Walking the streets of Rome in the year 1510 was a young Augustinian monk. His heart was disturbed because of sin, and it yearned for peace with God. Seeking relief from this inward distress, on his knees he ascended the staircase of Pilate, the staircase that is supposed to have been climbed by the Lord Jesus at His trial. On each step he paused to weep and to pray, longing for release from his heavy burden of guilt. Suddenly, as if by a voice from heaven, came the words, “The just shall live by faith.” The scales fell from the eyes of Martin Luther, and he entered into the blessed truth of justification by faith. The Reformation followed as Luther and his associates preached this soul emancipating message.
Young believer, the Lord wants you to enjoy and to appreciate the blessed fact that you too have been justified by faith. A consideration of the teaching of Scripture on this important subject may help.
What is the meaning of justification? Some have confused it with pardon, but its import is more extensive. Pardon is a negative, but justification is a positive quality. Pardon is the forgiveness of our sins at conversion, and at times during our Christian experience, but justification is never repeated. Before God, man is seen without righteousness; the Divine verdict is, “There is none righteous, no, not one,” (Rom. 3:10). The illusion of earning righteousness by good works is dispelled by the Word of God, “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags,” (Isa. 64:6). Human righteousness deceives its possessor and fills him with pride, so that he refuses to submit himself unto the righteousness of God, (Rom. 1:3).
Man was tried, under the law, but he failed to produce a righteousness satisfactory to the claims of God; consequently, “By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight,” (Rom. 3:20). The righteousness needed by man must come from a source outside himself, that is from God.
We must be clear as to the distinction between imputed righteousness and imparted righteousness. Imputed righteousness has to do with our standing; imparted righteousness with out state. Imputed righteousness is given instantaneously the moment one believes on Christ; imparted righteousness is progressive during the believer’s life. The outcome of righteousness imputed by God is justification; the outcome of righteousness imparted by the Spirit is sanctification.
Before God could declare you justified, young believer, He had first of all to impute righteousness to you, and this He did through the Lord Jesus Christ, “Of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, Who of God is made unto us… righteousness,” (1 Cor. 1:30). The believer being in Christ, is now seen as clothed with His righteousness. When God imputed sin to Christ, He stood so identified with it that it is written, “He hath made Him to be sin for us,” (2 Cor. 5:21), and when God imputes righteousness to the believing sinner, he stands so identified with it that God declares he is made, “The righteousness of God in Him,” (2 Cor. 5:21). Personally, Christ had no sin, yet He was reckoned, “to be sin;” personally, the believer has no righteousness, yet he is reckoned righteous in Christ. He is, “The man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,” (Rom 4:6).
There is an illustration in the epistle to Philemon, verses 17 and 18. Onesimus had been an unrighteous servant, but Paul, writing to Philemon on his behalf, says, “Receive him as myself.” In other words, Paul suggests that Philemon impute Paul’s righteousness to this unprofitable servant, and he even adds more, “If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account.” Paul, in effect, enjoins that Philemon impute to him the unrighteousness of Onesimus.
Justification! this is the state in which God places the one to whom righteousness has been imputed through Christ. Justification is the official acknowledgment of God as to the righteousness of the person who believes in Christ. Young believer, because you have received the Lord Jesus as your Saviour, God therefore reckons you to be clothed in the righteousness of His Son.
As you read through your New Testament, you will notice that this subject is dealt with under a number of different aspects: ITS SOURCE, “It is God that justifieth,” (Rom. 8:33). Through the work of Christ accomplished on the cross, God can be just and the justifier of the believing sinner. Justification is of God. ITS CHANNEL, “Being justified freely by His grace,” (Rom. 3:24). Man is seen as undeserving, guilty, and condemned, but justification is freely offered in spite of what the sinner is. It is entirely through the grace of God. ITS GROUND, “Much more then, being justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him,” (Rom. 5:9). Before God could count one who had sinned as righteous, the penalty against that sin had to be endured. “Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God,” (1 Pet. 3:18). It was not the innocent dying for the guilty, but the Just One charged with the sins of the unjust. The Resurrection of the Lord Jesus is the witness that His death met in full the demands of justice. “Jesus our Lord… Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification,” (Rom. 4:25). Dr. Moule writes concerning this verse, “We sinned, therefore He suffered; we were justified, therefore He rose.” The resurrection is God’s seal of acceptance upon the work of Christ. THE MEANS, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Rom. 5:1). Justification is entered into by faith, “By Him all that believe are justified,” (Acts 13:39).
Perhaps, you have been troubled, young believer, by the expression in the epistle of James (2:24), “Justified by works.” Paul says that we are justified by faith, but James says that we are justified by works. How are these two apparently contradictory statements to be reconciled? You will notice that James speaks of two events in the life of Abraham. The first of these is recorded in Genesis 15. In verse 6 of this chapter we read, “He believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness.” This is the account of how Abraham was justified by faith. The second event is recorded in chapter 22, where we read that Abraham offered Isaac upon the altar, and this act illustrates how he was justified by works. God said, “Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from Me.” The believer is justified by faith, but by works he manifests his position.
When you consider the truth of your justification do not think of it as a dry formal doctrine, but rather as the accomplishment of God’s purpose in the believer before his final glorification. “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first born among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified,” (Rom. 8:29-30).
You, as a believer, have been justified. May the Lord enable you to enjoy this wonderful position, to appreciate all that it cost, and to manifest it daily by good works.