Justification means to pronounce or declare righteous. This deals with man’s standing with God once saved (regenerated). The doctrine of justification deals with God’s way of dealing with man who is unrighteous. Man does not have the capacity to stand before a righteous God. All that we have or do are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).
Martin Luther and John Calvin spoke highly of this doctrine. Martin Luther stated that all doctrines are founded in justification. Calvin said it is the foundation of religion.
This plight of the righteousness of man and the righteousness of God is most evident among the non-believers but is true for all. However, we should remember that there is none good. All have sinned and come short of the Glory of God. Our righteousness, as we will see later, is founded in Christ and is therefore independent of our own self. The so-called moral person has nothing before God in the sense of righteousness. Neither good morals nor good deeds make us righteous before God. Our righteousness is solely dependent on God the Father.
See Romans 1:18-3:20. These verses of scripture show us that:
- Gentiles are unrighteous inexcusable (2:1-16)
- Jews also are unrighteous (2:17-29)
- No one is justified by works (3:20)
The dilemma is that God demands righteousness but no one is able to give it because of the sin nature. We cannot justify ourselves by works either. There are two obvious approaches:
- We could live such a righteous life (by works) that God would accept us.
- God could overlook our unrighteous state.
Note that justification means to be declared or pronounced righteous. This is different from being made righteous. To be made righteous would imply that we would be completely without sin and have no trace of the sin nature. Why? We would BE righteous in the sense that it would be our actual physical, spiritual, and mental state of being. Our righteousness would rest in the fact that we are actually righteous (we were completely transformed somehow) instead of Christ’s redemptive act. See Romans 4:5. Also consider that God declares the unrighteous righteous. This reminds me of the following scripture.
(Romans 5:8 KJV) "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
We should also note that justification is a gift of God that we can freely enjoy yet not earn. We cannot save ourselves so we cannot earn justification or justify ourselves based on some godly formula.
Aspects of Justification
There are two aspects of justification that was discussed in the book: 1) The non-imputing of sin and 2) the imputing of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Let’s look at these two in some detail.
Non-Imputing of Sin
Read Psalm 32:2, Romans 4:8, and 2 Corinthians 5:19.
Non-imputing means non-reckoning or non-accounting of sin. Though sin is present, God does not hold it against us. This non-imputing does not mean that God simply overlooks or pretends that the sin isn’t there. He simply does not hold it against us due to the regeneration process. He doesn’t hold it against us because we have been born again and united with Christ. See Romans 8:31-34. Who then can bring a charge or accusation against us? If God is for us and doesn’t impute our sins to us then can? Who accuses us of sins and brings it before us and God to condemn us? Consider carefully the message of Romans 8:1.
Satan is the accuser. See Revelation 12:10. Though Satan tries to accuse us before God with attacks of guilt, God still does not hold sins against us. He has declared us righteous and it stands.
Non-imputation also implies forgiveness. Forgiveness is the release of resentment caused by offense. We therefore don’t hold the offense against the person when we forgive. The same is true for non-imputation when dealing with our standing with God. God forgives us and therefore releases the resentment against us. This is probably why John could say:
(1 John 3:9 NIV) "No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God."
Refer to Psalm 103:3-4, Isaiah 43:25, Micah 7:18-19, and Jeremiah 31:34. Forgiveness was important in Jesus’ ministry: Mark 2:5, Luke 7:48; Matthew 26-28; Luke 23:34;24:47.
Imputation of Righteousness of Jesus Christ
Instead of imputing our sins to us, God imputes the righteousness of Jesus Christ on us. Therefore, our righteousness is found in Jesus Christ. See 1 Corinthians 1:30. Again note that God doesn’t make us righteous by injecting us with righteousness that engulfs our very being nor does he transform us into a pure righteous being. Instead, God declares us righteous by Christ Jesus.
The foundation of our justification lies in the redemptive act of Jesus Christ. This is why God doesn’t simply overlook our sins. There was a price that was paid. God didn’t simply declare us righteous as if a monarch or the like. There is a process that was necessary that God invoked on our behalf. After all, God didn’t have to do any of this for us. He could have destroyed the world and start over in a new galaxy. Therefore, the declaration of our righteousness comes through the redemptive act of Jesus Christ.
See 2 Corinthians 5:21. Note that Christ became totally identified with sin. He took on all the sin of man on himself. Why? So that we may become the righteousness of God IN CHRIST!
Romans 3:23-24. Justification is an act of God’s grace. We don’t earn it as I said earlier. Justification is based on Christ’s redemptive act. Therefore, the justified are those who have been redeemed by Christ and not by works. Justification is therefore possible because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus was the final sacrifice for our atonement. See (Hebrews 9:12, Ephesians 1:7, and Romans 5:9). Of course Christ’s resurrection was necessary to avail justification (Romans 4:25).
The declared righteousness of God is not foreign to us. It is not a covering of our sins by some external blanket. We are made new therefore we become the righteousness of God by his declaration via Christ. This righteousness is a part of us since Christ is in us and we in Him. We, of ourselves, are not righteous but are righteous because of Christ in us. It is Christ in us that place us in the state of righteousness.
The Medium of Faith
Justification is effective only through faith. Our part in the process of salvation is faith (Romans 1:16-17, 3:22,26). Faith is the medium through which we are justified by God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8). Grace is the source of justification and faith is the medium through which it operates (Romans 4:16).
Faith must come first then justification (Romans 4:3,5). God justifies those who believe in God. To believe in means to believe in God who completed the redemptive work by raising Jesus from the dead.
Faith is more than mental assent. It involves the heart (Romans 10:9-10). Faith is not simply being convinced in your mind that God completed the redemptive act in Christ. It must be a reality in the heart—the very core of a person. This faith is also a believing in Jesus Christ as we stated earlier (Romans 3:26, Galatians 2:16).
Those who believe in Jesus Christ are united with Him. Those who are united with Christ have Him living on the inside. Therefore, by nature of Christ living in us, we are indeed righteous. This righteousness is not by our own power but through Christ who lives within. See Romans 4:5.
Recall that faith is the medium for redemption. God’s grace with the redemptive act of Jesus Christ is the source of justification. Grace precedes faith (Romans 4:16). Faith is the channel for God’s redemption. It is not a work of faith less we question the sufficiency of faith to be saved. That is, we can one day wonder if our faith is enough to maintain salvation or was enough to obtain it.
Faith is the total reliance on God for salvation. Our only hope is in God’s mercy and trust for entire salvation. There is absolutely nothing that we can do to earn salvation. Therefore, our confidence must lie solely on God.
The Place of Works
Our works contribute nothing to justification because they are tainted with sin (see Ephesians 2:8-10). This is very important lest we think that we have a part to play in obtaining justification. Our part is simply to believe which is itself not by works. Works to not beget justification, rather justification begets good works (Ephesians 2:10). Our good works are the demonstration (fruit) of our justification. See James 2:14-16. We should note the relationship of good works and justification (faith). One who has been saved (i.e., justified, born again, redeemed, etc.) will bear fruit of such. This can be more understood with John’s statement in 1 John 3:9. Therefore, justification begets good fruits. We should also consider Jesus’ teaching on this subject (See Matthew 5:15-20).
Results of Justification
The following are some results of our justification.
We become children of God. See Galatians 3:24-26, 4:4-5, Romans 8:15. We are adopted (grafted) into God’s family.
We have freedom. See Galatians 4:7. We are free from the "worldly system." We are free from the bondage of sin. Freedom from anxiety in perception or righteousness. We don’t have to wonder if we’ve done enough to be right with God, enough to please Him, or enough to ensure our salvation. Though we are justified, we still sin but we aren’t condemned. We are free from guilt and the associated anxiety.
We have peace. See Romans 5:1. We have peace with God and we have peace within. This stems from knowing who we are in Christ. Primarily that we are not condemned by God of our sins.
We are heirs of God’s promise. See Galatians 3:26-4:7.
We are heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17, Hebrews 1:2). Consider that all will be, and has been placed, under the control of the son, namely Jesus Christ. See Psalm 2:8-9, 89:25, Romans 11:36, and Colossians 1:16. Also consider the following very important Scripture.
(Matthew 28:18 NIV) "Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."
Heir can also be understood as possessor. The Hebrew word meant to take possession and did not always presuppose death See Numbers 36:2-4, 18:20-24, Deuteronomy 10:9. So as Jesus Christ inherited all things, we also inherit all things (not that we have complete control over all things though).
We possess now (1 Corinthians 3:21-22). We are heirs (possessors) of eternal life.
A study Justification from the Book
Renewal Theology: Salvation, the Holy Spirit, and Christian Living (J. Rodman Williams)
Study Prepared by William R. Cunningham, February