5. JustificationRelated Media
Justification simply means “to declare righteous.”1 This, like regeneration, happens at the moment of a person’s conversion. An easy way to remember justification is “God makes us ‘just’ as though we never sinned.” There are two parts to justification. (1) It includes God forgiving our sins because of Christ’s death on the cross to pay the penalty for them. (2) It includes God declaring us as righteous based on Christ’s righteous life. Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.” On the cross, Christ was our substitute. God declared that our sins were his and punished him in accordance with them. By Christ’s death, he appeased God’s just wrath for the sins of the world. In the same way, God looks at Christ’s righteous life and declares it as ours. Christ never lied, stole, or sinned in his heart. Also, he always did God’s will. God now looks at us as having the righteousness of his perfect Son.
Practically, justification means that we will never be condemned for our sins because Christ was condemned for us. Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:33-34 says:
Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us.
God declares us righteous because of Christ’s work (his righteous life and death for our sins) and our response in faith to it. Many verses teach this: Romans 3:26 (ESV) says, “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.” Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Galatians 2:16 says:
yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
Because of our faith in Christ, apart from any merit of our own, God justifies us. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
In Contrast with Roman Catholic Doctrine
With that said, though Scripture clearly teaches that we are justified by faith alone, apart from works, some believe that people must have faith plus works to be saved. This is the major difference between Protestants and Catholics, which led to the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s. Catholics believe that our faith must be accompanied by works, such as practicing the sacraments, including taking the Lord’s Supper, being baptized and later confirmed, and doing penance. Wayne Grudem’s description of the difference between Catholic and Protestant doctrine is helpful:
The Protestant doctrine of justification says that we are fully justified by God the instant we believe, for “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). The Roman Catholic doctrine says that we are not fully justified until our lives are completely cleansed from sin, which will not be until after we die and we have been purified in purgatory (Protestants say there is no purgatory). These differences between Protestants and Roman Catholics about justification have continued to this day.2
Understanding justification by faith alone is extremely important, because it is often the dividing line between the true gospel and the many false gospels.3 God saves people despite their sins and based on no merit of their own. He saves them based on the merit of Christ, as they put their faith in him and him alone. Romans 4:4-8 says,
Now to the one who works, his pay is not credited due to grace but due to obligation. But to the one who does not work, but believes in the one who declares the ungodly righteous, his faith is credited as righteousness. So even David himself speaks regarding the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the one against whom the Lord will never count sin.”
- What stood out most to you in the reading and why?
- What does justification mean and what happens when a person is justified?
- What is the difference between the Roman Catholic and Protestant views of justification?
- In what ways have you seen or experienced false gospels, which have crept into the church, that add works to faith as a means of salvation?
- What questions or applications did you take from the reading?
Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown
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1 Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 723). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.