How can man stand just before God? How can men have a right standing before the Almighty God? Is it possible? As Charles Hodge stated, "The answers to these questions determine the character of our religion, and, if practically adopted, our future destiny. To have a wrong answer is to mistake the way to heaven. Indeed, it is to err where error is fatal." I add, to go wrong on this is a matter of life and death. For if God offers a way through which men are justified, yet we insist on our own way, how can we expect His acceptance?
What is the meaning of Justification? It is a forensic term that implies one being found free of guilt, free of wrong. It is a declaration that not only clears the accused of guilt and condemnation but pronounces them righteous. The scriptural meaning of the term is to "declare righteous". A look at the first four chapters of the epistle of Paul to the Romans unravels this glorious doctrine of Justification.
The Reality: All men guilty!
It would be effort in futility for us to consider justification with no indictment in view. The Apostle introduces the theme of the book by stating that He is "not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation… For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, the just shall live by faith" (Romans 1:16-17). To help unpack the necessity of the Gospel, and specifically its vitality in the sense that God's righteousness is revealed in it, he shows us that all men stand guilty before God. It is because of men's ungodliness and unrighteousness that God's wrath is revealed from heaven (Romans 1:18). This is man's biggest problem. It is sad that we, in our pride, tend to view ourselves as good and innocent human beings to whom bad things happen undeservedly.
Paul helps us see the guiltiness of both the Jew and the Gentile in the first 3 chapters of the epistle as far as the demands of God's law are concerned. The letter of the law (of God), having been given to the Jews, and written in the hearts of the Gentiles, demands perfect obedience. Any falling short of obedience, perfectly, places us as guilty before God. This is what sin is, it is missing the mark! Further, see the standing of all men, both Jews and Gentiles before God in Romans 3:9. It is this – Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Every mouth is stopped when it comes to an attempt to seek justification through the observance of the law, as Paul charges in Romans 3:19. It is not only difficult but impossible for any human being to be justified before God by the works of the law (Gal 3:10, Gal 3:21, Romans 3:23).
As such, left on his own, man is damned and condemned, without hope. Thankfully, in Romans 3:21-26 we see six glorious verses that show the way of Justification, that is, how men can have a right standing with God. Paul shows us how God's righteousness is revealed in the gospel and thus the nature and character of Justification.
"But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Romans 3:21-26).
A work of God: The righteousness of God revealed
God Himself orchestrates and reveals the way of justification to us. He is Himself at the heart of justification. Paul announces that such righteousness as would be required to satisfy God's justice has been provided and is revealed in the gospel. This is contrasted with the righteousness that we would attempt to achieve through observing the law. As already determined, that can never be the basis of our justification before a righteous God. The reality of God being the source of our righteousness is not only seen in the New Testament but in the Law and the Prophets. Jeremiah prophesied that the Lord Himself would be our righteousness (Jeremiah 23:6). Isaiah also prophesied that the chastisement for our transgressions would befall Christ from God the Father, and in return, we would be healed, that is, cleansed of our iniquity and transgression (Isaiah 53:3-5).
Justification by faith in Christ
Faith is the means by which we are justified before God, it is the instrumental cause. It is only by placing our faith in Christ that we can be justified before God. Indeed, faith is not just an intellectual acknowledgment and assertion of the truth that Christ died for our redemption, but believing and fully trusting in that truth with our hearts. Have you placed your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? Have you received this gift of God's righteousness by pacing your faith in Christ, clothed in His righteousness alone and none of your own? Indeed, the disposition of every believer's heart is like that of the apostle Paul in Philippians 3:9, "… and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith".
Justification is for all who believe
Having charged that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, justification by faith in Christ is open and available to all who believe. Just as the bronze serpent was lifted in the wilderness, so was the Son of Man lifted up that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life. Do you see yourself unworthy of God's pardon? Christ bids all who labor and are heavy laden to come to Him for rest.
God's righteousness vindicated
A common objection is that God acts in an immoral way and acts in contradiction to His nature when He pardons sinful men. Is it not an abomination to justify the wicked? (Prov 17:15). Indeed, God's righteousness demands that sin must be atoned for. This dilemma, however, is resolved by the substitutionary death of Christ. God put forth Christ as a propitiation, which means that His wrath was satisfied in the crushing of His son and by putting Him to grief for man's sake. He poured out His wrath upon Christ by making Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging, we are healed. Christ bore our sins and in turn, His righteousness is imputed on us. What a glorious mystery!
- The saint is humbled.
Boasting is excluded in Romans 3:27. The justified man is led to utter humility of heart, knowing that Justification is God's gift by His grace.
- The saint is assured.
Such a glorious truth helps us be confident in knowing that in Christ we have a right standing before God, clothed in His righteousness alone. We stand on a firm foundation who is Christ and therefore we should not rely on the shifting sands of seeking to be justified by our works of the law (Romans 4:5). Noteworthy, the justified man will bear the fruit of good works as evidence that they truly are justified.
- The unregenerate man is bid to come.
Why should one remain condemned and under God's wrath while God offers a way to flee from it by believing in Jesus Christ? By faith, the unregenerate heart can lay hold of Christ's righteousness, trusting in Him alone and be justified.
Praise God for such a glorious truth. That all who believe in Christ stand justified! Indeed, justification is a consolation to the believer because he does not fear condemnation any longer. Soli Deo Gloria!