Updated: Jan 19, 2022
Lesson 10: Justification
In this lesson we will ask the question, how does a person be made right with God? The question is massive because at this moment every human being is born, is raised and dies outside of Eden. We all are exiled from God's garden, and all us of stand judged by God and the verdict isn't good. The issue is we are worse than we think and God is better than we know. He is Holy and the essence of moral, rational, and aesthetic perfection. And we are the entire opposite. We are immoral. Sure apart from God many people do many outwardly good things, we feed the poor, care for widows etc. But the issue is morality is not merely concerned with what you do but with what you are in your heart. A heart that does not love God completely, is an immoral heart. We are immoral. We don't always reflect reality or grasp it as we ought but we often oppose it irrationally, and seek to redefine it and/or simply misrepresent reality for gain. We don't reason with God's reason but our own. We lie. We are not pursuers of excellency. We don't develop the right taste buds, we think the wrongs things are beautiful, beautiful things are distasteful. Ultimately we do not have our delights in tune with God's and thus we like things which are not delightful. We have often ugly desires, desires out of step with what God intended and thus count "beautiful" things which God detests. We are not lovely. If now God has his creation in his jurisdiction, and will subpoena us to court. Have we lived as we were made to? No. This is why we must ask the question, "how will the guilty be justified"? How will the irrational, immoral and ugly be regarded as faithful, good and lovely by God? For us to leave court justified, God must declare us good again, as he did with all creation in the beginning and we must ask how? Last week we looked at how people come to Christ, now we want to ask now that a person comes to Christ what does it mean that he becomes justified?
Terminology and Definitions
Now to begin with the language “Justification” is law court terminology, speaking of a forensic declaration that an individual is in the right in the eyes of a law or standard.
We use the term in everyday language in the common sense of vindication, for example “Joe seeking to justify himself, told Sally that he had no clue she wanted the last donut”.
So Joe's seeking to establish his own rightness in taking the last donut was based upon his own (apparent) ignorance of Sally’s craving for a donut.
To justify is to say or declare something about somebody, it can mean to vindicate.
The grounds of the declaration often in a court of law is evidence that demonstrates the convicted felon is not guilty of committing a crime but rather upheld the standards set forth in the law.
On the basis that the convict was not even near the crime scene, the judge justifies him.
However, biblically we have a Justification many are quite unfamiliar with.
A judge often justifies an individual on the grounds of their actual being in the right in the eyes of the law.
In the example above, all evidence shows the convict was elsewhere the time the crime was committed so he is justified by the Judge, regarded as in the right before the law on the basis of his not having broken it but biblically, we have broken the Law of God, the smoking gun lays in our hands and the crimes no less were committed against an infinitely Holy God, who happens to be our Judge.
But yet this very God is the God who justifies the ungodly(Rom.4:5)!
He can't declare them in the right based on something intrinsically good in them or based on their merit. The category of ungodly and wicked is the state in which we are justified before God. God apparently says to unrighteous people, “Righteous!”
The “Righteous” status which God pronounces on the unrighteous is not based or grounded on something in them, a character quality, or a righteous deed or righteous behaviour. Rather God declares us to be opposite of what we are in and of ourselves.
This Justification is revealed in scripture to be based upon the merits of another not our own.
Romans 3:28 “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law”.
Now a definition with a tad bit of detail and jargon of the doctrine of Justification according to the scriptures would be the following: a forensic act of God in which he declares us righteous on the grounds of the work of Christ in his life, death and resurrection which is received by total reliance upon and trust in Christ as Lord and Savior. In Justification God regards us as having the righteousness of Christ, so that the demands of His Holy Law are regarded as sufficiently satisfied on the basis of the perfect obedience of Christ in his life and death and our sins are regarded as Christ's so that the penalty of God's Holy Wrath is sufficiently satisfied on the basis of Christ's atoning death on behalf of our sins.
Justification is the biblical answer as to how God can forgive sinners and receive them with open arms, a biblically inspired description of what God really does, in the what and how he forgives us and accepts us in the right on the basis of Christ’s life and death.
1. The Grounds Of Justification
We know Man in his unregenerate fallen state is described as “dead in sins and trespasses” (Eph.2:1), “not able to please God” (Rom. 8:8), “at enmity with God” (Rom. 8:7), an “enemy” of God” (Rom. 5:10), a “slave of sin”(John 8:34), and Paul summarizes by saying “There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God, all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.” (Rom. 3:10-12)
Paul concludes his assessment by saying “Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may be accountable to God” (Rom. 3:19) and would later say “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
Man has a massive problem: he is a sinner, and “God's wrath(present tense) abides on him”.
Rom. 1:18 says “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness”.
Mankind as a slave of sin is incapable of upholding the law of God as the law requires “the one who lives by them will do them”. Even the best law keeper’s righteousness is marred by the corruption of sin, Isaiah spoke of our righteousness as being like “filthy rags”.
The news of the wrath of God against sin is very bad news for sinners but the righteousness of God imputed by faith is the best news to every sinner who acknowledges his spiritual bankruptcy.
The Apostle Paul astonishingly says the following in his epistle to the Philippians,
“Although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless.” (Philippians 3:4-6)
Paul calls these accomplishments “rubbish” but rather to seeks to be “found in him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”(Philippians 3:9)
Here we have an Alien Righteousness i.e, a righteousness not derived in oneself but a foreign righteousness.
If you have an alien in your country, it means you have someone in your Homeland that was not born there, did not come from there and has no origins there and so it is with the righteousness of christ. It was not born in you, it did not come from you, and had no origins in you. Your righteousness is not what will give you peace with God. You require a foreign righteousness, a righteousness not cultivated by you but outside of you by another. But if Christ's righteousness is alien to me, how does it become a legal alien? How do I benefit from that which is not mine?
The answer is what is called the imputation of Christ's righteousness; Christ's righteousness is regarded in the mind of God as belonging to us and so before God we are clothed with his perfect obedience by faith.1
We based on our own works can only cry before a Holy God “woe is me for I am a man of unclean lips”!(Isaiah 6:5)
John Calvin said this in his famous Institutes:
“ We must always return to the axioms that the wrath of God lies upon all men so long as they continue sinners. This is elegantly expressed by Isaiah in these words: “Behold, the LORD’S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isa 59:1-2). We are here told that sin is a separation between God and man; that His countenance is turned away from the sinner; and that it cannot be otherwise, since to have any intercourse with sin is repugnant to His righteousness. Hence the apostle shows that man is at enmity with God until he is restored to favor by Christ (Rom 5:8-10).” -John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, book 3, ch.11
There is therefore the necessity of an alien, foreign righteousness, that is a righteousness that does not originate in us but is outside of us. This righteousness is credited/imputed to our account through faith in order for us to be justified.
Paul using Abraham as an example says,
“ For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness,”(Rom. 4:3-5)
The one who works gets what he earns, he gets his wages, what is owed to him but to the one who does not work, but trusts, relies upon, has confidence in God, he imputes righteousness according to grace, a righteousness not worked for or earned by the individual but the righteousness of another given not earned, by charity not debt, given as grace not as wages.
Now these words are amazing to me, “the God who justifies the ungodly”, Read the text carefully: The reason Paul gives for why Abraham has no boasting before God in God’s eyes is found in these words, “God who justifies the ungodly”. Abraham was in the category of ungodly!
Abraham was justified because he needed to be; he was in the same dire straight as all of Adam's sons, namely being in the category of “ungodly”, he was a sinner.
The Great Patriarch needed a righteousness derived from another, an alien righteousness, and if Abraham, the Father of Israel and Paul, Pharisee of Pharisee both alike needed a righteousness alien to them imputed to them, than what must we do except stop “doing” so as to gain right standing with God and rather believe on him who justifies the ungodly.
At this point we may bring up the term double imputation.
In Justification Christ's righteousness is regarded as mine and my sin is regarded as his.
This has been historically known as the great exchange.
My evil works are laid on him, he bares my condemnation, and his righteous robes are laid on me and I am Justified.
This is the Amazing truth of the Gospel, the Great Exchange, my sin is regarded forensically as belonging to Christ, and his righteousness is forensically regarded as mine.
In Romans 4:3-7 Paul lays out not only the imputation of righteousness, but the non imputation of sin.
In Romans 4:6-8 Paul says, “just as David speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered.
Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.”
He says elsewhere in 2 Corinthians 5:19, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them”.
The manner in which God reconciled “the world” (i.e all kinds of people, both jew and gentile who believe in Christ) is by not counting their sins but not only that.
Paul goes on to explain the great gospel truth of double imputation in verse 21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Christ is “made” sin on our behalf. This “making” is forensic, a legal “making”, our sin regarded as his, and we “become” the righteousness of God, that is we are legally regarded as having fully satisfied the demands of the Law of God.
In the same way Christ is “made” sin so we “become” righteous. This does not mean Christ as to his nature was “made” a sinner, so neither does it mean that we become righteous as to our nature. If one desired to argue that “we become the righteousness of God” means we were made righteous as to our nature or something of that sort than they must say likewise that God made Christ sinful as to his nature.
Charles Hodge says concerning this verse,
“ As Christ was not made sin in a moral sense; so we are not (in justification) made righteousness in a moral sense. As He was made sin in that He “bare our sins,” so we are made righteousness in that we bear His righteousness. Our sins were the judicial ground of His humiliation under the Law and of all His sufferings; so His righteousness is the judicial ground of our justification. In other words, as our sins were imputed to Him, so His righteousness is imputed to us. If imputation of sin did not render Him morally corrupt, the imputation of righteousness does not make us holy or morally good.”
This the great exchange, double imputation: my sin is borne by Christ and his righteousness is counted as mine.
It must be emphasized that justification is more than just the forgiveness of sins, if a man is just forgiven in justification than that leaves him without sin but also with no righteousness.
Spurgeon summarizes the problem:
“Still it is not enough for a man to be pardoned. He, of course, is then in the eye of God without sin. But it was required of man that he should actually keep the command. It was not enough that he did not break it, or that he is regarded through the blood as though he did not break it. He must keep it, he must continue in all things that are written in the book of the Law to do them.”
Justification is not just pardon because to be made right with God, there must be total obedience to his holy law.
This is why double imputation is so important, one without the other is not sufficient.
Spurgeon goes on to say this:
“When we believe in Christ, by faith we receive our justification. As the merit of His blood takes away our sin, so the merit of His obedience is imputed to us for righteousness. We are considered, as soon as we believe, as though the works of Christ were our works. God looks upon us as though that perfect obedience, of which I have just now spoken, had been performed by ourselves. God considers us as though we were Christ—looks upon us as though His life had been our life—and accepts, blesses, and rewards us as though all that He did had been done by us, His believing people.”- Charles Spurgeon, The Lord our Righteousness.
His blood is our forgiveness and his Obedience our righteousness and both constitute Justification.
We find a picture of double imputation in the Old Testament in Zechariah 3:3-5,
“Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel. He spoke and said to those who were standing before him, saying, “Remove the filthy garments from him.”
Again he said to him, “See I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.”
Then I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.”
So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments, while the angel of the Lord was standing by.”
In this story the filthy garments are removed and replaced with festal robes and a clean turban, the filthy replaced with the clean, the poor man's robes replaced with royal robes.
It was not just the filthy garments removed because that would have left him unclothed, naked!
If God only pardoned our sin but did not clothe us in the righteousness of Christ, it would not be sufficient for us to be at peace with him. We needed the good works accomplished by his hands not only the pardon bought by the blood.
Notice also in the story the strong parallel to double imputation, just as the filthy rags are removed so our sins are not counted against us, (Rom.4:6-8), and so as he was clothed with festal robes we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ.
Isaiah says, “I will rejoice greatly in the Lord,
My soul will exult in my God;
For He has clothed me with garments of salvation,
He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness,
As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”(Isaiah 61:10)
In Romans 5 we find that Adam functioned as the legal representative for all his offspring, and so when he sinned, we were all considered to have sinned.
Adam our representative in eden, his sin was counted as ours leading to damnation. In the same way, the second Adam, Christ represented us from the manger to gethsemane to the Cross, his righteousness was imputed to us leading to Justification.
Federal headship is not a new concept biblically, a popular example of this would be Achan in the old Testament who was guilty of stealing plunder from Jericho that was meant to be destroyed with the rest of the city.
Achan and his whole family were punished for his crime, however, not just Achan.
Achan’s sin had consequences for the rest of his family.
So likewise Adam’s sin had consequences for the rest of his family, his sin did not affect him alone but all his offspring.
However in adam all die but in Christ all will be made alive.
The second Adam, Christ represented all the elect and so his righteous deeds and the climax of those in his obedience at the cross also had consequences for those whom he represented, namely right standing with God.
Rom. 5:19, “ For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.”
“From the comparison between the first and second Adam, it is evident that as Adam’s transgression of the Law of God is imputed to all his posterity, and that in respect thereof they are reputed sinners and accursed and liable to eternal death; so also Christ’s obedience, whereby He fulfilled the Law, is so imputed to the members of His mystical body, that in regard of God they stand as innocent, justified and accepted to eternal life. Look, as Adam was the common root of all mankind, and his sin is imputed to all his posterity, so Jesus Christ is the common root of all the faithful, and His obedience is imputed to them all.” -Thomas Brooks, sermon, “Consolations from Christ’s Righteousness”.
“9:2 And when our iniquity had been fully
accomplished, and it had been made perfectly manifest
that punishment and death were expected as its
recompense, and the season came which God had
ordained, when henceforth He should manifest His
goodness and power (O the exceeding great kindness and
love of God), He hated us not, neither rejected us,
nor bore us malice, but was long-suffering and
patient, and in pity for us took upon Himself our
sins, and Himself parted with His own Son as a ransom
for us, the holy for the lawless, the guileless for
the evil, _the just for the unjust,_ the incorruptible
for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal.
9:3 For what else but His righteousness would have
covered our sins?
9:4 In whom was it possible for us lawless and
ungodly men to have been justified, save only in the
Son of God?
9:5 O the sweet exchange, O the inscrutable
creation, O the unexpected benefits; that the iniquity
of many should be concealed in One Righteous Man, and
the righteousness of One should justify many that are
9:6 Having then in the former time demonstrated the
inability of our nature to obtain life, and having now
revealed a Saviour able to save even creatures which
have no ability, He willed that for both reasons we
should believe in His goodness and should regard Him
as nurse, father, teacher, counsellor, physician,
mind, light, honour, glory, strength and life.”
-Epistle to Diognetus, Written approximately between 130-200 A.D.
2. The Instrument in Justification
Sola Fide, is a latin reformation phrase meaning “faith alone” and makes reference to the fact that we are justified by faith alone.
The phrase affirms that only faith in Christ’s person and works can justify a person before his maker, not faith plus something else.
Works, merit and deeds are not the instrument or the grounds by which God justifies, he justifies inherently wicked people not inherently good people.
Now most would not deny the necessity of faith in justification, they might say “of course faith is necessary but it alone cannot be the way in which a person is justified”.
But of course the issue is not necessity but sufficiency as many have pointed out. Am I Justified by faith and faith alone or is there something else that must be done?
No! To rely upon the work of Christ is sufficient because the work of Christ which you rely on is sufficient.
First, faith is as Hodge points out a passive instrument, it receives, it does not merit anything.
“The part assigned to faith in the work of our reconciliation to God is that of an instrument; it apprehends or appropriates the meritorious ground of our acceptance, the work or righteousness of Christ. It is not itself that ground, nor the means of attaining an inherent righteousness acceptable to God. This is obvious, 1. Because our justification would not then be gratuitous, or without works. Paul would then teach the very reverse of the doctrine which he has been labouring to establish, viz, that it is not on account of works of righteousness, i.e. works of the highest order of excellence, that we are accepted, since these works would then be the real ground of our acceptance. 2. Because we are said to be justified by faith, of which Christ is the object, by faith in his blood, by faith in him as a sacrifice.” - Charles Hodge, Hodge, Commentary on Romans , 94.
Our Faith is not a grounds by which God looks upon as righteous but rather faith is the clinging to Christ, falling before the throne of God as empty handed beggars.
“But why does faith receive such honour as to be entitled a cause of our justification? First, we must observe, that it is merely an instrumental cause; for, strictly speaking, our righteousness is nothing else than God’s free acceptance of us, on which our salvation is founded. But as the Lord testifies his love and grace in the gospel, by offering to us that righteousness of which I have spoken, so we receive it by faith. And thus, when we ascribe to faith a man’s justification, we are not treating of the principal cause, but merely pointing out the way in which men arrive at true righteousness. For this righteousness is not a quality which exists in men, but is the mere gift of God, and is enjoyed by faith only; and not even as a reward justly due to faith, but because we receive by faith what God freely gives.”- B.B Warfield, Benjamin B. Warfield, “The Biblical Doctrine of Faith” in The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield (Baker, 1981), II:504
Second, the Faith that Justifies is not alone, though we are justified by faith alone, good works flow out of faith and are fruit of a justifying faith.
True faith is not a dead life less merely assenting to certain facts about the life, death and resurrection of Christ though it includes that, it is the heart depending upon Christ and Christ alone for his salvation.
Faith beholds Christ crucified with love for his savior on the tree and sees his sin which put him there as something to be abhorred, despised and forsaken.
A mouth that does not confess Christ as Lord, is a heart without a savior.
None can expect him to be their savior if they do not confess him as Lord.
So to be emphasized, while Faith produces good works, good works do not add to faith to equal justification otherwise our works plus Christ’s works would be needed in order to be declared right before God, meaning Christ’s work would be insufficient.
The heart depends upon Christ, though that results in works, the heart is only relying upon Christ and only Christ will save it.
Third Faith is not “helped” by any works, sacraments, rites, circumcision, baptism or the like in order for Justification to take place
Faith is merely clinging to calvary for mercy, laying hold of the cross if anything else must be done than the cross I cling to must not be sufficient.
Faith is sufficient because the object of that faith is sufficient, we do not add to the work or Jesus.
The work of Christ is sufficient to justify the guiltiest of sinners who fall before the cross of Golgotha.
3. The Blessings and Practical implications
There are many miserable Christians on account of guilt and shame who have forgotten or maybe never quite understood their Justification.
They fall short of the standards set forth in God’s law and begin to relate to God as though the relationship was based upon their obedience to his law, however we cannot hope to ever find any blessing from God, any peace with God apart from the mercy of God.
Peace with God is not based or founded in our obedience or merit, not initially and not now.
If your sin weighs as a burden to you don’t let the accuser lie concerning your standing with God. You have broken his law and so are really guilty but God has not treated you as your sins deserved if you are in Christ.
He has laid all your guilt on Christ, all your sins are covered under the shadow of his Cross and he has covered you with robes dipped in his blood.
When you first believed, God imputed all of Christ’s righteousness to your account and all of your sin to his, he did not do this partially but in full as the old hymn says,
“O the bliss of this glorious thought,
My sin not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross,
And I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord O my soul.”
David says, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven,
And whose sins have been covered.
Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.” (Rom. 4:7-8 as quoted by the Apostle Paul).
God did not partially forgive our sins but did it in full, removing our guilt as far as the east is from the west.
Paul later says in Romans 8:33, “who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies.”
Who is your accuser or who will accuse when God has already pronounced you as “not guilty” and as “righteous”?
To close, Thomas Brooks in a sermon, “Consolations from Christ’s imputed Righteousness” said the following:
“It cancels every bond; it takes away all iniquity and answers for all your sins (Isa 53:5-7; Col 2:12-15). “Lord, here are my sins of omission, and here are my sins of commission”; but the righteousness of Christ hath answered for them all. “Here are my sins against the Law, and here are my sins against the gospel. And here are my sins against the offers of grace, the tenders of grace, the strivings of grace, the bowels of grace”; but the righteousness of Christ hath answered for them all. O sirs! It would be high blasphemy for any to imagine that there should be more demerit in any sin, yea, in all sin to condemn a believer, than there is merit in Christ’s righteousness to absolve him, to justify him (Rom 8:1, 33-35).”
He goes on to say,
“How shall I look up to God? The answer is, “In the righteousness of Jesus Christ.” How shall I have any communion with a holy God in this world? The answer is, “In the righteousness of Christ.” How shall I find acceptance with God? The answer is, “In the righteousness of Christ.” How shall I die? The answer is, “In the righteousness of Christ.” How shall I stand before the judgment seat? The answer is “In the righteousness of Jesus Christ.” Your sure and only way, under all temptations, fears, conflicts, doubts, and disputes, is by faith to remember Christ and the sufferings of Christ as your Mediator and Surety. Say, “O Christ, Thou art my sin in being made sin for me; and Thou art my curse being made a curse for me” (2Co 5:21; Gal 3:13); or rather, “I am Thy sin, and Thou art my righteousness; I am Thy curse, and Thou art my blessing; I am Thy death, and Thou art my life; I am the wrath of God to Thee, and Thou art the love of God to me; I am Thy hell, and Thou art my heaven.” O sirs! If you think of your sins and of God’s wrath; if you think of your guiltiness and of God’s justice, your hearts will faint and fail. They will fear and tremble and sink into despair, if you do not think of Christ, if you do not stay and rest your souls upon the Mediator, the righteousness of Christ, the imputed righteousness of Christ. The imputed righteousness of Christ answers all cavils and objections though there were millions of them that can be made against the good estate of a believer. This is a precious truth— more worth than a world—that all our sins are pardoned, not only in a way of truth and mercy, but in a way of justice.”
God has reconciled you to himself through Christ, the reconciliation was not based or grounded in you, your peace with God is through Christ.
God does not pour out his wrath on saints, his wrath against them was satisfied by the atonement of Christ so that God is Just and the one justifying.
God is a God who has shown mercy, as a father has compassion on his children, so he shows his steadfast love to those who worship him, and he has justly shown us non justice=mercy. His mercy does not war with his justice but he Justly pardoned my sins because of the Atoning work of Christ and His perfect obedience.
God, because of the accomplished work of Christ, is the “one Just and Justifying”.