The Doctrine of Justification, Part 1
In the midst
of a dialogue with his friends as he sorted through what had taken
place in his life, Job uttered these words, "But how can a
man be right with God?" (Job 9:2). They may be the most poignant
words that have ever been spoken because they state the great problem
of mankind. Should one would take all of life and reduce it to its
bare essentials, this is the question that demands a response.
of that question reveals much about the one who spoke it. Job stated
that he did believe in God and that a right relationship with him
was the most important thing in life. Religion and philosophy have
expended a great deal of time and words attempting to answer this
question. However, we will go directly to the book that provides
the answer: the Bible, the Word of the living God.
tells us that all men, by virtue of being created in the image of
God, stand in a relationship of accountability with God. While not
all people would admit this, nevertheless, it is true. By living
in God's world, men stand before the God Who created it. A refusal
to acknowledge this responsibility does not change it at all. This
is reality, things as they truly are.
all men are accountable to God this does not mean that their conduct
meets God's approval. It is a lamentable fact that the majority
of the world's population refuses to acknowledge God in a manner
that pleases Him. How can we define the nature of man's accountability
to God? The Bible tells us that this is a dual accountability: legal
and moral. Man is required to obey God's law and man is required
to love God with all of his heart, mind, will and soul.
The Bible reveals to us that, due to sin, man has failed to satisfy
either of these two requirements. In the legal sphere, man has disobeyed
God's revealed law and has brought himself into a state of guilt
and condemnation. In the moral sphere, man loves himself and his
desires more than God. The result of this is separation from God.
We should not deceive ourselves into thinking that God is indifferent
to the sin of man. He decreed in His Word that the penalty for disobedience
and sin is death. In one sense, mankind already is dead in their
trespasses and sins and is under the condemning sentence of God.
Although the final execution of this sentence has not been carried
out, man's doom is certain. The God of truth and justice has declared
that the soul that sins shall die. God is not vindictive in the
execution of His justice, but His holiness requires Him to punish
sin. At the center of the universe is a Holy God.
of sin places man in a great dilemma. How is it possible to escape
the consequences of his sin? The Bible tells us the way, it is found
in the Gospel, literally, the good news. The Gospel announces to
us what God has done in history in the Person of His Son, the Lord
Jesus Christ, to save men from the guilt and defilement of their
sins. God requires men to repent of their sins and place their faith
offered in the Gospel is exactly the salvation that man so desperately
needs. It is also the salvation meets every need that man has. It
is important to understand there is a two dimensional aspect to
salvation. We are not talking about two salvations, but a dual aspect
of that one salvation. When men believe the Gospel, they are saved
from the legal consequences or guilt of sin and they are saved from
the moral defilement of sin. Salvation from the guilt of sin is
called justification and salvation from
the moral defilement of sin is called regeneration
or new life. The purpose of this article is to study the doctrine
of justification. However, remember that justification is just one
aspect of our salvation. The Bible knows nothing of a person who
can be saved from the guilt of their sins and not be saved from
its moral effects.
explanation of the Christian salvation is found in Paul's epistle
to the Romans. An outline of the major sections of this letter will
aid us understand how Paul organizes his teaching and argument:
In the first major section, Romans 1:18-3:20, Paul demonstrates
that all have sinned and come short of God's glory. As a result,
the whole discussion of salvation is set against the background
of man's sin and desperate need of salvation.
The next section, Romans 3:21-5:10 deals with a full explanation
of the doctrine of justification.
In Romans 6:1-7:25, Paul discusses the doctrines of regeneration
and sanctification or our growth in Christ-likeness and holiness.
In Romans 8, Paul discusses the doctrine of adoption or how we
have been constituted members of God's family and the results.
eight concludes Paul's explanation of individual salvation. We should
not think that the remaining parts of his letter to the Romans are
unimportant. The very opposite is the case. In chapters nine to
eleven, Paul discusses the situation of the Jews who, as a nation,
have failed to benefit from the Gospel. This is one of the most
important and closely argued theological questions in the Word of
God. Finally, in chapters twelve to sixteen, Paul discusses the
ethical applications of this great salvation to the affairs and
relationships of practical living.
our discussion in this article will be limited to Paul's discussion
of the doctrine of justification as given in Romans 3:21 to 5:10.
Before we begin our discussion, it is necessary to give a word of
caution. The Scriptures form an organic whole and sections cannot
be as easily detached from one another as we are going to do in
this article. While our purpose is to study justification, the doctrine
can only be fully understood and appreciated when it is related
to the entire book.
the doctrine of justification in a three-fold manner. First, he
gives us the doctrinal explanation of how it takes place, then he
illustrates its truth from history, and finally, he notes some practical
results of justification.
us note how he explains justification from the doctrinal perspective.
This is found in Romans 3:21-31. As we look at this section, we
must keep remember that it follows the section where Paul has demonstrated
that all mankind, both Gentiles and Jews, are sinners and under
the condemnation of God.
news for sinners, Paul announces, is that the righteousness they
so desperately need has been provided by God Himself! Thus the question
that Job asked two thousand years before has been answered! There
is a way by which man can be right with God. This righteousness
that justifies a man does not come from the Law because man cannot
obey the Law perfectly. However, what the Law cannot provide, God
has provided in the giving of His Son. On the cross, Christ provided
both the propitiation and redemption for our sins. He rescued us
from the penalty of a broken law by taking its condemnation on Himself
and turned away the wrath of God. His death also purchased us from
the bondage of sin. Christ obeyed the Law perfectly and by so doing
earned the righteousness that is now put to the account of the sinner.
But how does the person receive this righteousness? Righteousness
comes by faith. Faith is the instrumental means by which this righteousness
is imputed, or put, to our account.
is a legal transaction in which the guilt of our sins is put to
the account of the Lord Jesus Christ and His righteousness is put
to our account. Someone has called this the "Great Exchange."
As a result, we have a new standing or legal status before God Himself
and on the basis of Christ's work alone are declared righteous.
The righteousness of Christ can only be received by faith. There
is no possibility that we can earn it or merit it in any way.
of this exchange can best be summarized by two verses. The first
verse emphasizes the procuring means of our salvation (God's grace
and Christ's work). Romans 3:24, "Being justified as a gift
by His grace through the redemption which is in
Christ Jesus." The second verse emphasizes the instrumental
means or how this gift is given to us. Romans 3:28, "For we
maintain that a man is justified by faith apart
from the works of the Law."
We do have
the answer to Job's question! How can a man be right with God? He
can be in a right relationship with God solely through God's grace
manifested in the death of Christ and received by faith alone.
four, Paul demonstrates the historical proof of the doctrine of
justification. He does this by referring to the first recorded conversion
experience found in the Word of God. This should not be taken to
mean that Abraham was the first person who was ever saved. But the
account of his justification is the first conversion narrative found
in the Word of God. Genesis 15:6, "Abraham believed God and
it was counted to him for righteous." The importance of this
verse cannot be stressed too greatly. All persons who are justified
are justified in the same manner as Abraham. The element that Paul
stresses in Romans four is the fact of Abraham's faith. He does
not give us a detailed explanation of the content of what Abraham
believed. He also states that this occurred before Abraham was circumcised
or became a Jew. It took place when Abraham was still a Gentile.
The implication of this is that both Jew and Gentile are justified
in the same manner, by faith alone in the promise of God.
In the first
part of chapter five, Paul lists some of the results of justification.
They include peace with God and a new standing before Him. When
Paul states that we now have peace with God, he is not referring
to an emotional feeling but the objective peace we have with God
because of our standing in Christ. No longer are we His enemies
but we have been reconciled to Him.
Paul stresses that justification is a once for all act that cannot
increase or diminish, he does not fail to show us that the results
of this new legal relationship are dynamic in nature and not static.
Assurance of our acceptance by God results in a true hope of God's
glory. We can have the confidence that as we pass through the tribulations
of this life, God will use even the difficult times to form us into
closes the explanation of the doctrine of justification, he stands
in amazement as he contrasts our former status with what we were
before. He is overwhelmed as he considers that when we were God's
enemies, Christ died in our place. If, when we were enemies, God's
grace redeemed us, how much more now that we are in this new relationship
can we have the assurance of His never failing love!
he summarizes the greatness and wonder of our justification. We
boast or have our ground of confidence, not in what we have done,
but what God in Christ has done for us. We have placed our total
confidence in the Person and work of Christ because He has provided
the reconciliation for us. Previously, we were in a state of guilt
and condemnation, but now we have received grace and forgiveness
through Christ. May God open our understanding to the greatness
of our justification!