Sunday, January 27, 2008

Justification

Perhaps of all the great doctrines of our faith, what the Bible teaches about justification must be among the most important.

In fact, it has been said that "a right understanding of justification is absolutely crucial to the whole Christian faith…A true view of justification is the dividing line between the biblical gospel of salvation by faith alone and all false gospels of salvation based on good works."

Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Romans 3:24

But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Romans 4:5

Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1

Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. Romans 8:30

What is justification? Why is it important and what does it mean to us?

Justification is a legal declaration by God. Webster’s Dictionary defines justification as being pronounced free from blame or guilt. Vine’s Expository Dictionary says that being justified is the legal and formal acquittal from guilt by God as Judge.

Justification means pardon from sin!

There are two ways to be justified: One can be justified by a testimony. One may be justified by pardon. It is the second that I want us to look at today, because we can find no one who can say that we have not sinned.

In Elements of Divinity by Thomas Ralston I found this statement: "What is implied in justification? The Greek word rendered justification in the New Testament, is a judicial decision or sentence of acquittal"

Justification as an instantaneous legal act of God in which He thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us. In this legal act God declares us to be righteous in His sight. The justification Christ offers frees one from the penalty of sin, and will keep one free from that penalty.

Someone once said that justification means, "Just as if I’d never sinned."

As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes. Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. Romans 3:10-23

In this passage Paul, by the inspiration of God, lays out for us the scene of a court room in which a trial is taking place. Paul has argued the guilt of every man and woman, whether Jew or Gentile, as they are seen in the eyes of a holy and righteous God. The Gentile, even those who have never heard the gospel, is guilty due to the witness of the creation. The good or moral man: the "good old boy" is guilty due to the witness of his conscious. The Jew is guilty because of the Scripture he possesses. All the elements of a court trial are present.

In verse 9 we find the charge. We are all under sin: both the Jew and the Gentile. To say that we are all under sin includes all that goes with it: its guilt and its condemnation.

Then in verses 10-18 we see the indictments against man. He is a totally depraved person. Our character is hopeless. "None are righteous." Our speech is corrupt. Our conduct is ungodly. Sure, there are different degrees to our depravity, but we are all guilty of sin.

In this letter to the believers at Rome, Paul has masterfully demonstrated that there is not a single person who can stand before God as righteous and holy.

After bringing the indictments against man, verse 19 indicates man’s defense,"Every mouth may be stopped." Think about the day of judgment. There will come a day when every one of us will stand before God alone. Just the thought of standing before God alone makes me shudder. But when we have been justified we need not fear Him! Many think that they will somehow argue their case before the Lord or will put God on trial for what He did or allowed in their lives.

Someone said, "He who would represent himself before the Lord has a fool for a client."

You see, when we stand before the Lord, the evidence will be so overwhelmingly obvious to us that "every mouth will be stopped." There is no defense before God. Because we have no defense, verse 19 also gives the verdict against every man, including us: "and all the world may become guilty before God." Why will every mouth be stopped? Because all are guilty!

You cannot understand justification apart from these facts about man’s sin and guilt before God. Because we are guilty, sentence has been passed upon us. All of humanity stands condemned to die. "The wages of sin is death." However, in justification God, who sits on the throne as Judge, legally declares that we are not guilty. In fact, He declares us to be righteous. In justification God has simply issued a legal declaration about us.

Now, if in justification God can legally declare us to be not guilty and also to be righteous, then two things take place in justification.

  1. The first thing is this, even though we have sinned terribly and stand before Him condemned, God declares that we are not guilty: that we have no penalty to pay for sin, including past, and present sins. That is why Paul could later say that there is "no condemnation for them who are in Christ Jesus." That is one part of justification, but it is not enough, because now we stand before God forgiven, but somehow short of what we need.
  2. That is why we can say that not only have we been declared to be not guilty, but also to be righteous. You see, in the mind of God we are considered to be perfectly righteous before Him. In justification God sees me as having the merits of perfect righteousness. I am not just forgiven; I am actually made righteous.

We can be justified because of Christ’s imputed righteousness.

Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Romans 3:24-26

We have no righteousness of our own. Paul made that point in Romans 3:10: "There is none righteous." Romans 4:5 says that "I am ungodly." The only way God could look upon us as being righteous is by considering Christ’s righteousness as belonging to me: He justifies me, the ungodly by forgiving my sins and by declaring me to be righteousness.

If we reconsider our court trial, imagine that the charge has been laid against you. You are a sinner and deserve death. The various indictments are carefully laid out. You are given the opportunity to defend yourself, but there is nothing to say. You are guilty. Your adversary Satan grows excited knowing that you are guilty, but before the Judge passes sentence, an Advocate (Jesus) comes forward and tells the Judge that He has enough righteousness to take care of your crime. That is what Jesus has done for you.

Think about this: When Adam sinned, his guilt was imputed to us. In other words, God the Father viewed Adam’s sin as belonging to us. When Christ suffered and died for our sins, our sin was imputed to Christ; God thought of it as belonging to him. He paid the penalty for it. When He died on the cross He paid your sin debt.

In other words like the little song we sing sometimes, "He paid a debt he did not owe, I owed a debt I could not pay."

In the doctrine of justification we see Christ’s righteousness as being imputed to us, and therefore God thinks of it as belonging to us. It is not our own righteousness but Christ’s righteousness that is freely given to us.

Justification comes entirely by God’s grace through faith in Christ.

The question now comes up, "How do we receive Christ’s righteousness and the forgiveness of sins?"

Christ’s righteousness is not simply given to everyone, though it was offered for everyone. Romans 3:20 tells us that "no flesh can be justified by the deeds of the law." In other words, we cannot be justified by any good-doing or by our own efforts. We are absolutely corrupt. Verse 24 gives us the answer. How can we be justified? It is by His grace!

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

We are saved by God’s grace. God did not have any obligation to impute our sin to Christ or to impute Christ’s righteousness to us; it was only because of his unmerited favor that he did it. That is grace! But how does God determine who will receive this grace? Again, verse 26 gives us the answer: he is the "justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus."

"Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus." Romans 5:1

Christ says we are justified by faith, but you must understand that there is nothing inherently good about your faith as though your faith had merit with God. What we learn, though, is that in exercising faith in Christ we are essentially saying to God the Judge that we cannot do for ourselves what is necessary to escape the punishment that comes because of our sin.

Imagine the foolishness of the man who is on trial when Jesus steps forward on his behalf and tells the Judge that He will share His righteousness with that man, only to hear that man say that he does not need it, that he has tried to live righteously, or that he had more righteousness than unrighteousness. What a fool! God demands payment. He demands satisfaction! Only the perfect sacrifice of His Son can satisfy. Only the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ can free a man from the guilt of sin, and the only way to receive that perfect, imputed righteousness is by believing.

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. I John 1:8-10

Justification results in some wonderful blessings. When God justifies a man, He says, "I pronounce you a righteous man. From now on I am going to treat you as though you had never sinned. All sin is passed and gone: wiped out. Your sin is not just forgiven, not just pardoned, but the slate has been cleared, it can never be written on again, and you have been set before God as a righteous man or woman."

We have already read some of the blessings of being justified. Romans 5:1 says that we have peace with God. We are not at enmity with Him. I am no longer offensive to Him because He does not see my sin; He sees the perfect righteousness of Christ.

...Being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:7

This is not a "hope-so" salvation. Because many people think they must earn God’s favor for salvation, they "hope" they can go to heaven. But because my salvation is not dependent on me and I have bet all my salvation on the righteousness of Christ, I have genuine hope in God.
Not only do we have a genuine hope, but understanding the doctrine of justification gives us confidence that God will never make us pay the penalty for sins that have been forgiven on Calvary. That is not to say we will not reap what we sow. The drunk driver may still go to jail for running over someone, but he can be forgiven and justified. God will discipline us for our sins, but the fact is we will never, and that means never, have to pay the penalty that is due our sins.

"There is no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus."

Are you confident that God has declared you "not guilty" forever in his sight? Do you know when that happened in your own life? Think back in your mind to the time you trusted Christ to save you. Can you remember a time when you realized that you stood before God absolutely condemned and guilty? Can you remember repenting of your sinful condition and trusting in what Christ has done to pay for your sin? If you are not sure you have ever been justified: completely forgiven for all your sins and declared to be righteous in God’s sight, what is keeping you from receiving that today?

There is no greater joy than to realize what He has done for us and to stand before Him with complete confidence that we are accepted by Him as "not guilty" and being perfectly righteous forever.

How can we be justified?

1. Admit we are guilty of a crime (sin).

If we say we have no sin , we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. I John 1:8

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God... Romans 3:23

2. Confess our crime.

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I John 1:8-10

3. Reject our crime.

Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel." Mark 1:14-15

To repent is to reject!

4. Believe that Jesus forgives us of our crime.

Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:22

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. Hebrews 11:6

5. Accept His pardon! Take His free gift of eternal life!

Two men who grew up as best friends, except that their lives took divergent paths. One became a judge, and the other a criminal. At one point the criminal ended up in the Judge’s court. He was obviously guilty, but he was the judge’s friend. If the judge let him off, he would not be fulfilling his role of dispensing justice. So what he sentenced his friend to the appropriate fine for his crime. Then he stepped down from the bench, took off his robe, and wrote his friend a check for the amount of the fine in full. This is what God does in Jesus. He sentences us to death for our sins, but then steps down from heaven and pays for our sins in full with his death.

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