The Meaning of Justification
Therefore, having been justified on the principle of faith, we have peace towards God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1, JND).
There are a number of great words in the gospel such as salvation, justification, propitiation, redemption, forgiveness, reconciliation, sanctification, and renewal which deserve our study. Justification – with its cognate forms, justify, righteous, righteousness, and the expression “righteousness of God” (Romans 1:17, 3:20, 3:25, 10:3) – is one of these words.
When Solomon wrote, “He that justifieth the wicked and he that condemneth the just, even they both are an abomination to the Lord” (Proverbs 17:15), he was showing us that justification has to do with condemnation. In Romans 8:1, Paul wrote, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” When we turn to Romans 8:33-34 we see some of Paul’s great questions. He asks, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? God that justifieth? Who is he that condemneth?” So we conclude again that justification has to do with the removing of condemnation. The justified person is cleared from every charge!
Justification is a courtroom word. It can be defined as the state of being declared righteous before God. It does not mean to be made righteous, but to declare righteous. It is righteousness in a forensic sense. It refers to an objective relationship and not to a subjective experience! It has been said, “Justification is a declarative act. It is not something wrought in man, but something declared of man.” Again, justification means to be eternally cleared from every charge that could be brought against us. It is the removal of every charge of guilt, whereas forgiveness is the removal of a penalty. Redemption is an effecting of a release, and regeneration is the imparting of a new life within us.
The Message of Justification
Paul declared that he was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ. He said that “therein is righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith” (Romans 1:16-17). The context is not dealing with God’s righteousness as a Divine attribute, but rather with the righteous standing which He imparts to the believer at the time of faith and on the ground of faith, when He declares him righteous. Paul preached this message of justification in Antioch, when he declared, “By Him all that believe are justified from all things from which ye could not be justified by the Law of Moses” (Acts 13:39). His message was a message of justification by faith alone, apart from works. Faith is not a work. Faith is the condition of justification and not the meritorious ground of justification. We are not justified on account of faith but by faith. Upon believing, it is not the personal righteousness of Christ that is imputed (reckoned) to us. We are not justified because of the way He lived; we are justified because He died.
The Manner of Justification
The passage on the praying, penitent publican can teach us much about justification (Luke 18:9-14). He recognized his distance as “he stood afar off.” He realized his depravity as he “smote upon his breast.” He understood the doctrine of the propitiatory, for when he prayed he said, “God be merciful (be propitious) to me the sinner.” He did not ask for mercy without a foundation for the extending of that mercy. He really prayed, “God be merciful to me on the ground of a reconciliation made.” The Lord Jesus said, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” The publican knew that justification can only be on the ground of a propitiatory sacrifice.
When we turn to Romans 3:20-26, we learn lessons on the foundation for justification. The righteousness of God (that is, the righteous standing which He imparts to sinners) is
(1) apart from the Law (3:20-21). It is
(2) witnessed to by the Law and the Prophets (3:21). Paul proves in chapter four that justification was never on any ground other than by faith. No one was ever justified by the Law, or by any other works. It is
(3) “unto all.” There are no limits to the proffer of grace or to the provision on which it is based. It is
(4) “upon all them that believe.” While the offer is made to all, without distinction, it can be accepted only on the ground of faith. Justification is
(5) provided “freely by His grace.” It is
(6) “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” It is
(7) on the foundation of a “propitiatory through faith by His blood.” Because of Calvary, God could “pass over the sins committed aforetime, through the forbearance of God,” that is the sins of Old Testament believers, who also were justified on the ground of faith alone. Old Testament saints were essentially saved on credit. Because of Calvary, God can “at this time be just and the Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.” The paradox of His being just and yet a Justifier is solved by the provision. This is what the penitent publican understood.
The Manifestations of Justification
We recognize that justification is a forensic word. It refers to a righteous standing that has been imputed to the believer on the ground of faith alone. It is not an impartation of power. It is not, to use an abused term, a “practical” word. However, the one who has been declared righteous should “be filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God” (Phil 1:11). Our practice can never be considered as being apart from our position. When Paul was correcting the moral problems in Corinth and listing a catalogue of Corinthian crimes, he said, and “such were some of you, but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified, in the Name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:11). It is a great contradiction when those who have been declared righteous judicially, do not manifest righteousness in their walk.
James did not distinguish between what was positional and what was practical. His epistle has been called “A Belief that Behaves.” Paul showed us the blessed results of justification in Romans 5:1-5. (1) We have peace with God. (2) We have access by faith into this grace. (3) We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (4) The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts. (5) The Holy Spirit, the earnest and the seal, is given unto us. Are you exulting in the truth of righteousness? Are you exhibiting righteousness?