Thomas Fitzgerald, Bath
Because certain terms are in constant use, it does not follow that their meanings are always understood. Here is the first of a series of articles dealing with the important truths behind familiar words.
I. Introduction. Before considering the Bible doctrine of justification, there are some matters about which we need to be quite clear, otherwise the doctrine will not be understood.
- Man from the beginning was subject to a Divine Ruler and Lawgiver. He belongs to a Kingdom ruled over by Jehovah, Who is God over all, revealed in Creation, in History and in the Holy Scriptures. None can escape from this condition, whether he acknowledges it or not. Man is a subject in the universal realm of God's jurisdiction.
- This involves man in responsibility. He owes allegiance to his Creator-God, and obedience to the laws of God's Kingdom. It is futile for man to deny his creaturehood.
- God therefore has His Courts of Justice, where His laws are applied to all who stand at His bar, and where He acquits or condemns.
Every man has to give an account of himself to God, and as constituted by creation—spirit, soul and body—he is his own recording instrument. In a flash memory is aflame and life's deeds are set in array before the soul (Rom. 14. 12; 1 Thess. 5. 23; Psa. 90. 8).
These facts cannot better be expressed than in the words of the repentant King recorded in Dan. 4. 34-37.
The extent of God's Kingdom is over the heavens and the earth. There are other subjects in the Kingdom of God: beings of another order than man, whose dwelling-place is in Heaven, and who are subject to Heavenly Rule. With these we are not now concerned.
Our Lord when teaching His disciples, used the words of petition, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” “Thine is the Kingdom, and the power and the glory, for ever” (Matt. 6. 10 and 13).
The solemn fact is, that man has already been judged and condemned. God has applied His tests in His various dealings with mankind throughout history, and the result has been declared, “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3. 10-12).
The great problem expressed in the Old Testament and amplified in the New Testament is, “How can man be just with God?” (Job 9. 2). That is, how can sinful man, found guilty at the bar of God, be justified, acquitted? Is there any hope of deliverance from the wrath of God? “Thinkest thou this O man . . . that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?” (Rom. 2. 3).
II. Our next step is to gain a right scriptural understanding of the meaning of Justification.
The word contains the thought of a person being righteously acquitted at the bar of Justice. The laws of England condemn those found guilty, and justify or acquit those found not guilty. It is a legal term. It also carries with it the thought of adjustment. The one who God pronounces justified is brought into adjustment with His righteous requirements. How can this be done in the case of a guilty, ungodly sinner? God allows for and provides another principle in His Courts, that is, if another person can be found who can meet God's holy requirements, and can suffer the penalty pronounced upon the sinner, himself being sinless, God will pronounce the guilty justified. He will remit the penalty and bring the justified person into a right relationship with Himself, the Righteous Judge.
There was only One Person in the whole universe who could fulfil these conditions and who would be acceptable to God. This Person was found in the Godhead and according to Divine Counsels came to earth in “the fulness of the time” and became man,. Jesus the Son of God, to redeem man by His sacrificial death on the Cross (Gal. 4. 4, 5; Matt. 1. 18-25 John 3: 14-16; 1 Cor. 15. 1-11).
III. Let us now consider what is found in Scripture regarding the doctrine of Justification—the solution of the problem—“How can man be just with God?”
- The Author. God, the Offended One, is the author of Justification (Rom. 8. 33). It is God’s prerogative, not man’s. No priestly assumption of absolution is allowed or required.
- Whom does He justify? The ungodly—the guilty (Rom. 4. 5) if such believe in Jesus (Rom. 3. 26)..
- The source. Pure Grace. Justified freely by His Grace (Rom. 3. 24). This is the principle on which God acts in His sovereignty. He says, “I will be gracious unto him.” God makes righteous provision for the exercise of Grace in His Courts. Man is. morally corrupt and incurably bad. He can only be justified on some principle independent of himself. Free, unmerited favour. There is nothing for it but to take the ground of being guilty, and utterly unworthy of any favour.
- The means by which God righteously justifies the sinner. By Blood. The death of His Son (Rom. 5. 9, 10). This signifies a Sacrifice offered on the Cross, a Holy Victim slain. The sentence upon sin is death—eternal death (Rom. 6. 23). Man has been already judged and sentenced. As we have pointed out the verdict is, “Guilty before God” (Rom. 3. 19). Jesus Christ bore the guilt and suffered the penalty on the Cross.
- The completeness of Justification. Christ raised from the dead manifested the truth that Justification was perfectly completed on the Cross. The believer's justification was confirmed and ratified by the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Rom. 4. 25; 8. 33, 34). He lives to make good to the repentant: sinner, what He accomplished in His death upon the tree. “It is Christ that died,” which effectively silences for ever, for the believer, every charge.
- How do we enter into this state of Justification? By faith (Rom. 5. 1). This righteousness or justification is unto all (Rom. 3. 22). How is it then that one person is justified and another not? The difference is due simply to the fact that one accepts. Christ, the other rejects Him. It is upon all them that believe (Rom. 3. 22).
- This justified state is manifested in a. changed life. There are no contradictions in the Scriptures. The soul that is justified by faith is justified by works. Profession and Practice are complements each of the other (James 2. 14-26). Paul's teaching is opposed to self-righteousness. The teaching of James is opposed to un-righteousness. The contradiction lies in one professing to be justified by faith, practising unrighteousness. God sees the heart and does not require external evidence as to a sincere faith. Our fellow men look for evidence in the life and practice of a believer. There is also the error to be avoided, which some make, that they are justified by external observances of the ceremonial law, or ritualism (Gal. 2. 11-16). Martin Luther was delivered from this error, which deliverance led to the glorious Reformation.
- The Consummation of Justification. Glory is the final goal of the justified (Rom. 8. 30). The justified soul is fitted at once for Glory, for Justification and Sanctification are both true of him who believes in Jesus. See 1 Cor. 6. 11. The doctrine of Sanctification, however, calls for separate treatment.