Thursday, December 10, 2009
WHAT IS JUSTIFICATION?
The word justification, in the Bible, sometimes means the justification of persons. Sometimes it means the justification of actions. Sometimes it means the justification of both the persons and the actions. The word itself is a form of the word translated as right or righteous or righteousness.
Justification, then, has to do with a person being made righteous or declared righteous. In the sense of being made righteous, justification is legal or forensic, having to do with how a person (a sinner) is legally made righteous before a holy and just God. In the sense of being declared righteous, justification is evidential, i.e, not having to do with what actually makes a person righteous, but having to do with evidences that declare or prove that a person has already been made righteous.
We have a classic example of this in Romans 4:1-5 and James 2:21-24. Both Paul and James used Abraham as an example of justification. Paul was writing of how Abraham, a sinner, was actually made righteous before God. He emphasized how Abraham was not made righteous by his works in any way. Abraham was made righteous by God's grace through the Lord Jesus Christ. James was writing of how Abraham, a saved/justified sinner, was declared righteous before men. He emphasized how Abraham's works proved him to be justified before God. Abraham's works did not make him justified before God. His works merely evidenced that he was justified before God.
Justification in the legal, forensic sense, has to do with how a sinner, one who deserves nothing but wrath and condemnation according to God's strict law and inflexible justice, is actually made righteous before a just and holy God. It is true that sometimes we speak of justification as God declaring a sinner righteous, and this is so, but when it comes to justification before God, we must specify the difference between legal justification and declarative justification in the sense that declarative refers to the evidences of justification before God. Justification then is a matter of a holy and just God making and declaring a sinner righteous according to His strict law and inflexible justice.
In this context then we must understand that the main issues of both "lost" and "saved" are primarily law and justice. Every term used in the Bible to describe "lost" people refers to those who owe a debt to God's law and justice. Every term used in the Bible to describe "saved" people refers to those whose debt to law and justice has been paid in full by Christ as their Representative and Surety.
The Bible divides the whole human race into two classes of people:
(1) the "lost" -- those who owe a debt to law and justice, and (2) the "saved" -- those whose debt has been paid.
So "lost" and "saved" are primarily matters of law. Some may object that "saved" is primarily a matter of grace. It is true that salvation is attained and maintained strictly by grace and not in any way by works of the law. The way of salvation is by God's grace in Christ Jesus, but this is another way of saying, "For Christ is the END OF THE LAW for righteousness to every one that believeth" (Romans 10:4).
This means Christ paid the debt to law and justice in full for every one that believes God's Gospel -- His promise of eternal salvation and final glory based on the righteousness of Christ.
The law and the Gospel are not the same thing, but the Gospel does reveal the way God's law and justice are satisfied in the Person and work of Christ. The law and the Gospel are not opposed as the Gospel shows how God's love provided in and by Christ what His holy law and justice demanded. The law and the Gospel are only opposed when sinners seek salvation or any part of it by works of the law. This is why the Apostle Paul was so adamant and dogmatic in saying "I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain" (Galatians 2:21).
He was saying, "If you reject Christ's righteousness as paying the debt in full, you are a debtor to do the whole law. If you think salvation is conditioned on your efforts to keep the law in any way or in any form (ex. circumcision), you reject God's grace, you reject Christ and His righteousness, and you must establish one of your own (Galatians 5:2-4), and this is impossible" (Romans 3:20).
By Bill Parker