Last time we talked about Effectual Call, Regeneration, and Adoption.
Today we want to talk about Justification.
We have a few quotes to begin. They are somewhat lengthy, but they are helpful in starting the discussion.
“Between Protestants and Romanists there is a wide difference of opinion as to the meaning of the term “justify” : [Roman Catholicism’ affirms that to justify is to make inherently righteous and holy. [Protestants] insist that to justify signifies only to formally pronounce just or legally declare righteous. Popery includes under justification the renovation of man’s moral nature or deliverance from depravity, thereby confounding justification with regeneration and sanctification. On the other hand, all representative Protestants have shown that justification refers not to a change of moral character, but to a change of legal status; though insisting that radical change of character invariably accompanies it. It is a legal change from a state of guilt and condemnation to a state of forgiveness and acceptance; and this change is owing solely to a gratuitous act of God, founded upon the righteousness of Christ being imputed to His people” (Pink, The Doctrine of Justification).
“We simply explain justification to be an acceptance by which God receives us into His favor and esteems us as righteous persons; and we say that it consists in the remission of sins and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ… Justification, therefore, is no other than an acquittal from guilt of him who was accused, as though his innocence has been proved. Since God, therefore, justifies us through the mediation of Christ, he acquits us, not by an admission of our personal innocence, but by an imputation of righteousness; so that we, who are unrighteous in ourselves, are considered as righteous in Christ” (Calvin).
“Justification is a judicial act of God pardoning sinners (wicked and ungodly persons, Rom. 4:5), accepting them as just, and so putting permanently right their previously estranged relationship with Himself. This justifying sentence is God’s gift of righteousness (Rom. 5:15-17), His bestowal of a status of acceptance for Jesus’ sake (2 Cor. 5:21).
God’s justifying judgment seems strange, for pronouncing sinners righteous may appear to be precisely the unjust action of the judge’s part that God’s own law forbade. Yet it is in fact a just judgment, for its basis is the righteousness of Jesus Christ who as “the last Adam,” our representative head acting on our behalf, obeyed the law that bound us and endured the retribution for lawlessness that was our due and so “merited” our justification. So we are justified justly, on the basis of justice done, and Christ’s righteousness reckoned to our account (Rom. 5:18-19).
God’s justifying decision is the judgment of the Last Day, declaring where we shall spend eternity, brought forward into the present and pronounced here and now. It is the last judgment that will ever be passed on our destiny; God will never go back on it, however much Satan may appeal against God’s verdict. To be justified, therefore, is to be eternally secure” (J. I. Packer, concise Theology).
"Stadeq" word group in the OT.
“The ideas of righteousness, justification, and acquittal all cluster around this one verbal root, and are seen to be parts of the whole” (Girdlestone, Synonyms).
“The basic meaning of the word is ‘that norm in the affairs of the world to which men and things should conform, and by which they can be measured.’ The righteous man is the man who conforms to the given norm. The verb ‘to be righteous’ (tsadaq) means to conform to the given norm, and in certain forms, especially in the hiphil, it means ‘to declare righteous’ or ‘to justify’” (Ladd, NTT).
There are three basic spheres which this word group operates.
The forensic sphere (ie., justification; declaring or pronouncing one righteous). Examples: Gen. 15:6; Ex. 23:7; 1 Kings 8:32; Psa. 106:31.
The stative sphere:
In connection with his justifying act of God, we must reckon with the possibility that the justifying act, though strictly forensic in character, might still have respect to a righteousness of character and behavior predictable of the persons justified.In other words, though righteousness is not imparted, but imputed, there is still a change in the person’s behavior.
Since they are now in a state of righteousness, it naturally follows that their life will progressively conform to that state through a process called sanctification.
A righteous person is in the process of becoming what they have already been declared.
The ethical sphere:
“this root [tsadeq] is frequently used in the OT to denote the quality of righteousness of justice and is preeminently predicated of God. As applied to God, it refers to his attribute of righteousness of justice. It is also predicated of men and describes their character or conduct of both as upright or just or righteous” (Murray).
"Dik" word group in the NT:
The dikaios word-group is used by the LXX to translate stadeq 95 percent of the time. The result is that this word takes on a meaning that is greater than its normal Greek meaning and usage. Rather, its OT connections and roots help define it.
This group occurs in 206 verses and over 232 actual times in the NT. It is very prominent and very pregnant in meaning. Paul is the largest user of this term, using it 59 times alone in Romans.
The complexity of this term, in both its noun and verbal forms, should be kept in mind by all who are studying it. There can be a tendency to make it too narrow, or force it to conform to certain theological presuppositions.
It has been the source of much discussion for nearly 50 years, and plays a major role in the conversation surrounding the New Perspective on Paul.
We don’t have the time to get into all of that, but do understand that much of the heat that has been created is the result presuppositions that involve too narrow of definitions.
Normally, “when the noun is used with reference to man's salvation it means ‘the status of being in the right’ graciously given by God… In a manner akin to Greek usage, both dikaios and dikaiosunay are used in an ethical or qualitative sense. This is the case when they refer to that ‘righteousness’ which must characterize Christian living in obedience to the will of God… We may claim then with confidence that Paul’s use of the group of words is firmly rooted in biblical Greek usage, rather than in that of Classical Greek writers. Awareness of this fact has provided us with an essential clue to the interpretation of Paul’s language of ‘justification’” (Hill, Greek Words and Hebrew Meanings).
In the Pauline writings there is a special emphasis upon the forensic aspect of the word.
The term forensic speaks of court language. There is a legal aspect of being right before God. Examples (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 2:1; Tit. 3:7).
You will also see Dikaioō used in conjunction with logizomai. When this happens, it takes on some nuanced meanings:
"(1) as an objective reckoning; (a) as keeping a mental record - take into account, keep in mind (b) charge or credit to someone’s account, reckon to.
(2) as the result of an objective evaluation- to consider, look on as, or regard as…"[Friberg].
“... the doctrine of justification determines the whole character of christianity as a religion of grace and faith. It defines the saving significance of Christ’s life and death, by relating both to God’s Law. It displays God’s justice in condemning and punishing sin, his mercy in pardoning and accepting sinners, and his wisdom in exercising both attributes harmoniously together through Christ” (J.I. Packer).
This is all premised off of the tremendous need in man.
Rom. 1:18-3:20 drives this point home in the strongest of ways.
“Justification has two sides. On the one hand, it means the pardon, remission and non-imputation of all sins, reconciliation to God and the end of his enmity and wrath… On the other hand, it means the bestowal of a righteous man’s status and title to all the blessings promised to the just: a thought which Paul amplifies by linking justification with the adoption of believers as God’s sons and heirs…” (Packer).
The Grounds of Justification:
A question then arises as to how one who is considered totally depraved and without any redeeming quality can be right before God? And the answer from the bible is that the grounds for acquittal are not to be found in man, but wholly in God.
It is in this reality that there is a perceived tension. How does God maintain Himself as just while declaring righteous those who are ungodly?
In fact, in Ex. 23:7 and Isa. 5:23, it is clear that this is the kind of corrupt judgment that God hates.
Ex. 23:7 - "Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent or the righteous, for I will not acquit the guilty.”
Isa. 5:16, 23 - “God will show Himself holy in righteousness [against those] Who justify the wicked for a bribe, And take away the rights of the ones who are in the right!”
“However, the resolution of this alleged problem is found in our Representative, Jesus Christ. The ground for a sinner’s justification is in Christ’s righteousness. Rom. 3:35-36 clearly brings this out. The basis, or grounds of God’s justification of the wicked is that the claims that God has against the sinner have been fully satisfied in Christ. In no way can a person say that God ignored His law or violated his own righteous character for in His rich love He gave His Son to us to fulfill for us while acting in our stead to fulfill all of His Father’s demands.” (Packer, Just, Justify, Justification).
The critical connection between justification and faith:
Heb. 11:2, 39 form the foundation that we can see in the OT regarding faith.
Heb. 11:2 - “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it [faith] the men of old gained approval.”
Heb. 11:39 - “And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised…”
The key OT text is Gen. 15:6, where Abraham is said to have believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.
“In Paul, it is always God who justifies and man who is justified… Particularly characteristic of Paul’s usage is his insistence that justification takes place by faith, and not by works” (Moo).
Faith as the instrument:
“The bible speaks of justification by faith. It never speaks of justification “on account of faith.” Faith is not the ground of justification. The following forms of expression are used: “through faith,” “of faith,” “by faith.” From the biblical presentation it is obvious that justification is related to our faith Further, faith is not the consequence of justification, but the preceding instrument. There is some sort of instrumentality exercised by faith that is indispensable to the divine act of justification. While it is God who justifies the ungodly, it is only those who exercise faith in Christ who are justified” (Smith, ST).
So that’s justification. A very prominent, and therefore, important doctrine to the Christian faith. It is a doctrine that is tightly connected to the Gospel, and so it is important we get it right.
Again, you can see this in the difference between the RCC and Protestantism.
The RCC thinks that justification is imparted to a person as they perform good works.
Protestants think that justification is imputed to a person, through the instrument of faith alone, and based upon the good works of Christ alone.
So literally, the Gospel is at stake.
Since faith alone is such an important concept, and the very instrument through which justification comes to a person, it is to that topic we will turn next time.