Back to top

The Reformation Herald Online Edition

No Ordinary Man

Justification by Faith
What is justification?

Justification is the divine act of declaring sinners to be righteous on account of their faith in Jesus. The Lord paid the price for the sins of the whole world completely and finally on the cross, and those who accept Him by faith are forgiven (see Romans 3:21; 4:5; 5:1).

“The Greek noun for justification is derived from the Greek verb dikaioo , meaning to acquit' or to declare righteous' (used by Paul in Rom 4:2, 5; 5:1). It is a legal term used of a favorable verdict in a trial.” 1

“Justification is wholly of grace and not procured by any works that fallen man can do.” 2

“In [Christ] is our hope, our justification, our righteousness.” 3

“The repentant soul realizes that his justification comes because Christ, as his Substitute and Surety, has died for him, is his atonement and righteousness.” 4

“As the penitent sinner, contrite before God, discerns Christ's atonement in his behalf and accepts this atonement as his only hope in this life and the future life, his sins are pardoned. This is justification by faith. . . .

“Pardon and justification are one and the same thing. Through faith, the believer passes from the position of a rebel, a child of sin and Satan, to the position of a loyal subject of Christ Jesus, not because of an inherent goodness, but because Christ receives him as His child by adoption. The sinner receives the forgiveness of his sins, because these sins are borne by his Substitute and Surety. The Lord speaks to His heavenly Father, saying: This is My child, I reprieve him from the condemnation of death, giving him My life insurance policy - eternal life - because I have taken his place and have suffered for his sins. He is even My beloved son.' Thus man, pardoned, and clothed with the beautiful garments of Christ's righteousness, stands faultless before God. . . .

“Justification is the opposite of condemnation. God's boundless mercy is exercised toward those who are wholly undeserving. He forgives transgressions and sins for the sake of Jesus, who has become the propitiation for our sins. Through faith in Christ, the guilty transgressor is brought into favor with God and into the strong hope of life eternal.” 5

What is faith?

“'Belief, trust'; faith is the means by which sinful people can experience and enjoy all the blessings of salvation. It is a complete trust in Jesus for salvation from sin and coming judgment.” 6

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

“Faith is the clasping of the hand of Christ in every emergency.” 7

“Saving faith is a transaction by which those who receive Christ join themselves in covenant relation with God. Genuine faith is life. A living faith means an increase of vigor, a confiding trust, by which the soul becomes a conquering power.” 8

“Faith is trusting God - believing that He loves us and knows best what is for our good. Thus, instead of our own, it leads us to choose His way. In place of our ignorance, it accepts His wisdom; in place of our weakness, His strength; in place of our sinfulness, His righteousness. Our lives, ourselves, are already His; faith acknowledges His ownership and accepts its blessing. Truth, uprightness, purity, have been pointed out as secrets of life's success. It is faith that puts us in possession of these principles.” 9

What does the Bible say about justification by faith?

Let us quote some Bible portions about the theme in the Old and New Testaments.

Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord said that “we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isaiah 64:6). The prophet uses the expression “filthy rags” referring to garments stained during menstruation. We should take very seriously this declaration. This Bible verse says that “we are all as an unclean thing,” and there is no exception.

The apostle Paul in his epistle to the Christians in Rome wrote:

“What then? Are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood: destruction and misery are in their ways: and the way of peace have they not known: there is no fear of God before their eyes. Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Romans 3:9-19).

After describing the condition of men and women, Paul affirms: “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (verse 20).

The law of God is a perfect reflection of God's character and His character is righteous. Then, to be considered righteous before God, we need to be in perfect harmony with His law. On the other hand, Paul declares that no one will be considered righteous by the deeds of the law, because the purpose of the law is not to justify sinful man but to reveal his true spiritual condition. In other words, we cannot be justified or be considered righteous by obeying God's law. “We do not earn salvation by our obedience.” 10

But the Bible speaks about several people that were known as “righteous men.” Let us mention some of them:

Abel : “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous” (Hebrews 11:4).

Enoch : “Before his translation [Enoch] had this testimony, that he pleased God” (verse 5).

Noah : “[He] became heir of the righteousness which is by faith” (verse 7).

Abraham : “What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Romans 4:1-3). What “scripture” is Paul talking about?

In Genesis 15, we find the following dialogue between the Lord and Abram:

“Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. And Abram said, Lord God, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir. And, behold, the word of the Lord came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (verses 1-6). The faith of Abram in the promises of the Lord was accounted righteousness in his behalf.

Did Abram commit any sin or mistake after being declared righteous by the Lord? What happened when he “journeyed from thence toward the south country, and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur, and sojourned in Gerar”?

“And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister: and Abimelech king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah. But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, Behold, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man's wife” (Genesis 20:1-3).

When questioned by Abimelech about the reason of his deception, Abraham explained: “Because I thought, Surely the fear of God is not in this place; and they will slay me for my wife's sake. And yet indeed she is my sister; she is the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife” (verses 11 and 12).

This fact demonstrates that when a person is justified he or she is still subject to the weakness of sinful humanity. As a matter of fact, Abraham had this weak point in his character. Before this problem in Gerar, he had committed the same mistake in Egypt. (See Genesis 12:10-20.)

How about Noah? “Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:9). The whole life of Noah, his willing obedience to the instructions of the Lord in spite of the opposition of the whole world, proved him to be an “heir of righteousness.” But he was not free from the frailties of human beings. After the Flood, he also committed a serious mistake when he became drunk “and became uncovered in his tent.”

The reason why men and women cannot be justified by their obedience or good works is because they are sinners; they have sinful natures and sinful tendencies. Being sinners, they cannot produce righteous acts of obedience.

Jesus said in plain words that the condition to enter into the kingdom of God is possessing a “righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees” (Matthew 5:20). God demands much more than this.

How can we possess the righteousness that satisfies God's standard?

Paul answers this vital question with the following words: “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:21-28).

We should stress some essential points contained in this scripture:

The righteousness of God (the only true righteousness) has been revealed apart from the law, being witnessed by the law and the prophets. Who revealed the righteousness of God to the world? Jesus Christ in His life and His death on the cross of Calvary. Since Christ, being God, is the Source of the true righteousness, only He could reveal the perfect righteousness of God. And the law declares that His righteousness is perfect. It is the only righteousness that satisfies the demands of the law. This righteousness is offered to all who believe, and it can be received only by faith in Jesus Christ.

In verse 23 Paul declares that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Then all the world is in need of justification.

Verse 24 says that we are justified freely by His grace. There is no other way.

Verse 26 reads: “That [God] might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” This is indeed a powerful scripture, and we should spend some time on it. How can God be just and, at the same time, justify repentant sinners who believe in Jesus? By faith in Jesus, the confessed sins are transferred to Him, and His perfect righteousness is credited to the account of the sinner. In this way he or she is considered a righteous person.

Paul concludes his explanation about justification in verse 28, when he declares: “We conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”

Romans chapter 3 is closed with this powerful declaration: “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law” (verse 31).

We are not saved by our obedience to the law, but we are saved from the disobedience to the law. The angel Gabriel said to Joseph about Jesus: “Thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

According to many scriptures quoted so far, faith is the key element in justification. But we should keep in mind that faith is not a human byproduct. Faith is a gift of God. “So they faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1, NKJV).

Imputed righteousness

The apostle Paul starts chapter 4 of Romans with an interesting question: “What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.” And he continues his reasoning: “For what does the Scripture say? Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (verse 1-4, NKJV).

Paul makes it clear that the only way we can be justified before God is by faith. Let us continue reading Romans 4: “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt” (verse 4). In other words, if we work during a whole month, and at the end receive a salary, this money is not the result of grace but of works. But if at the end of the month, without working, we receive wages, these are given totally by grace, because we did not deserve them.

“But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin'” (verses 5-8, NKJV).

David's personal experience

The verses quoted by Paul in Romans 4 are found also in Psalm 32. “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.” And then David identifies himself as that man: “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. I acknowledge my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.” (verses 1-5).

Whose sins is David talking about? He is acknowledging the terrible sins that he committed against the Lord as recorded in 2 Samuel 11. He committed adultery with Bathsheba and murder against her husband. How could David be justified? How could the Lord not impute sin to David? He said: “ I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.” When David acknowledged and confessed His sin he was forgiven or justified. How could this be?

“To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:19-21).

Why was David's sin not imputed to him? Why was he justified? Though he was a great sinner, when he acknowledged his transgression his sin was transferred to Christ, the pure Lamb of God, in whom there was no sin. In other words, our sins, through heartfelt confession, are imputed to Christ, who knew no sin, and His perfect righteousness is imputed to us, who knew no righteousness. A wonderful transaction!

What did David do to be justified? He believed in his Substitute, the sin-bearer; he repented of his sin and confessed it to the Lord. This is the only way that sinners can be justified.

1 From Nelson's NKJV Study Bible. © Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1997. Used by permission.
2 Faith and Works, p. 20.
3 Ibid., p.36.
4 Ibid., p.101.
5 Ibid., pp.103, 104.
6 From Nelson's NKJV Study Bible, © Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1997. Used by permission.
7 Gospel Workers, p. 262.
8 The Desire of Ages, p. 347.
9 Education, p. 253.
10 Steps to Christ, p. 61.