A glorious text of the New Testament is Romans 5:1 (KJV) where Paul in the Spirit assures his readers that “being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”! For those unfamiliar with Bible language, the apostle was stating that all those who had trusted in Christ for salvation were now reckoned [considered] by God to be righteous and ready for heaven. Through faith in Christ all their iniquities had been forgiven and their sins taken away (Rom. 4:7, 11:27). Those who from a cleansed heart confessed the Lord Jesus as Savior were now on their way to heaven (Rom. 5:9, 10:6-9).
We must understand that these promises are strictly limited to individuals who have repented of their sins and believed the gospel. The Word of God rejects the notion that all shall be saved in the end. For this reason the Son of God Himself has warned of that place “where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mk. 9:44-46,48). However, the promise of salvation applies to all those who believe the gospel: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16).
Not Our Work, But God’s
We may ask, “What does the apostle mean when he writes about believers being “justified?” Also, “How can man be justified with God? or how can he be clean that is born of a woman? Behold even to the moon, and it shineth not; yea the stars are not pure in His sight. How much less man, that is a worm?” (Job 25:4-6). These questions define the predicament of those who suppose that they can attain salvation by personal merit. By nature we are a universe away “from the kingdom of God” (compare with Mark 12:34) – like filthy worms writhing in the mire of uncleanness or the self-righteous religionists who suppose that they are too good to need repentance. But Jesus Christ came that through the gospel there might be “joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth” (Lk. 15:10).
Being justified with God demands that all our transgressions be forgiven, all our sins purged and all our iniquities forgotten forever by the God of our salvation (Ps. 32:1, 79:9; Col. 1:14; Heb. 1:3, 8:12). By nature we are “children of wrath,” yet we shall be “saved through faith” when we believe “the gospel” (Eph. 1:13, 2:3,8). There is no means of salvation through self-accredited “works of righteousness which we have done” (Ti. 3:5), for the Lord Jesus Himself said, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.” Then He added, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on Me hath everlasting life” (Jn. 6:29,47). Paul testifies to the same point when he states that “a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2:16).
A person who is “justified with God” has become both clean and pure in His sight and is now on his/her way to heaven! All this is possible despite the Bible’s teaching that when we were in the womb we were “shapen in iniquity” and we were conceived “in sin” (Ps. 51:5); and the “wicked are estranged from the womb” and “go astray as soon as they be born” (Ps. 58:3). By our own doing, we are unable to keep the commandments of God.
A Full Work
Justification refers to our position before God and not our standing before people around us. Therefore the Son of God told the self-righteous Pharisees, “Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God” (Lk. 16:15). In other words, being justified before God is being made righteous in His sight and within the strictest principles of divine righteousness. It is not being acquitted on a legal technicality. Rather, through the gospel, the Supreme Judge is both “just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).
Therefore, those justified have had all their sins forgiven through faith in Christ (Lev. 16:21; Isa. 38:17; 1 Jn. 1:7), and have been washed completely clean of their sins. David beseeches his God, “Purge me … and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Ps. 51:7, also see Psalm 25:18). Likewise Paul, quoting from the Old Testament, states, “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin” (Rom. 4:7-8; Ps. 32). Indeed “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). In other words, those justified by faith are now and forever secure in Christ, and having been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise they can never perish (Eph. 1:13, 4:30). They can never go to hell.
Evident Through Work
Now if a soul is truly saved through faith, then the righteousness credited to it should be seen in answering works of practical obedience. The true test of justification is not a flashy confession of faith, but practical changes in our manner of life. The apostle James excels in stressing this latter aspect of salvation. He writes: “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works; shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works” (Jas. 2:18). Those claiming personal salvation through faith should show the reality of their conversion by faith-based works (1 Th. 1:3). For “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away: behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). On this basis we would be bold enough to say that the proof of our being in Christ is Christ’s being manifest in us (Col. 1:27).
In any case, as a crowning conclusion to our saving faith, the day shall dawn when we shall be saved from the very presence of sin (Jn. 14:2-3)!
By Tom Summerhill