"How then can man be justified (counted righteous) with God? (Job 25:4). God has given the answer to this universal question in the Holy Scriptures, the Christian's perfect lamp and never-failing light. We need not be cast afloat upon the waves of modern thought, nor drift with human speculation. The doctrine of justification by the righteousness of Christ is a doctrine of great importance. It is the fundamental article of the gospel, the basis of Christianity. It was the great doctrine of the Reformation—what our first reformers made their chief study, and by it cut the sinews of popery, the anti-Christian doctrines of penance and purgatory, pardons and indulgences, of the merit of good works, works of supererogation.
Luther called it The Article of the church by which it stands or falls. As this is, the church is; if this obtains, the church is in a well-settled and prosperous state; but if this loses ground and is rejected, it is in a ruinous state. If this is a rule to judge by, it may be easily discerned in what case the church, and interest of religion, now are.
This doctrine is the ground and foundation of all solid joy, peace and comfort in this life and hope of eternal glory hereafter.
I. The Meaning of the Term
A. The opposite of "to condemn"
1. "To condemn" is to declare guilty and worthy of punishment.
2. "To justify" is to declare not guilty and that punishment cannot be justly inflicted.
B. It is a legal term which means to declare or judicially pronounce a person to be righteous before God, according to the standard of God's law.
C. It is either legal or evangelical
1. Legal: i. e. , on condition of a person's fulfilling the whole law, yielding perfect obedience to it both to its letter and spirit; which, in man's present state is impossible (Rom. 8:3, 4; 10:5; Gal. 3:10).
2. Evangelical: Which is an act of God's grace, accounting and pronouncing a person righteous, through the righteousness of Christ imputed to him, and received by faith.
II. The Definition of Justification
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 any thing 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.
III. The Two Elements of Justification
A. Remission (pardon) and restoration to favor (accounted righteous).
B. Though these are not to be separated, yet they are to be distinguished (Acts 13:38, 39).
1. In some things they agree:
a. In their efficient cause—God: Rom. 8:33; 3:30
b. In their moving cause—the free grace of God: Tit. 3:7; Rom, 3:24
c. In their procuring cause—the blood of Christ: Rom. 5:9
d. In the objects of it—the same persons pardoned are justified: Rom. 4:6–8
e. In the commencement & completion of it—begin together and finished at once; not gradual and progressive as sanctification (Acts 13:38, 39).
f. In manner of enjoyment—by faith (Acts 26:18).
2. In Some Things They Differ:
a. For Christ by his atonement to cancel the guilt of our sins still does not give us the right or title to enter heaven; for that we must have a positive righteousness credited to our account.
b. Pardon takes away the filthy garments; but justification clothes with a change of raiment (Zech. 3:4; Isa. 61:10)—two distinct things.
c. Pardon frees from punishment; justification gives title to everlasting life in glory (2 Sam. 12:13; Rom. 5:18; Tit. 3:7).
d. The blood of Christ was sufficient to procure pardon; but to the justification of a sinner, the holiness of the human nature of Christ, the perfect obedience of his life, and his blood-shed and sufferings of death are and must be imputed.
e. Pardon satisfies the penalty of the law, but does not fulfil the law in its precept and hence gives no righteousness; but justification does.
f. Pardon lies in the non-imputation of sin; justification in the imputation of righteousness (Rom. 4:6–8).
g. Justification passed on Christ as the head and representative of his people, but not pardon. Christ having had the sins of his people imputed to him, and having made satisfaction to the justice of God for them, he was acquitted, discharged, and justified, but not pardoned. We may truly say, Christ was justified, and that God justified him, because the Scriptures say so; but not that he was pardoned (1 Tim. 3:16).
h. Thus in these respects pardon and justification are distinct and not to be confused, yet nevertheless not to be separated. Christ not only died for us; he also lived for us a life of perfect obedience to the Law.
IV. The Causes of Justification
A. Freely i. e. , "without a cause"—See John 15:25
B. By His grace (the moving cause)—Rom. 3:24
1. Grace is God's love showing mercy to the unworthy and hell deserving.
2. Since justification is by grace, no merit can intrude.
3. It is not our virtues, but our vices, that qualify us for God's grace.
4. However, God's grace saves us from our sins (Matt. 1:21) and teaches us how to live to the glory of God (Titus 2:11–14; I Peter 5:10)
5. Saved by grace alone—This is all my plea
6. Jesus died for sinful men—And Jesus died for me.
7. God, the efficient cause (Rom. 8:33; Isa. 53:11; Cor. 6:11).
V. The Ground or Basis of Justification
A. Though entirely gratuitous as regards to the sinner, yet it is in a way perfectly consistent with the justice of God, for it is by redemption and propitiation (Rom. 3:24, 25).
B. Man in Adam the Federal and Natural Head of the race rebelled and incurred the just condemnation of God's holy law. God of his free grace gave His Son as a near kinsman (God-Man) to be a substitute and he has by his sufferings and death obtained eternal redemption for his people.
C. Propitiation originated with God, not to appease himself, but to justify himself. Christ's death was not to persuade God to show mercy, but made possible the manifestation of his love on a righteous basis.
D. Some say that a God of love would be willing to forgive sinners without any atonement, and a God who will not forgive sinners unless His Son is crucified is a harsh and vindictive Being? The same God who demanded an atonement also provided the atonement: the same God who said, "When I see the blood I will pass over you," also provided the lamb for the sacrifice. When God gives what he himself demands, he cannot be accused of being harsh or unloving.
E. The ground and basis then of justification is the blood and righteousness of Christ.
VI. What is the Meaning of the Word Imputed used in connection with Justification?
A. The word means "reckoned" or "accounted".
B. There is a double transaction involved: Our sins are reckoned to Christ; and Christ's righteousness is reckoned to us, or credited to our account.
C. Faith is in no sense the ground or reason for our justification. It is, however, the means by which we receive the grace of justification. We are justified by means of faith, but on account of the righteousness of Christ.
D. We are justified by the imputation of righteousness
1. Not ours, for we have none (Rom. 3:10; Isa. 64:6; Rom. 4:5).
2. But by that of another (Phil. 3:9).
a. Called the righteousness of God—(Rom. 3:22), the righteousness of One
b. (Rom. 5:18), the obedience of One (Rom. 5:16, 17), and the robe of righteousness (Isa. 61:10), which is the righteousness Christ
(1) Not Christ's essential righteousness
(2) Not his righteous integrity
(3) Not the righteousness of all his works on earth
(4) But His righteousness as our substitute both active and passive obedience to the whole law of God in its letter and spirit, which man had robbed God of.
VII. The Means of Justification
A. By faith alone plus nothing (Gal. 3:8; 2:16; Rom. 4:5; 5:1).
B. Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assents to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receives and rests upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation
C. God produces justifying faith in a person's heart by the word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. Only by both together can justifying faith be produced. The word, or gospel alone, without the Holy Spirit, may result in a kind of faith, but not justifying faith. Where the word is not known as among the heathen who have never heard the name of Christ, the Holy Spirit does not do any saving work (except perhaps in the case of infants dying in infancy)
D. Faith justifies a sinner in the sight of God, not because of those other graces which do always accompany it, or of good works that are the fruits of it, nor as if the grace of faith, or any act thereof, were imputed to him for his justification; but only as it is an instrument by which he receives and applies Christ and his righteousness to himself. (Rom. 3:28; 4:5; Eph. 2:8, 9). Faith is a good work of God in the believer (John 6:29).
E. It is not enough for one to accept the promise of the gospel as true, one must receive and rest upon Christ and his righteousness for his justification unto life. Receiving and resting upon Christ and his righteousness means giving up all hope of being saved in any other way than as a free gift by Christ. We must give up all claim to good works, good character, or whatever it may be that we have been putting our confidence in. We must ask God to save us as a free gift for Christ's sake, because of the merit of Christ's atonement and righteousness. We must count on God doing as he has promised, entrusting ourselves to Christ as our Saviour, both for this present life and for eternity.
F. Thus not only does Christ's blood take away the guilt of our sins, but the perfect, blameless, righteous life of Jesus Christ, who fulfilled the whole law in behalf of his people, is imputed or placed to the credit of the person that believeth.
It is true that justified means just as if I had always lived a perfect life; not merely just as if I had never committed any sins, but actually just as if I had always loved the Lord my God with all my heart, and with all my soul, and with all my mind, and with all my strength, and my neighbor as myself.
VIII. The Result of Justification
A. Freedom from penal evils—Rom. 8:33
1. From guilt of original sin—Rom. 5:12, 18, 19
2. From lack of original righteousness
3. From actual sins before conversion
4. From multitude of sins after conversion—Acts 13:38. 39
5. From all other sins—I John 1:7
B. Peace with God—Rom. 5:1
C. Access to God—Rom. 5:2
D. Accepted in our persons—Rom. 8:33, 34
E. Title to eternal inheritance—Titus 3:3–7
F. Glorified—Rom. 8:30
G. It is irreversible, unalterable, at once, forever, with no degrees; i. e. , no one is more justified than another.
IX. The Evidence of Justification
A. Words—Mat. 12:37
B. Works—James 2:14–24
C. Doing righteousness—I John 2:29
D. Perfecting holiness—I John 3:7–10
X. The Objects of Justification
A. God's elect—Rom. 8:33
B. Ungodly—Rom. 4:5
C. Sinners—Rom. 3:23; 5:6, 8, 9, 10
D. Those neither righteous, nor good (Rom. 5:7).
E. All who believe—Acts 13:38, 39; Rom. 4:5; 5:1; Gal. 2:16
F. Thus justification—
1. Humbles all—Rom. 3:27, 28
2. Vindicates God—Rom. 3:29, 30
3. Magnifies the law—Rom. 3:21; Isa. 42:21
XI. Objections to Justification by Free Grace apart from Human Merit, Worth, Works
The objection has been raised, that if sinners are justified as a free gift of God, regardless of their own works or character, then there remains no motive for righteous or godly living, and we might as well do as we please.
This objection was raised in Paul's day (Rom. 6:1, 15) and in reply to both questions was "God forbid." People who raise this objection talk as if justification were the whole of salvation, as if God justifies sinners and then does nothing else for them.
But we may not look at justification alone by itself. The person who is justified is also regenerated or born again. He receives a new heart, which will seek after holiness. Gradually he is sanctified by the Holy Spirit, that is, his character is changed and made holy. Justification does not happen alone; it is a link in a chain. The person who has been justified is also in process of being sanctified and there are no exceptions to this rule.
But if we are not to do good works in order to save our soul, then what is the Christian's motive for practicing righteousness? The right motive for righteous living is devotion and thankfulness to God for creating us and redeeming us from sin and a free gift. We are to practice righteousness not in order to be saved, but because it is our duty and because we love God (Eph. 2:8–10).
(From: Sound of Grace-Volume 5, #7)