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Doctrines of Grace - Justification

Justification is one of the most important doctrines in the Word of God. It was at the heart of the great Protestant Reformation. If we do not understand this doctrine we do not really understand the Biblical Gospel.


"Justification is an act of God's free grace wherein He pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone." (Westminster Shorter Catechism)

Justification is concerned with our legal status; our standing before God. The Greek word used in the New Testament is from the language of the law courts. It refers to a declaration that a person is just, free from guilt and exposure to punishment.

It is sometimes said that justification is a declarative act of God, i.e. it refers not to God doing something within a sinner (making him actually holy), but declaring something about the sinner, namely that he is accounted righteous.

Note: Deuteronomy 25:1; Proverbs 17:15; Isaiah 5:23; Luke 7:29; 16:15.

There are two elements in justification:

Remission (pardon)Restoration to favour (accounted righteous)

Note how these two elements are symbolically presented in Zechariah 3:1-5.

God - The One Who Justifies

See Romans 8:33. This is important for God is "the supreme court" so to speak; there is no appeal from His judgement. His word is final and authoritative.

The Subjects of Justification

The same people are described in a number of ways:

a. God's elect                                 Romans 8:33
b. Sinners                                      Romans 5:8,9
c. The ungodly                              Romans 4:5
d. All who believe                        Acts 13:38,39; Romans 4:5; 5:1; Galatians 2:16

The Ground or Basis of Justification

The blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ is the basis of the sinner's justification (this is sometimes referred to as the "obedience" of Christ). God is able to declare the believing sinner to be righteous because He imputes (see below) the obedience of Christ to the believer. It is on account of that imputed obedience that God can declare a sinner to be righteous. Romans 3:24,25; 5:8,9; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9; Romans 5:16-19.

To impute means to reckon, to credit, to put to someone's account. Romans 4:6-8 speaks of a "non-imputation" of sin and the imputation of righteousness. The gospel is a message about "provided righteousness". Compare Romans 1:17; 3:21,22. Jesus Christ is "The Lord our Righteousness" - Jeremiah 23:6.

The Means of Justification

Faith (in Christ) alone. Compare Galatians 3:8; 2:16; Romans 4:5; 5:1; 3:28. Note: Faith is not meritorious; its value lies in the fact that it lays hold of Christ. Faith is the instrument by which the sinner receives and applies Christ and His righteousness to himself. It is not faith which saves him, but Christ made his through faith.

The Evidence of Justification

Good works, compare James 2:14-24; Ephesians 2:9-10. James and Paul are not in opposition to each other in the question of justification; they are dealing with different enemies. Paul is dealing with the person who insists that he may be justified by the works of the law. James is dealing with the man who claims he has justifying faith but whose life is devoid of the fruits of it, namely good works.

The Results of Justification

1. Freedom from condemnation                    Romans 8:1,33
2. Peace with God                                         Romans 5:1
3. Access to God                                           Romans 5:2
4. Acceptance of our persons                        Romans 8:33,34
5. Title to eternal inheritance                        Titus 3:5-7
6. Eventual glorification                               Romans 8:30

There are no degrees in justification: no believer is more justified than any other. Justification is irreversible, unalterable, immediate (upon the sinner believing on Christ), forever. All believers share this common blessing.

The difference between justification and sanctification will be noted in the next study, as also the connection between them.

The Practical Value of the Doctrine of Justification

It tells us how we may have peace with God.It is the foundation of all assurance.It is the foundation of true, spiritual, Christian unity.It moves the heart with admiration for God and with love and praise for such a great salvation.