“Jesus our Lord, who has been delivered for our offences and has been raised for our justification … Therefore having been justified on the principle of faith, we have peace towards God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” —Romans 4:24-5:1 JND The work of the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, is so great and comprehensive that the Word of God uses a number of different terms to describe it and this results in blessing for those who believe in Him. For those of us who know the Lord Jesus, it should be our delight to search out what these words mean and learn what they would teach us of the Lord Jesus and His wonderful work at Calvary’s cross. One such term used in Scripture is “justification.”
What Is Justification?
It is helpful to see that there are two aspects to our justification. Acts 13:39 presents one side: “And by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses” (KJV). When we are justified we are completely cleared from every charge that was against us. The apostle Paul points out that this was impossible under the law (we will consider this in more detail later). However, what the law could not do the work of Christ has accomplished. We are justified “from all things” and not one accusation remains against those whom God has justified. “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth” (Rom. 8:33).
The other side involves our new righteous standing before God. This is seen in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” In the Greek language in which the New Testament was originally written, the words translated as justification and righteousness are closely related. When God justifies us He counts us as being righteous (Rom. 4:3,5). What does it mean to be counted righteous? It is to be reckoned by God as consistent with all that He is in His character – such as His love and holiness, His mercy and truth. This involves the truth of our standing, or position, before God based on the work of Christ. Our actual state in our day-to-day living is another question.
What Is The Difference Between Forgiveness And Justification?
By God’s grace the believer is both justified and forgiven. However, these terms do not mean exactly the same thing. Let us suppose that a bank lends me $10,000, but when the time comes I am unable to repay the loan. If the bank forgives my debt, the penalty for my failure to repay the loan has been removed. I am forgiven. If someone goes to the bank and repays the loan for me, then I am justified from the debt I owed. Not only has the penalty been removed, but the debt itself has been fully satisfied. Justification goes beyond simply being forgiven.
In the gospel, the work of Christ enables God to freely provide both. The believer is forgiven because Christ endured the penalty he deserved for his sins (Eph. 1:7). And because the debt has been fully paid by the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross, the believer is justified from every charge that was against him (Acts 13:39).
Whom Does God Justify?
We may well marvel at the riches of God’s grace (Eph 1:7) when we consider who it is that God justifies. Does he justify individuals who are “good” or “morally upright?” What about “religious” people? Does he justify those whose “good works outweigh their bad?” No. The Word of God tells us that God “justifies the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5 jnd). Taking guilty, ruined sinners, He clears them from every accusation and brings them into a righteous standing before Himself. However, in order to be justified we have to recognize our lost and guilty condition before God. We must admit that we are ungodly and rightly under God’s condemnation. Acknowledging this we can turn in faith to Christ and recognize that because of His work – because He stood in the place of condemnation that we rightly deserved – God is able to righteously justify us. “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5 KJV).
As we consider what the Lord Jesus has done, may we praise and worship Him!
How Are We Justified?
In answering this question it is helpful to see that there are three parties to our justification. First of all, the Scriptures state that we are “justified freely by His [God’s] grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). As we have seen, it is God who justifies. He is the source of our justification. We are justified by His grace – His unmerited favor. There is nothing we have done or could do to deserve it. He freely bestows it to all who believe, at no cost to us, but at great cost to Himself and to His blessed Son.
Second, we read that we are “justified by His [Christ’s] blood” (Rom. 5:9). This is the basis (foundation) of our justification. We read in the Old Testament that “the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Lev. 17:11). Shed blood speaks of a life given up in death. So it is, through the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, that we are justified. He was delivered up for our offenses, enduring the judgment of God for our sins, and then raised again by God for our justification as the evidence that all our sins have been dealt with completely (Rom. 4:25). He has done the work so that God can “be just, and the justifier” of all that believe in Jesus (Rom. 3:26)!
Third, we read that we are “justified by faith” (Rom. 5:1). This is our side and the principle (requirement) of our justification. Abraham is the pattern for us: “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness” (Rom. 4:3). So for us: “To him that … believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5). Our part is simply to believe that the Lord Jesus Christ has “died for ours sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Since the Son of God Himself stated at the end of His sufferings on the cross that “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30), what more could we do? Our part is simply to believe that all is done.
As in the parable of the great supper, the cry goes out today, “Come; for all things are now ready” (Lk. 14:17). In the parable all that was needed was a response from those who were invited. Those who refused or ignored the message were left to suffer the consequences of their rejection. But the ones who believed and came to the supper enjoyed all the blessings that were prepared. So it is in the gospel. All has been prepared: For when we were yet without strength, when there was nothing we could do to help ourselves, Christ died for us – the ungodly (Rom 5:6). “And 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).
What About The Law?
In Romans 3-4 the question is raised as to whether we could be justified by the law, works or circumcision. Since many people have the same question today, let’s look at what the Scriptures teach.
As to the possibility of our being justified by the law, the Word of God says, “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His [God’s] sight” (Rom. 3:20). This verse clearly states that we cannot be justified by the law. What then is the purpose of the law? It is simply to expose to the children of Israel, as well as everyone, that they are sinners. “For by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). We need to understand that the law was never given to bring anyone to heaven. If anyone had kept the law they would only have continued to live on earth (see Deuteronomy 8:1 and Luke 10:28). The fact that all who lived under the law died (with the sole exception of Elijah who was taken to heaven, though clearly he was also a sinner) shows that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
It is important to see in the gospel that God does not offer man a legal righteousness – that is, a righteousness based on the law. But He offers His righteousness, the righteousness of God which is “without,” or apart, from the law (Rom 3:21). As sinners we would rightly have thought that the righteousness of God must surely have forever shut us out from His holy presence. Seeing only God’s holiness and justice, what must our end be but eternal banishment? Yet, so great is the work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross that the righteousness of God is now for and upon all who believe. It is upon us (Rom. 3:22) just as the gold was upon the boards that stood in God’s presence and formed the tabernacle in the Old Testament (Ex. 26:29). “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” (Rom. 3:19-22).
What About Works?
It is clear that we are not justified by the law, but someone may ask, “What about works?” Some believe that as long as our good deeds outweigh our bad deeds all will be well with us when we have to stand before a holy God. Does this belief stand up to the Word of God?
First of all, we have the testimony of the Old Testament. The prophet Isaiah wrote, not only for the people of his day but for us too, that “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). In other words, all the good deeds which we think will make us righteous or acceptable before God are really only like filthy rags in His sight. This is similar to the parable in Luke 15 of the prodigal son who left his father for a far country. When he returned he was clothed in filthy rags. Was there anything that he could have done to make himself fit for his father’s house? No. He could only confess to his father that he had sinned before heaven and in his father’s sight. The father then did everything for him, and the best robe replaced the rags.
Likewise for the sinner today, there are no good deeds or righteous acts that he can do to make himself right with God. God must do it all. And, praise His name, He has done all through what His own glorious Son accomplished in that one act of obedience and righteousness at Calvary’s cross (Rom. 5:18-19)! As the best robe was put upon the returning son, so the “righteousness of God” is now put upon all who believe in Christ.
Romans 4:5 tells us that it is the one who “worketh not, but believeth” who is justified and whose faith is counted for righteousness. Abraham is again given as the example (Rom. 4:1-5). And in Ephesians 2:8-9 we read: “For by grace are ye saved through faith … not of works, lest any man should boast.” The Bible clearly teaches that neither our salvation nor our justification is through any of our own works. If so, we would have something to boast in. Instead, God would have us boast in His beloved Son. He alone is worthy of all worship and praise!
What About Circumcision?
Then, some may ask if circumcision has a role in justification? We may expand this to include any religious ceremony or sacrament. Do they have any part in making us right with God? The answer which the Scripture gives is emphatically “no.”
Again, Abraham is given as an example (Rom. 4:9-12). Did the blessedness of forgiveness and justification come to Abraham after he was circumcised or before? Clearly the answer is that it came before. His faith was counted for righteousness according to Genesis 15 while he was not circumcised until Genesis 17.
The history of the children of Israel is given in 1 Corinthians 10 as a warning. There were many who came out of Egypt and ate of the manna (spiritual food) and drank of the water from the rock (spiritual drink), and yet they perished in the wilderness. So we see that it is possible for someone today to partake of baptism and the Lord’s supper and yet, if they have not believed on Him who justifies the ungodly, they are still lost.
We are justified by faith alone. There is nothing that we could do to make ourselves right with God. We rejoice that Christ has done it all! He was delivered for our offences and raised again for our justification; therefore all our boasting is in Him. Let us then, as believers and in response to what He has done, seek to live for Him while we wait for His soon return.
By Kevin Quartell