OF JUSTIFICATION
The Bible is very clear in its declaration that justification is "by faith" (Rom. 3:22, 27; 4:16; 5:1). It is a living and personal trust in a perfect redemption and a perfect Redeemer. This faith is a divine work in us. It is simultaneous with spiritual regeneration. The Holy Spirit is the author of this saving faith. We are justified "by" or "through" faith in the saving work of Christ.
Our justification by grace through faith is "through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." We are bought with a price," not with silver and gold, but "the precious blood of Christ" (1 Peter 1:18-19). Christ "gave His life a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28). It was a price of redemption (1 Tim. 2:6). Christ has purchased the believer and set him free from the bondage of sin, Satan and the wrath of God (1 Thess. 1:10).
Faith is merely the instrumental cause of justification. It is the act of receiving and rest upon Christ. It is the medium by which Christ is received and we are united with Him.
Faith is the only channel of our justification. Moreover, faith is only a channel. Faith is not a "work." The faith by which a sinner is justified is not a work of obedience. Abraham's faith was not a substitute for obedience. It is a faith to (eis) righteousness, not instead (anti) righteousness. Faith has no place for any kind of help. All works are excluded, regardless of which tag you place on them (Rom. 3:28; 4:1-25; Gal. 2:16; 3:1-29; Eph. 2:8-9).
"For we consider that a person is declared righteous by faith apart from the works of the law" (Romans 3:28, NET). In Scripture, we are never said to be justified dia pistin “on account of faith,” but only dia piseos “through faith” or ek pisteos “by faith." Again, the stress is on the part of God giving a free gift to the person who believes on Christ. It is an act of grace. We are justified by His grace alone. It is altogether gratuitous to us because it is through "the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." Christ has delivered us from the punishment of sin. It is always to be understood as a "deliverance effected by the payment of a ransom." The suffering and death of Jesus Christ are the grounds of the sinner's deliverance (Eph. 1:7). We have "redemption through His blood."
Martin Luther declared in his writing Justification by Faith:
I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but one expression, “the justice of God,” because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant.
Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that “the just shall live by faith.” Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the ‘justice of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in great love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven.
If you have a true faith that Christ is your Saviour, then at once you have a gracious God, for faith leads you in and opens up God’s heart and will, that you should see pure grace and overflowing love. This it is to behold God in faith that you should look upon his fatherly, friendly heart, in which there is no anger nor ungraciousness. He who sees God as angry does not see him rightly but looks only on a curtain as if a dark cloud had been drawn across his face.
THE ETERNAL RESULTS OF JUSTIFICATION
As a result of being declared just we have an unchanging position before God. Once established, this position never changes. Our fellowship with Him may be renewed, but the position remains forever. The believer is a "child of God" by birth and by adoption. That fact does not change. We have the high dignity of being "sons" of God. You are His forever child if you have been saved by His grace through faith.
As soon as you believe you are clothed with a righteousness which answers all the demands of justice. They can no longer be condemned (Rom. 8:1).
The Lord God has rescued us from the power of darkness and brought us safe into the kingdom of His dear Son (Col. 1:13-14). He has forgiven us and set us free.
Jesus Christ "died for our sins, and rose again for our justification." He ever lives to make intercession for sinners (Heb. 7:25). He appears in the presence of God for us.
Moreover, He is a "propitiation" for our sins. His substitutionary sacrifice turns away the wrath of God (Rom. 5:25). Therefore, our justification was not by works, but by faith in Christ. It is God's free gift to the believing sinner. Jesus Christ is the propitiatory, the mercy seat where a holy God meets sinful man in mercy. God has propitiated, and manifested Himself as reconciled to the believing sinner. God set forth Jesus Christ as a mercy-seat, as the place where the wrath of God and the sinner met, and the blood of Jesus was sprinkled (Exodus 25:18-20; Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10).
This is the only manner in which a holy God might be "just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Rom. 3:26). The apostle Paul stated with deep conviction "a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law" (Rom. 3:28). "Faith is reckoned as righteousness" to the sinner who believes on Christ.
Justification goes beyond forgiveness. Justification means that the righteousness of Christ has been “imputed” to use, that is, charged to our account (Rom. 4:3-25; 5:17-19; Eph. 1:6-7; 2 Cor. 5:21).God is satisfied with the atoning sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. Christ is our righteousness.
THE EVIDENCE OF JUSTIFICATION
You cannot argue with a changed life (Eph. 2:10; Phil. 2:12-13). A living faith will not fail to produce good works steadily. These works have no saving merit, however. They are fruit of a new life in Christ.
"For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10, NASB95). God planned good works for us to do. He is at work in the believer both to will and do His good pleasure.
C. H. Spurgeon said, “We are so completely His workmanship, that we are also styled a creation. We are ‘created in Christ Jesus,’ and a creation cannot possibly be the creatures own work; such a supposition would be absurd. . . Whatever, therefore, we are in Christ Jesus is the result of God’s work upon us, and cannot be the cause of that work.”
Our good works are the subject of the ordinance of God. “If good works are ordained, as well as the salvation of which they are the evidence then the whole matter is of divine ordaining, and there is no space left, to impute salvation to human works . . . Good works are not the cause of salvation, for they are the result of it, and were contemplated as a result by God when He saved us.” We have been created anew “unto good works, which God has before prepared.”
“No Christian in this world is a chance production,” declared Spurgeon. Every Christian believer can testify, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” We are “in Christ,” and therefore God’s workmanship. Each one of us has stamped on us, “Made in Christ.” This is the finger of God.
Since you are God’s workmanship go ahead and let God finish the job.
Yield to His leading in your personal life. Make yourself available to Him. Don’t try to coach from the sidelines. Let Him be the boss of your life. He knows what is best for you. Why do you want to settle for second best by choosing to be your own master? We are His workmanship and that means He always gives us His very best. What is there that God cannot do for you far better than you can ever do for yourself?
Since you are God’s workmanship it is time to get busy.
There is no better time to make yourself available to all of God’s availability to you than right now. Let God take you and do in and through you only that which He can do. Look around you this week and see where God is working and make yourself available to Him and get busy.
We stand firm on the conviction of the Bible that we are justified by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ's atoning sacrifice alone. Christ's righteousness is imputed to us as the only possible satisfaction of God perfect righteousness.
Romans 3:19-21; 4:3-9,16-17, 22-25; Galatians 2:16; 3:11-14, 22-29; Ephesians 2:8-10;
Abiding Principles and Practical Applications
1. The faith that justifies is described as looking, as receiving, as a coming, as a fleeing for refuge, as laying hold of or calling upon Christ. It is a simple act of trust in the finished work of Christ for our salvation.
2. The persons that are pardoned are justified, and all justified are pardoned. The reason is because God imputes the righteousness of Jesus Christ for their justification. Our justification and pardon are received by faith (Acts 26:18; Rom. 5:1). The one righteous act of Christ sets believing sinners free and gives them life.
2. God provided an adequate satisfaction for the transgressions of His own Law. The blood of Christ was all-sufficient to procure our pardon (Eph. 1:7).
3. Justification says there are now no grounds for the infliction of the wrath of God on this person because the penalty has already been paid in full by the death of Jesus Christ on his behalf. Christ died for my sins and now God is free to declare me just in His sight (Romans 5:6, 8; 3:24-26; 10:9-10; 8:1).
4. We are accounted righteous before God only because Jesus Christ was obedient to the Father and His obedience was accepted for us as if it were our own (2 Cor. 5:21). "We shelter ourselves under the precious purity of Christ," said John Calvin.
Message by Wil Pounds and all content on this page (c) 2005 by Wil Pounds. Anyone is free to use this material and distribute it, but it may not be sold under any circumstances whatsoever without the author's written consent. Scripture quotations from the New American Standard Bible (c) 1973, and 1995 Update by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.