We all want justice. We want the good guy to win and the bad guy to get what he deserves. We are rightly angry when a guilty person goes free. Our word for today addresses that issue and its biblical context.
The sixteenth century reformer Martin Luther said that justification is “the principle article of all Christian doctrine, which maketh true Christians indeed.” Justification addresses our sinfulness before a holy God by asking the question, How can sinful man be just with God? How can we be made right with the Holy One when we are in the wrong?
Justification is a legal term. Justification is all about how sinful man can be declared just or right with God. It deals with the issue of our guilt. For remember, sin is always against God. And since we are sinful we are by nature against God–we are his enemies. Therefore we cannot be right with him. We are wrong with him!
What does a judge do when he justifies an accused person? He simply declares, in his judgment, that the accused person is not guilty of the accusation but is upright in terms of the law relevant to that case. Justification is simply a declaration or pronouncement respecting a person and his or her standing concerning the law. The person who is not justified is condemned to whatever sentence is just and right.
When we speak of law, we are thinking of the law of God, his biblical standards of who is right before God. God, because he is God, is perfectly just and will be perfectly just in all his dealings (Gen. 18:25). His laws are wise provisions of a loving God to ensure that his people have the guidance that they need to live lives that please God.
Justification is not a synonym for amnesty. Amnesty is forgiveness that overlooks or forgets an offense. Justification is an act of justice. God does not ignore his just demands. He meets them head-on. He must always be just. Justifying the righteous and condemning the wicked is an abomination to God (Prov. 17:15).
Our problem is our sin. The Psalmist writes, “no one living is righteous before you.” (Psalms 143:2) How then can we be declared righteous and God still be a just God?
Justification is a declaration about a person. When God justifies sinners he is not declaring bad people to be good, or saying that they are not sinners after all; he is pronouncing them legally righteous, free from any liability to the broken law, because God himself in his Son has borne the penalty for our law breaking. This is seen clearly in Gen. 15:6 where God is said to have credited righteousness to Abram.
Justification is an objective work affecting our standing with God. At the moment of salvation we are justified by God, declared not guilty before him. It should not be confused with sanctification, which is both a declaration that we are morally holy before God and being made progressively more holy before God. Justification is our legal standing, whereas sanctification is our moral standing.
We are justified by faith alone. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1; Hab. 2:4). Scripture always speaks of our being justified by faith, or through faith, or upon faith, but not on account of faith or because of faith. Faith itself is not our righteousness, but Jesus Christ Himself is! Richard Hooker said it this way: “God doth justify the believing man, yet not for the worthiness of his belief, but for his worthiness who is believed.”
Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes, “The essence of the Christian faith is that he is good enough and I am in him.” I can never be good enough on my own to satisfy God’s just demands. Jesus has been good enough, for me, and by faith I trust his goodness for my sin. Do you understand God’s goodness for you? Think about his death on the cross on a Friday just like today, to declare you right before God, if you trust in him. Trust in Jesus for the first time today, or keep trusting him each day and worship God even more this resurrection week!