A thorough study that I hope clarifies this issue.
The main context of justification is that we will stand before a thrice-holy God (Is. 6:3). How do we survive it? Do we present to him our own righteousness by keeping the law, whether the law of Moses or the demands of Moral Law? If we believe that, then we depend too much on ourselves and won’t make it. God is much too holy for our own righteousness that we worked up.
We need to stand on Christ and his righteousness that he offers us when we believe in him. Then and only then does God accept us before his heavenly tribunal and considers us and declares us righteous.
Please click on Part One, which has basic definitions and replies to objections.
The Question and Answer format is used for clarity and conciseness.
1.. So what is the basis of this declaration of right standing in Christ before God?
It is in Christ dying in our place, not in ourselves. He took all of our sin to himself and in return gave us his righteousness. Justification or being declared not guilty or acquitted is accomplished through Christ’s redemption.
Paul writes in 2 Cor. 5:21 that God made Christ who knew no sins to become sin that that we might became the righteousness of God. On Calvary, on the cross, Christ took on himself the sin of the whole world—”every sin of every person of every time and place” (Williams, vol. 2, p. 69). Note that Paul does not say we become righteous in ourselves, but we become the righteousness of God in Christ.
In Rom. 3:23-25 Paul says that we have all sinned and fallen short of his glory—which is his perfect light and radiance in heaven. Since we were so lost in our own sinful condition, he justified us freely through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. How was this redemption done? God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement through the shedding of his blood. What is our part? We receive this sacrificial death by faith (not by working for it).
We learn from this important passage three truths.
First, God had to initiate his grace—his unmerited favor and acceptance. We could not do this on our own in a search for God.
Next, justification is based on Christ’s redemption, which frees us from bondage to sin and evil. The person who experiences justification has been redeemed by Christ and brought back from darkness to light (Col. 1:13-14). So this righteousness is not infused, so that he is righteous in himself, but a positive one in which his dwelling is no longer in darkness, but in the light (Williams, ibid. p. 70).
Third, justification is done through the expiation (redemption of atonement) or propitiation. This word refers to the lid that covered the ark of the covenant in the OT. The lid was sprinkled with the blood of an animal on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). For us now, however, Christ’s blood expiates (extinguishes or removes) our guilt and propitiates (or satisfies) God’s just demands on us.
2.. So what does justification mean so far?
It means this: since he has borne our sin and guilt, they are no longer imputed to us, but imputed to Christ. They are not charged to our account, but to his. Paul writes that in Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace (Eph. 1:17).
Williams: “Since He bore our sins in that sacrifice, they are no longer imputed to us; since by His sacrifice our guilt and punishment have been taken away, we are now accounted righteous before God” (ibid. p. 70).
One last point under this question: We should not leave Christ on the cross or in the tomb. Paul writes that Christ was resurrected for our justification (Rom. 4:25). His resurrection ratifies and completes his atonement on the cross and our subsequent justification.
3.. So how do we get this justification and righteousness as a free gift?
We receive it by faith, in contrast with keeping the law. Faith is not a new work, as if you have to ginger it up with willpower. Rather, faith is the conduit through which you receive God’s free gift of declared righteousness. It is our instrument to receive salvation, which involves God’s pronounced acquittal of us in his heavenly tribunal, so to speak. Our faith has to be directed towards Christ.
Rom. 1:16 says the gospel is the power of God for everyone who has faith. Rom. 3:25 says we receive his atonement (sacrificial death) by faith (as opposed to works). He writes in Eph. 2:8 that by grace we have been saved through faith. Grace stands behind faith. Paul writes in Rom. 4:16 that it is by faith we receive the promise of the patriarch Abraham, which is declared righteousness (Gen. 15:6). Abraham believed God’s promise, and his faith was accredited to him as righteousness.
So grace is the source, while faith is the channel to receive it. I would add that faith that leads to salvation is also a gift of God. We just don’t make it up. God speaks his Word to us, and the Spirit energized the Word, and it goes into our hearts and saving faith is produced (Rom. 10:8-12; Eph. 2:8).
Faith is a total reliance on God.
Forsaking All I Trust Him.
4.. Is there a danger of overemphasizing faith?
Maybe, but faith in Christ by grace is important. But it can only be over-emphasized when we believe that we can live as we please because our nature has not changed.
5.. What are the results of faith?
Union with Christ. So many times in Paul’s epistles he says that we are in Christ. This is union with him. Gal. 2:15-17 says that I have been crucified with Christ; it is no long I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God. So this union means that God’s declared righteousness is not make-believe or a pretense. Since Christ lives in us he declares us what we really are in our new life in him and our new, divine nature.
It is not a matter of an imputed righteousness that is thereafter received by faith, but of such righteousness being imputed to the one who now has faith. Moreover, since faith is a believing in and union with Christ, this imputation of righteousness is by no means a pretense or a make-believe, as if God declares about us what really is not so. Rather, by virtue of our union with Christ through faith (Christ thereby living in us), God declares what is really true. Yes, God does justify the ungodly [Rom. 4:5], but only as they are believers in Christ and thereby united with him (ibid. 74).
In other words, the sequence works out like this, in a logical sequence not so much chronological sequence), since it is all one gift.
We apply and receive:
Christ’s redemption on the cross → God’s Grace → Our Faith → New Birth → Declared Righteous → Union with Christ
The latter point is that we are hidden in Christ and clothed with his righteousness. However, it is important to note once again, that his sequence is not chronological, but logical. They happen at the same time.
Williams again: “Hence, in justification there is a basic sense in which God not only declares the sinner righteous, but also constitutes him as such. He becomes what God has pronounced him to be” (ibid. p. 71).
The last four steps can happen at the same time, so the sequence is really logical, not sequential or chronological.
6.. What are the results of justification?
Here are four:
First, we are called the sons and daughters of God the Father (Gal. 3:24-26; Gal. 4:6; Rom. 8:15). This shows our right standing with God and our union with his Son. We have intimacy with the Godhead.
Second, we have liberty in Christ (Gal. 4:3; Gal. 4:9-10; Acts 13:38-39). We do not have to be anxious about whether we have done enough for our salvation. Instead we just believe in Christ who has already done everything for us.
Third we have peace with God (Rom. 5:1; Rom. 5:9-10, peace with our neighbors (Eph. 2:14; Gal. 3:28), and peace within our souls (John 14:27; Rom. 8:34).
Fourth, we are heirs according to God’s promise (Gal. 3:26-29; Gal. 4:7; Rom. 8:17). This means that we are no longer under the Old Covenant, which was our tutor or guardian, when we were children. In Christ, we are heirs of a better covenant. We are Christ’s co-heirs, which is remarkable. We can have our inheritance now by our new life in Christ (1 Cor. 3:21-22; John 17:22), and we will have our full inheritance when we get to heaven (Tit. 3:5-7).
7.. What is the difference between justification and sanctification?
God declares us righteous in Christ the moment we repent of our sins and have saving faith in Christ. Upon our repentance and saving faith, we are born again. Repentance and new birth are the work of grace and the Spirit. So God is not declaring the guilty not guilty without a basis, but he declares not guilty the repentant as they have saving faith in him when they are now in union with Christ. As for paying for the penalty of our sins done in our past life, Jesus paid for this just penalty on the cross. He died in our place, where we should have died for our own sins. He is our substitute.
Now sanctification is the outworking of God’s declared righteousness over you.
As noted in the other posts, justification is different from sanctification in these ways:
|Legal standing||Internal condition|
|Once and for all time||Continuous throughout life|
|Entirely God’s work||We cooperate with God|
|Perfect in this life||Imperfect in this life|
|The same in all Christians||Greater in some than in others|
|Source: Grudem, p. 746|
The only slight disagreement is that God declares us holy only because he transfers us from darkness to light, from the profane to the sacred; we are consecrated to him, no longer to the world. But now we work it out. Justification and sanctification are linked, but distinct. As noted in the other posts in the Justification series, the order is really logical, not sequential in time, according to NT theology. That is, logically, legal declaration by God comes before we humans practice holiness and righteousness. Logically, we receive righteousness as a free gift before we can have it infused in us by the work of the Spirit. (If we believed that our holiness logically came before God’s gift of righteousness, Paul would say his theology was turned upside down and out of order.) Logically, our personal sanctification never launches God’s declaration of our right legal standing and our being born again (regeneration), or else Christianity would resemble other religions, particularly certain strands of Saul’s / Paul’s old Judaism. Just the opposite is the case. Our repentance (by grace) your saving faith (by grace) and your new birth (by the Spirit) and God’s declared righteousness–all of this at the same time–launches our sanctification process.
So how does article about justification help me grow in Christ?
Believing in Christ, you are now acceptable to God. You will stand guiltless before his throne of judgment. He sees the righteousness of Christ over you. He sees that you are clothed in Christ’s righteousness, not your own dirty clothes.
In Zech. 3 Satan stood before the LORD and accused Joshua the high priest because he was wearing dirty priestly robes. An angel commanded those standing near him to take off those clothes and put on clean ones.
That’s how God sees you. You used to have on dirty clothes. Now you are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. This is not playing fast and loose with your personal reality, because his heavenly perspective is the only one that counts. When you believe in Jesus and his sacrificial death on the cross, you are united in him. God sees you in Christ, not in yourself.
After you are declared righteous in Christ the moment you believed in him, now he launches you on the long process called sanctification. This process literally means “the act” or “process” (-ion), of “making” (fic-) “holy” (sancti). Never forget that there is a “good behavior” part in your relationship with God.
But don’t confuse justification and sanctification. God first declares you righteous in Christ. That’s justification. And then he works on your behavior. That’s sanctification. In our lives, it happens at the same time. The real order is logical. Logically, legal declaration comes before the transformation or practice of righteousness.
They are linked, but distinct.
You are declared legally righteous in an instant. You become like Christ in holiness and righteousness over a lifetime, until it is completed only in heaven.
Justification: How It Was Done, How We Get It, and Its Results
Written by James Malcolm