logo
search site

UNDERSTANDING: Justified!

Righteous before a holy God…..

 

It may not surprise you to know that this article was written on a word processor. The tools available today have made the faithful office typewriter redundant because they offer so much more. Having typed a paragraph, my word processor presents me with four options. How would I like the paragraph to appear? Do I want it to be aligned throughout with the left or the right margin, or would I prefer the text to be central and not aligned to either side? Any of these three options may appeal at one time or another, but often I prefer the fourth option which is for the paragraph to be justified. Words and letters are spaced out by the word processor so that the text aligns with both margins and appears pleasing to the eye. A justified text gives a balanced look.

 

Justified is a New Testament word and there is something pleasing about it too. The Greek word translated justification means “being rendered just or innocent.” It is related to words such as righteous and righteousness which are both frequently found in the New Testament. We need to keep this in mind when seeking to understand the meaning of justification.

 

Many have found a simple explanation helpful. Break up the word “justified” into syllables and (with a little expanding) it can be made into the phrase “just-as-if-I’d…” One who is justified is declared righteous. God is righteous, so the person who is declared righteous is in this respect like God. Put in its simplest terms it means that when I am justified I appear before God just as if I’d never sinned. That is an amazing truth! As sinful human beings we have no right to enter the presence of a holy God. Indeed, like Adam and Eve who were banished from Eden (Gen.3:24) we find ourselves separated from Him because of our sins (Isa.59:2). We need our sins to be removed so that we can enter the presence of God as righteous people. In order to view this subject comprehensively from different perspectives five questions will be asked.

 

 

1. HOW CAN WE BE JUSTIFIED?

This question is answered fully in Paul’s epistle to the Romans where the words righteous, righteousness, justification and justified are used frequently. Although space does not allow us to examine each reference, we will consider some of them. According to Romans 3:20 our own attempts to keep God’s law are inadequate. It is impossible to be justified by what we do. Justification begins with God rather than with us. Christian believers are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom.3:24 KJV). If it is “by His grace” it means that we do not deserve it. The work is made available “freely” to us and therefore costs us nothing. The justification of a sinner is only possible because of the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ at the cross. Because He (the sinless Saviour) took our place when He died, we can be made righteous, (2 Cor.5:21). His sacrifice at the cross not only forgives the sins of those who believe but does so much more. God now looks upon us as justified – just as if we had never sinned at all!

 

Justification is by grace and also by faith. After revealing our guilt and what Christ has done for us, Paul states emphatically: “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Rom.3:28). Twice in Galatians 2:16 Paul declares that justification is “not by the works of the law”. There is absolutely nothing that we can do to bring it about. Faith is not really an effort of our own: it is simply accepting what Christ has done for us. Even in Old Testament times the same principle applied. Paul deals with this in Romans 4 and points us to Abraham who “believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Rom.4:3). It was “his faith” that provided him with the righteousness he possessed (Rom.4:5).

 

David also had understood the principle of “righteousness without works” (Rom.4:6). No, our own “works” are unnecessary and unavailing. The Lord Jesus Christ has made our justification possible. When we accept this and are “justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom.5:1). Faith is our response to what Christ has done for us.

 

 

2. WHO IS INVOLVED IN JUSTIFICATION?

This question has already been partially answered but more specific details can be traced in Scripture. According to Romans 8:33, “it is God that justifieth”. He alone is qualified to pronounce a soul righteous. How glad we ought to be for this fact! Because He does this, nobody can lay anything to the charge of His elect. When He declares that sinful souls have been justified, they are! A critic may find fault, but God will say “I see that soul justified through the work of My Son. I look upon him and see him as I see My Son – righteous.”

 

The Lord Jesus Christ is also vitally involved in the work of justification. He was “delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Rom.4:25). His sacrificial death was for us so that our sins might be forgiven. He bore the penalty and completed the work of redemption at the cross. However, justification is clearly linked with His resurrection. We learn in this verse that because He has been raised from the dead we can enjoy more than forgiveness. We are justified before a holy God because of the resurrection of His Son.

 

The Holy Spirit of God is also closely involved in justification. In 1 Corinthians 6:11 we learn that we are “washed … sanctified … justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” The Holy Spirit indwells all true believers and brings to us personally all the benefits won by our Saviour at the cross. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are thus all involved in this great work of justification.

 

 

3. WHERE IS JUSTIFICATION FOUND?

This question is not difficult to answer. One verse gives us the necessary explanation. The phrase “justified by His blood” in Romans 5:9 points to the location of that work. It was on the cross that the Lord Jesus suffered more than we can understand to save our souls from hell. Left to ourselves we would have faced the wrath of a holy God, but His death has brought us deliverance. The precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ has provided forgiveness and redemption as well as justification. Think of the fact that if you have repented of your sin and trusted Christ as Saviour you are forgiven. More than that, you are justified – appearing now before God just as if you had never sinned! This wonderful transformation has only been possible because of the shed blood of the Lord Jesus. What a cost – and how greatly He must have loved us! All our blessings can therefore be traced back to the cross.

 

 

4. WHEN IS JUSTIFICATION POSSIBLE?

Again, this is a simple question. The moment a sinner repents and turns to Christ for salvation, the work is done. “Today” we must hear His voice calling us to come to Him (Heb.4:7). “Now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor.6:2). We are never promised tomorrow: God calls us now to trust in His Son. When we respond to the call and receive the Lord Jesus as our Saviour we are at that very moment justified, according to Romans 8:30. Right now, all who have been saved through the work of the Lord Jesus appear before Him as if they had never sinned. Further, the same verse teaches us that we are “glorified” too. Not in the future, but right now God who is outside of time sees us as glorified already. How complete is the work of the Lord Jesus. Is He not worthy of our praise today?

 

 

5. IF JUSTIFIED – WHAT THEN?

In his epistle James writes about being “justified by works”. At first this might appear to contradict all that we have already said about justification being by faith. There is, however, a simple explanation. James is concerned about a practical Christianity. Faith is not something that is expressed in words alone (Jas.2:14). A faith that does not respond to practical needs is not much use to anybody (Jas.2:15-17)! As we have already seen, Abraham was justified by faith. When he offered Isaac upon the altar, as recorded in Genesis 22, his “faith wrought with his works” (Jas.2:22). The phrase that he was “justified by works” (Jas.2:21) means that he was seen to be righteous before men by what he did. It will help us if we remember that God had already declared Abraham righteous in Genesis 15:6. The offering up of Isaac was the proof of the faith he already had.

 

Rahab, a sinful and godless Gentile, confessed her faith in Israel’s God (Joshua 2) before sending the spies away in safety. Like Abraham she was “justified by works” (Jas.2:25) because her deeds simply reflected the faith that already existed in her heart. She was not justified before God by her works, but her deeds proved her faith and before men she was justified by those works. Faith cannot be seen by men apart from works. When our works are works of righteousness and stem from our faith in God we are justified (declared righteous) by those works before men.

 

“I will show thee my faith by my works” (Jas.2:18). By God’s grace and “with meekness of wisdom” (Jas.3:13) we are to demonstrate before men the faith that we have in God and in Christ. We have been called out of darkness into God’s marvellous light. Just think – we can stand the scrutiny of the incomparable light of His presence because we have been justified through the work of Christ. Until we reach the glory of heaven we have been left here to show forth His praises (1 Pet.2:9) by letting others see the effect of His grace in our lives.