by Jeremiah Hill

We believe that the great Gospel blessing which Christ secures to such as believe in Him is Justification; that Justification includes the pardon of sin, and the promise of eternal life on principles of righteousness; that it is bestowed, not in consideration of any works of righteousness which we have done, but solely through faith in the Redeemer’s blood; by virtue of which faith His perfect righteousness is freely imputed to us of God; that it brings us into a state of most blessed peace and favor with God, and secures every other blessing needful for time and eternity.

Justification Accomplished

Calvin described it saying, “…this is the main hinge on which religion turns…”[i] Luther said it is “the doctrine on which the church stands or falls.”[ii] Without a doubt, it is the doctrine on which the entire Reformation was launched and continues to be the biggest point of conflict between Evangelical and Catholic conversation. But it is no mere conversation piece for us. It is the climax and resolution after the cliffhanger. Having been left biting our nails with regard to the apprehension of our deliverance, we can now have confidence. We may learn from Scripture that God is tri-personal, that he is all-powerful, that he created all out of nothing, even that he has endowed us with authority over all the earth, and yet there is a looming question – What is this God’s disposition toward us? Is he for or against us? Justification answers this question.

Justification is multifaceted and oceans of ink have been spilled on the subject. Luther was excommunicated and nearly killed regarding it, but many weren’t so lucky (it was not solely this distinctive that angered the Catholics). Justification in the medieval church was accomplished after a lifetime of sanctification. This sanctification was always considered by God’s grace, first administered through infant baptism (removal of original sin for them), and ever after through the sacraments which were only given through the church. Not so odd then, that they despised the Reformers since their efforts undermined the entire structure of the Catholic Church (including income!). Depending on who you ask, they had it coming.

Justification for the Reformed project and most Evangelicals is, “the act of God by which he credits the righteousness of Christ to the believer and declares him just”[iii] The tangible, law-fulfilling righteousness of Christ, which he accomplished through his earthly journey, is given to us at the moment of justification. In our justification, our sin and guilt is judged in the person of Christ in the great exchange. It is on this cross that Christ is crushed under the wrath of the Father and suffers our punishment for sin. Imagine for a moment, the devil accusing God… “Where is your justice God? I thought you were the perfect and holy judge of every living thing? There is no possible way for you to give these people life, they have marred your image and despised you with a high hand… You aren’t the perfect and unchanging God, you let them run free!” Facetious, of course, yet this is the conversation, of sorts, that Paul is answering in Romans 3:21-26. Here, Paul shows how God can save the wicked and still be a consistent, just God. Justification reveals that the God who created all, is a benevolent and trustworthy Father to be sought and discovered further. He is for us – this, rather than a God whose identity is nothing but a terror to us outside of Jesus Christ (therefore outside of justification).

Justification Applied

Luther wrote, “I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners…Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience…”[iv] This he wrote in regard to his struggle through understanding what God’s righteousness means for us. The German plagued himself with the most devout expression of piety…whipping, beating, starving, and freezing himself throughout his life as acts of penance. All this was done with the understanding that justification, through God’s grace, is earned cooperatively. When Luther discovered the truth of Paul’s heart in Romans, the entire world shook. How do we get justification? Sola Fide – by faith alone. Faith will be defined in a few weeks. The purpose here is only to say that the application of redemption is by the power and initiative of God alone.

First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us. Therefore, to share with us what he has received from the Father, he had to become ours and to dwell within us. –Calvin[v]

As with other aspects of our salvation, let us not depersonalize justification. How can legal benefits and declarations be made of us with regard to our souls if we remain outside of Jesus Christ? The testimony of Calvin and others[vi] regards justification as intimately related to our being united to Christ. It does not in any way diminish our legal standing, but brings legal fiction to fact. In Christ, we have his righteousness and he bears our wickedness. In Christ, there is no condemnation (Rom 8). In Christ we have been raised and seated with him. In Christ, we were chosen for adoption (Eph 2). In Christ, we should seek the things that are above, since he is our life (Col 3). In Christ we have redemption (Col 1).

This all ought to fill us with assurance. It remains however, that we often base how assured we are of God’s favor of us on our own emotions, performance, and other experiences. However the writer of Hebrews says, “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb 10:22). Further, perfectionism and perpetual guilt is completely antithetical to God’s verdict on us. We ought to have a healthy sense of guilt and repent! Yet our assurance of pardon should follow with joy and praise, knowing full well the magnitude of the price paid.

Select Bibliography

The Cross and Salvation – Bruce Demarest

Theology for the Church – Akin

Calvin’s Institutes (Mostly book 3)

Salvation Accomplished by the Son – Peterson

Hoekema – Saved by Grace

[i.] Institutes, 3.1.1

[ii.] Akin, Theology for the Church. 745

[iii.] Ibid, 746.

[iv.] Nichols, Martin Luther. 37

[v.] Institutes, 2.1.1

[vi.] Also the view taken by Kenneth Keathley in Theology for the Church, 752; Packer, Justification 645; Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 495.