Chapter 4: Justification
by James D. McColl, Australia.
“… That every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God, brought under the judgment of God.” Rom.3.19, (R.V.).
“… that He might Himself be just and the justifier of him who has faith in Jesus.” Rom.3.26, (R.V.).
At the heart of God’s message to the world, unfolding His redeeming purpose, are the facts of condemnation and justification. Rom.3.19 categorically pronounces universal condemnation. Paul uses the analogy of the courtroom to illustrate these subjects. All have been tried before the bar of Divine justice, and stand guilty and condemned. His message also joyously proclaims justification for the guilty, but in this order. If man is not a sinner there is no need for justification. The justifying grace of God has for its background the guilt of humanity. In Rom.1.18-3.31, Paul is seen as the prosecuting counsel for the Crown. He identifies three classes of humanity, which encompass all without exception. Every member of Adam’s race is indicted, and found guilty.
He Impeaches The Perverted Pagan - Rom.1.18-32
God revealed Himself to them in creation without, and to their conscience within. Man, being a rational and moral being, has the responsibility and capacity to respond to the revelation of God in creation, and to the voice of God in his own conscience. Whether or not the gospel ever reaches him or her, that person is without excuse and is responsible to respond to God by approving what is right and rejecting what is wrong. The pagans, neglecting their responsibility, became guilty of:
- Perverseness - “who hold the truth in unrighteousness” literally, “held down the truth in unrighteousness” 1.18.
- Irreverence - “they glorified Him not as God” 1.21a.
- Pride - “they became vain” 1.21b-22.
- Idolatry - “changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things … Who changed the truth of God into a lie,” 1.23,25.
- Sensuality - “God also gave them up to uncleanness … vile affections … lust … and a reprobate mind,” 1.24,26,27,28.
- Wrongdoing - “being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, malice; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil dispositions …” 1.29 (J.N.D.).
Paul concludes in 1.32, “… that they which commit [practice] such things are worthy of death.” Being “worthy of death” is the basis of the execution of God’s penalty upon sin, meaning eternal death.
He Impeaches The Polished Philosopher - Rom.2.1-16
“Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things” 2.1.
This group may include the cultured Gentile as well as the religious Jew. There were many such refined moralists and philosophers in Greece and Rome, who did not sink into the sordid conditions of Romans chapter 1, whose intellectual gifts were used in exalting their pagan mythology, which is simply the worshipping of demons. These objectionable acts of worship remind us that civilisation and religion are no safeguards against evil or wrongdoing. Even today, their writings are promoted in society. This spirit of self-righteousness was demonstrated in the religious Pharisee, thanking God that “he was not as others” Lk.18.11. These people see themselves sitting on the judges’ bench, when in fact they are standing accused in the dock and exposed to the same condemnation.
He Impeaches The Privileged Pharisee - Rom.2.17-3.8
“But if thou art named a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast in God, and knowest the will, and discerningly approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law” 2.17,18, (J.N.D.).
The ritualistic Jew is met on his own ground. His claims, privileges, superiority and orthodoxy made him appear to be right, but his life condemned him. He misused his trust, causing the very name in which he had boasted to be “blasphemed among the Gentiles” 2.24.
The Privileges of the Jew are Examined - 2.17-20
The Jew had a lineage. He could trace this back to Abraham. Saul of Tarsus made a similar boast, “Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel; as touching the law a Pharisee” Phil.3.5. The Jews’ privilege had become a cloak by which they sought to conceal their iniquity and covetousness.
The Practices of the Jew are Exposed - 2.21-24
V.23 reveals, “Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?” Their behaviour contradicted and condemned their boastings.
The Position Of The Jew Is Explained - 2.25-29
“… But if thou be a law-transgressor, thy circumcision is become uncircumcision” (J.N.D.).
The ritualistic Jew was here warned against resting in an outward symbol, while inward reality was lacking.
The final verdict on the Jew and Gentile was reached in Rom.3.19,20. Both were in the dock. The Word of God, enthroned on the seal of justice, summed up the case and pronounced the verdict “… that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” or as J.N.D., “all the world be under judgment to God” 3.19.
All voices of self-defence and vindication were forever silenced. God could then speak in mercy and grace to the guilty.
The subjects of human guilt and God’s grace are fully and faithfully considered in Romans chapters 1-4. The grace of God, apart from the law, has procured the blessing of justification for every believing sinner. This was achieved “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” Rom.3.24. But what does it mean to be justified? What is its scriptural definition?
The word justified has been generally defined “as if I had never sinned”. But this would mean to be in a state of innocence, and such a definition is without the support of Scripture. Justification has always to do with guilt, as Rom.5.16 lucidly explains, “And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation” (N.A.S.B.). Paul is saying that the one sin of Adam brought inevitable judgment and the verdict was ‘Condemnation’. But the free gift of Christ dealt effectively with many offences, not just one, and resulted in the verdict ‘Acquittal’. He highlights the differences between the terrible result brought about by one sin and the tremendous deliverance wrought for many sins, and finally between the verdicts of condemnation and of justification.
Further, justification does not mean that the believer is ‘made righteous’ for that would equate with what God is in His essential character. According to “Vines Dictionary of N.T. Words”, ‘to be justified’ means “to declare to be righteous, to pronounce righteous”.
A careful consideration of all relevant Scriptures enables one to understand that justification means the clearance of the guilty in God’s court of justice, declared righteous, and brought into a new and right relationship with Him. Justification is the legal and formal acquittal from guilt by God as Judge. To be justified through the Person and death of the Lord Jesus Christ far outweighs in blessings, what the act of Adam, and its results, did in the way of loss and ruin.
Many centuries ago, Bildad asked two significant questions. His first question: “How then can man be justified with God?” Job 25.4. The answer to this question is found in Rom.5.1-11, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” 5.1. His second question: “How can he be clean that is born of a woman?” Job 25.4. The answer to this question is found in Rom.5.12-21, “Wherefore as by one man sin entered into the world … even so by the obedience of One shall many be made [constituted] righteous” (R.V.). It has already been established from Romans chapters 1-5 that mankind is guilty and needs to be justified, and being guilty is subject to the righteous judgment of God on account of sin. Clearly, before the sinner’s need can be met, there is still the more urgent question of meeting God’s claims. The claims of God’s justice must be satisfied before a single sinner can be justified. Rom.3.24-26 make it plain that such claims have been fully met in the Person and propitiatory sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now 3.26 declares triumphantly, “… that He might be just, and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus” (R.V.).
The believer is said to be justified:
Sovereignly by Grace - its Source - Rom.3.24, “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
This is given gratuitously. The word “freely” is translated in Jn.15.25 as, “... they hated Me without a cause.” It is by grace, because God’s free bounty is the only adequate cause for such an act on God’s part. The Gospel of God’s grace tells how He justifies sinners as a free gift and by an act of unmerited favour. It cannot be earned. It can only be accepted. Because it is by grace, it cannot be merited. It is given and received undeservingly.
- Sovereign grace! O’er sin abounding,
- Ransomed souls, the tidings swell:
- ‘Tis a deep that knows no sounding;
- Who its breadth or length can tell?
- On its glories
- Let my soul for ever dwell.
- (J. Kent)
Meritoriously by Blood - its Cause - Rom.5.9, “Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.”
It is by blood, because there must be a righteous basis on which God can act, and one that will provide an unchallengeable answer to the universe. Such an answer is in His blood, “Justified by [in] His blood”. This is the application of His death, appropriated by faith, recognising that His blood was the price that was paid.
Instrumentally By Faith - its Means - Rom.5.1, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
It is by faith, because this is the principle on which all blessings are received from God. It is the empty hand outstretched to receive the gift of justification. Faith is taking God at His word. It is an assurance that what He has promised to do He will do.
Paul’s masterly presentation of the subject of justification in the Epistle to the Romans has its roots in the parable told by the Lord Jesus in Lk.18.9-14. The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-gatherer was directed to those “which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others”. The story reveals that whilst God’s grace has provided justification for all, a right and proper disposition is essential. The man who “went down to his house justified rather than the other,” was the one who acknowledged his sinnership and made his plea on the ground of sacrifice.
In contrast to the Pharisee, who took his place in the outer court of the temple, the Tax-gatherer “stood afar off”. He was aware of his unworthiness to mingle with the worshippers and to stand within the sacred precincts. He knew he was morally far from God.
To him, heaven was so holy that he would not “lift up his eyes” towards it. It was no place for such a man.
The Tax-gatherer “smote upon his breast” in self-condemnation, being fully convicted of his sins. Whereas, the Pharisee paraded his apparent virtues and his acts of outward piety. Five times, he used the personal pronoun “I”, drawing attention to himself. Like Cain of old, he brought to God the product of his own hands. He told God what he was not and what he did, but he never said what he was.
“God be merciful to me the sinner.” This was his only plea. Within the court stood the great brazen altar, where the sacrifice was laid. The words can also be translated, “God be propitious to me the sinner” (Newberry margin). The blood of propitiation is the only perfect plea for the guilty. The perfect sacrifice of the Lord Jesus provided God with the answer to human guilt and the right to justify the guilty.
The Acquittal and Affirmation
“I tell you, this went down to his house justified rather than the other.” What precious words indeed! The God, who pronounced all guilty, by virtue of the infinite sacrifice of His Son, is now able to declare the believer righteous. The parallel between this parable in Luke chapter 18 and Romans chapters 1-5 is indeed striking and very precious:
- The tax-gatherer had no personal merit, offered nothing in the way of works, but was freely justified. This answers to being “Justified by grace” Rom.3.24.
- His only plea was the sacrifice of propitiation. This answers to being “Justified by blood” Rom.5.9.
- The one who confessed himself to be the sinner, making his plea, was declared righteous. This answers to being “Justified by faith” Rom.5.1.
Rom.8.31-39 is the glorious consummation of the doctrinal section of this Epistle. The writer has magnificently highlighted the righteousness and grace of God in relation to the subjects of condemnation, justification, sanctification and glorification. The closing verses of the chapter are a wonderful summary, underscoring four significant questions and answers.
No Refutation - “If God be for us, who can be against us?” Rom.8.31,32.
The Declaration - “If [since] God is for us...”
What a grand assurance! The preceding verses make this completely self-evident, in which He is seen working for the ultimate good of His people, “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the Firstborn 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.
“Foreknow ... predestinate ... called ... justified ... glorified, 8.29,30. These words describe how the Divine plan is seen in action. The two verses make one of the most comprehensive assertions in the Bible. They contain some of the greatest words in the Christian vocabulary, and embrace a wide sweep of the facts and nature of the Christian Faith. V.29 attributes all activity of God’s plan to His foreknowledge, while v.30 describes how God Himself is outworking that plan in time. It was He who foreknew; He predestinated; He calls; He justifies; He glorifies. Human merit or self-righteousness, or achievement is discounted completely.” (“Romans Chapter Eight” by Andrew Borland M.A. Publisher, John Ritchie Limited.)
The Question - “Who can be against us?”
This does not suggest the absence of adversaries, but it does confirm that nothing in the universe will succeed in preventing the accomplishment of the will of God to secure the ultimate good of His saints.
The Answer - “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” 8.32.
God having ungrudgingly given up such a unique Son guarantees every other benefit. The magnificence of such love can only be measured by the infinite greatness of the One, described as “His own Son”. It means that God has no other such Son, and this exclusive Son-relationship sets Him apart from all others in the vast universe of God, be they redeemed humanity or unfallen angels.
No Accusation - “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth” Rom.8.33.
This is a distinct echo of the challenge of God’s perfect Servant, “He is near that justifieth Me; who will contend with Me? … Who is My adversary? … Behold, the Lord God will help Me; who is he that shall condemn Me?” Isa.50.8,9. Who shall impeach those who are the elect of God? Shall God who has pronounced them not guilty? The earlier chapters of Romans have confirmed that no prosecution will succeed if God who is Judge accounts them righteous.
No Condemnation - “Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us” Rom.8.34.
We see four great facts in this verse:
The Fact of His Death
The emphasis is placed on the nature of the Person who died. God silences all condemnation because it was Christ who died. He was not liable to the penalty of death, but paid the penalty on behalf of others. In 2 Cor.5.21 Paul makes this crystal clear, “He made Him to be sin for us, who knew not sin; that we might become righteousness of God in Him” (Newberry margin). The believer in the Lord Jesus becomes all that God requires a person to be, and what he could never be in himself. It is “in Him” that we are reckoned righteous. The expression in Rom.4.11, “... that righteousness might be imputed unto them also” may be better rendered, “accounted or reckoned righteous”. The Greek word ‘logizomai’ is used eleven times in Romans chapter 4, and translated by different English words, “counted”; “reckoned”; “imputed”. It means to take into account or to calculate. Abraham’s faith was credited to him for righteousness. This does not mean, in order to be righteous or, in the place of righteousness. 2 Cor.5.21 is underscoring the fact that the believer has a perfect standing in the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith brings the believer into vital union with God in Christ.
The Fact of His Resurrection - “Yea rather, that is risen again ...”.
Paul has already shown this to be so; “He was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification” Rom.4.25. The preposition ‘for’ in both clauses of this verse represents ‘dia’ [because of]; Christ was delivered up to atone for sins and was raised up to guarantee their justification.
The Fact of His Ascension - “Who is even at the right hand of God”
The resurrection of the Lord Jesus proved conclusively that He was not bound to death. His ascension to the right hand of God complements that fact.
The Fact of His Intercession - “Who also maketh intercession for us”
If the Lord Jesus, to whom all judgment has been committed, does not pass sentence on the defendant but rather prays for him, then there is no one else who could have a valid reason for condemning him.
No Separation - “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Rom.8.35.
Paul takes up the challenge, and with glowing eloquence puts the matter beyond dispute. He names seven menacing powers but none of them can break the bond, or sever the believer from the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the climax of Paul’s declaration about the eternal security of the believer.
“Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” Jms.2.24.
Now on the surface, this statement appears to run contrary to the great biblical doctrine of justification by faith that has been the central theme of our study. Paul insists, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” Rom.3.28.
If Paul and James are in conflict, then the whole of the New Testament is in ruins and the authority and unity of the Scriptures are destroyed. Martin Luther described the Epistle of James as “An Epistle of straw”. But there is no contradiction! When Paul addresses the subject of justification he focuses upon the initial experience, the moment of the sinner’s acceptance of the Lord Jesus as Saviour. When James writes about justification he underscores the evidence of faith as a present, practical reality. It must be made crystal clear that James is not saying that good deeds automatically mean that a person has genuine faith. Rather, he is seeking to establish the clear fact that to claim to be a Christian without the evidence of good works is a false claim. James is not saying that good works are the cause but the consequence of justification. He illustrates this in the lives of Abraham and Rahab. This crucially important passage should be viewed from the perspective of faith. Observe three issues linked with Abraham’s faith:
“Thou seest that faith wrought with his works” Jms.2.22a (J.N.D). In this statement James is uniting faith with deeds, not dividing them. He is in perfect agreement with Heb.11.17, “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice” (N.A.S.B). This is the language of co-operation, not conflict. His faith, evidenced in works, was an active faith. There is no question, in this Epistle - as some seem to imagine - of setting works in opposition to faith as the ground of justification. Works are never a rival to faith.
“… and by works was faith made perfect” Jms.2.22b. James is not implying that Abraham’s faith was defective in any way. The thrust of this expression, “made perfect” is explained in 2 Cor.12.9, “My grace is sufficient for thee, for My power is made perfect in weakness” (R.V.). God’s power was not produced by Paul’s weakness, but it was evidenced in Paul’s weakness. Similarly, faith was demonstrated and proven to be real by Abraham’s amazing act of obedience.
Faith ever finds expression in works - works of faith and not merely in doing good. Without the evidence of such good works, pretensions to faith are groundless., for “faith without works is dead” 3.20. Faith is the animating spirit of true Christian living; the vital breath of works which “glorify your Father in heaven” Matt.5.16
“And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed [reckoned] unto him for righteousness” Jms.2.23. James is quoting from an incident that happened thirty years earlier. It was this that promised Abraham a vast number of descendants, Gen.15.6. When Paul underlined the great theme that justification was through faith alone, he went back to the same incident in Genesis chapter 15. Abraham, willing to sacrifice Isaac, did not add to his justification by faith, nor did he contribute to it in any way. It was not faith plus works, but the evidence of his faith. Paul fully agrees with this fact. “For we are His workmanship [God’s work of art], created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” Eph 2.10.
In conclusion, let it be remembered that justification, like regeneration, is a single act and is never repeated.
- O Joy of the justified, joy of the free,
- I’m washed in that crimson tide opened for me;
- In Christ, my Redeemer, rejoicing I stand,
- And point to the print of the nail in His hand.
- (F. Bottome)