What follows in this post is an outline of the important aspects of the doctrine of justification. Listen to the audio for more insight.
Justification answers the question: how are sinners legally made right with God?
First, let’s address something. The question assumes that sinners are naturally at odds with God and under His judgment. Is this a valid assumption?
Consider Ephesians 2:1-3: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
So all of mankind is, by nature, under God’s judgment due to sin. See also Romans 1:18-32.
Justification, then, is the most crucial question in all of life and all of the Church, because the answer to that question has eternal implications, those being eternity in God’s presence or eternity under his severe judgment. We have to know what God says about this! How do we become legally right with God?
Romans 3:21-31 is a foundational passage regarding justification that answers our question:
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.
How are we legally made right with God? By God graciously counting us righteous (having a right-standing before God) in Christ through faith in Christ alone. We are justified by Christ’s righteousness, trusting in Him, not ourselves.
What happened to the sin that put all men under God’s judgment, which we saw in Ephesians 2:1-3?. Christ paid the penalty for it, as a substitute for us. This is how God could forgive us. Christ paid our penalty! Consider 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The Father counted Christ as sinful, though he wasn’t, to bear the weight of our sin, providing forgiveness. Christ, truly being 100% righteousness, clothes us with His righteousness though we truly do not deserve it. Theologians sometimes call this grand event the Great Exchange (Christ being counted as a sinner, God declaring us to be righteous in Christ).
“In justification, God legally declares that we are no longer deemed guilty under the divine law but are forgiven and counted righteous in God’s sight” (Biblical Doctrine, Macarthur/Mayhue 609).
So, in justification, God graciously forgives us and counts us righteous through faith in Christ alone.
- Romans 3:21-26
- What are the main points Paul makes about justification?
- Who is involved in our justification?
- Romans 4:1-8, 4:25
- What can we learn from Paul’s Old Testament examples?
- Does God have two ways of justifying people, one for the Old Testament and one for the New? Why do you answer as you do?
- Why was Jesus raised from the dead according to 4:25? Why does this matter?
- Colossians 2:13-15
- What does it mean that Christ’s work disarmed?
- What happened to our record of debt and why is this important for justification?
- Luke 18:9-14
- What does Jesus teach us about justification?
- What should our posture before a holy God be?