Foundations Lesson 10: Justification

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.

Double Imputation

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.