Spiritual Blessings - Justification
E. L. Lovering, Ilfracombe
A Supreme Question
THREE times in the book of Job the question occurs, “How can a man be just before God” (Job. 4. 17, R.V. margin; 9. 2; 25. 4). Perhaps the first suggestion of the true solution to this problem is found in God’s words to Abram in Gen. 15. 1-16. Here we meet with two words so often to recur in Scripture, “believe” and “righteousness”—“and he believed in the Lord, and He counted it to him for righteousness.” Abram responded by trust to divine revelation, and the outcome was righteousness. This passage is in some respects the key to every other reference to righteousness and trust found elsewhere in Scripture. The full doctrine of justification is, of course, found only in the New Testament.
The Basis of Justification.
This is founded on the death of Christ and His redemptive work. “Him who knew no sin He made to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5. 21, R.V.); and again “By Him all that believe are justified” (Acts 13. 39). It is, then, through Christ’s work, and not our own works or merit, that we are justified. Again, in Rom. 4. 25 and 5. 18, we read that the Lord Jesus “was delivered for (because of) our trespasses and was raised again for (because of) our justification.” The Lord Jesus was not raised from the dead in order that we might be justified, but because all that was necessary on God’s part for our justification had been effected in His death.
As “by one trespass judgment came upon all, even so by one act of righteousness, the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life,” that is, justification which results in life. (Rom. 5. 18). Ideally, the complete fulfilment of the law of God would provide a basis of justification in His sight, Rom. 2. 13; but no such case has occurred in mere human experience, therefore, no man can be justified on this ground. Thus we read, “both Jews and Gentiles, they are all under sin; as it is written, there is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3. 9, 10); “now that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, is evident, for the righteous shall live by faith” (Gal. 3. 10, 11); “a man is not justified by the works of the law but only through faith in Jesus Christ … because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Gal. 2.16).
Justification by Faith.
Justification becomes ours through faith, “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5. 1). Faith links us to Christ, we rest our hearts on Him and receive God’s perfect righteousness. This is the basis of spiritual peace. It is to be noted that justification is solely concerned with our true relation with God; not with our spiritual condition, but our judicial position. Sin brought condemnation, guilt and separation from God. Justification includes forgiveness which removes our condemnation, clears our guilt and pronounces the sinner righteous before a holy God. Thus to be justified is far more than forgiveness—to be forgiven is negative, the removal of condemnation; but justification is positive, and implies the imputation of the righteousness of God to man. Here an illustration may help. Some 30 years ago, as a young Christian, I recollect hearing the following: A young man was alone in a room and saw a pound note lying on a table. In a moment of temptation he slipped the money into his pocket, but was seen, arrested and brought to court. He was tried and found guilty of the theft and in consequence he was sent to prison, whence in due course, having paid the price for his sin, he walked out a free man. This however, did not “justify” his theft though punishment had been inflicted and payment made. So it is with God and the sinner; the penitent sinner is freely forgiven and pardoned, but he is not thereby justified. Neither punishment, nor payment, nor pardon, nor penitence can ever justify one sinful act. How then can he be justified? Only if he had never sinned.Thus God has counted righteousness to our account, and looks upon us as though we had never sinned. Well might the Apostle say, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? Will God who justifies them? Who will condemn them? Will Christ who died for them, nay rather, who rose, who is on the right hand of God, who is actually interceding for us?” (Rom. 8. 33-35).
An Apparent Contradiction—Paul and James.
Both Paul and James quote Abraham as their example in their exposition of this doctrine of justification, and it might seem that they are in opposition in this matter. This is not so, as they are viewing the subject from two different standpoints. Paul in Rom. 4 deals with Abraham in relation to the story in Gen. 15; James deals with him in relation to the story in Gen. 22, an event that happened 25 years later. During those 25 years Abraham occupied the standing of a man justified by faith (Gen. 15. 6), and then when the time came for the great testing (Gen. 22), he showed his faith by his works. Thus Paul writes concerning non-Christians, and uses Gen. 15 to prove the necessity of faith; James writes to Christians, and uses Gen. 22 to prove the necessity of works and that faith must be proved by works. Paul is dealing with a legalistic spirit and against all human merit; James is against mere intellectual orthodoxy. The one deals with the instrument, the other with the fruit of justification. It has been well said that Paul and James are not two soldiers of different armies fighting against each other, but two of the same army fighting back to back, against enemies coming from two different directions.