Justification: Declared Right in His Sight
Imagine this scenario with me: You’ve spent several days in a courtroom listening to the trial of a woman who appears to be guilty of a crime. The evidence is stacked against her, and she eventually admits to the crime, pleading guilty on all counts. Yet, when the time arrives for her to be sentenced and sent to prison, the judge pardons her, releasing her completely from punishment. Pandemonium ensues in the courtroom, as onlookers shake their fists and demand justice be served. However, the judge’s gavel slams down, announcing that the decision has been made and justice has been served.
Justice is a word that is thrown around all the time and often without the care it necessitates. We strongly desire for justice to be served here on earth—that murderers should be sentenced to death, thieves should repay what was stolen, and the greedy should lose everything. Sometimes we get so caught in the earthly justices to be done that we forget the eternal justice that will be served for all people. As we continue in our study of the doctrines of salvation (known as soteriology), we will look today at justification, or the doctrine that explains how God determines justice for those who are His.
The doctrine of justification causes us to contemplate our eternal state to come, but it also helps us rightly discern the true gospel from the false gospels in our world. Wayne Grudem says, “Even today, a true view of justification is the dividing line between the biblical gospel of salvation by faith alone and all the false gospels of salvation based on good works.” As followers of Jesus, the doctrine of justification calls for our understanding and our attention.
According to Grudem, justification is “an instantaneous legal act of God in which He (1) thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us and (2) declares us to be righteous in His sight.” We can even go a step further and say that God makes us innocent, not just pardoning the guilt, but removing it completely. Though we know this definition to be a helpful framework for this doctrine, let’s not rely on Grudem only for this; let’s examine this truth in the Scriptures.
Where Do We Find It In the Bible?
Justification is both an Old and New Testament reality. Genesis 15:6 shares with us that, “Abraham believed the Lord, and [the Lord] credited it to [Abraham] as righteousness,” showing that Abraham had faith and the Lord gave Abraham righteousness because of it. In Romans 4, we are reminded of Abraham’s faith and of the promise that came through faith to Abraham and his lineage.” Romans 8:30 tells us who is justified (the called) and who does the work of justifying (God). In Romans 3:28, Paul exclaims, “for we conclude that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law,” pointing, again, to the working hand of God and not to man. Romans 3:24 speaks as to how we are justified: “they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 2:16 also speaks to this saying, “we know that a person is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ.”
We know from the texts above that God is the justifier, we are the justified, and the means by which we are justified is through faith alone. We can hold fast to these truths and to the promise in Psalm 130:12, that, “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” As we can see, justification is not a fancy, theological word that has become popular in the recent decades; this truth has been ringing true since sin entered the world.
Who Does It? And Why?
Romans 3:26 speaks clearly of the author and giver of justification: “It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” God both created and implemented justification because no imperfect sinner could be in the holy presence of the perfect God. He is just, but we are stained with guilt, and no innocence can be found in us. Instead, someone must take on the penalty to pay for our sin—past, present, and future—so God can declare us to be right in His sight (Grudem). If God only obliterated the penalty for sin, we would be morally neutral before Him. God goes a step further and becomes the justifier for us, declaring us righteous. Since we have no earned record of righteousness before Him, which is needed to be in His presence, God establishes a way to declare us innocent and righteous. Jeanie will join in next week and unfold the marvelous and related doctrine of imputation, so stay tuned to dig into this concept further.
1 Corinthians 1 also speaks as to why God brings about justification: “It is from him that you are in Christ Jesus…in order that, as it is written: Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (v. 30-31). Much like regeneration, justification is also monergistic, meaning we bring nothing to the table. We have a human responsibility to respond to the gospel in faith, but justification is a God-wrought gift to us. Being empty of ourselves and boasting in the Lord brings Him great glory.
How and When Does It Happen?
In Ephesians 2:8, we see that we are “saved by grace through faith.” Once faith is exercised, justification is declared. This is not a working of our hand, as mentioned previously, but instead innocence and righteousness are declared over us and to us. When justification is seen in Scripture, it is almost always alongside faith (Rom. 3:23-28, Rom. 5:1, Gal. 2:16). We can conclude, then, that justification appears to be instantaneous and simultaneous with faith.
So believers, rejoice in the kindness God has shown to you in placing the penalty for your sin upon Christ and declaring you innocent and righteous before God. There is no greater act of love than this. And for those of you who don’t believe in Christ, confess your sins to God and turn to Him in faith. Your good works, no matter their importance and frequency, cannot earn you a right standing before God—only faith in Christ can justify you before God. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
Many of us would shake our fists at a judge and shout for justice if he pardoned a guilty criminal and declared her innocent. We would demand that justice be done. And in our case, justice has been done. God has and can justify you before Him because someone else bore the penalty that was due your sin.
Join us next week as we discuss who took on your sin and what they gave you instead!