A Primer on Justification: Part 10
November 7, 2016
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
One of the most beautiful affirmations of the biblical doctrine of justification comes from the Heidelberg Catechism, which asks, “How are you righteous before God?” (Q. 60). The answer is:
Only by true faith in Jesus Christ. In spite of the fact that my conscience accuses me that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have not kept any one of them, and that I am still ever prone to all that is evil, nevertheless, God, without any merit of my own, out of pure grace, grants me the benefits of the perfect expiation of Christ, imputing to me his righteousness and holiness as if I had never committed a single sin or had ever been sinful, having fulfilled myself all the obedience which Christ has carried out for me, if only I accept such favor with a trusting heart.
Notice that the catechism expresses justification in terms of the first person. This points us to an important truth: if justification comes through faith, then we ourselves must believe in Jesus Christ—personally and individually—to be justified. Justification is not simply a general principle about the way of salvation; it is a call to make a personal faith commitment to Christ, for without him we are doomed to be condemned. Indeed, the Bible warns that “whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18). Yet the very same verse also promises that “whoever believes in him is not condemned.” If we would be justified and not condemned, therefore, we must put our faith in Jesus Christ
For those who do believe, God’s final verdict—“righteous for all eternity”—has been brought forward into our present experience. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith,” the Scripture says, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). Our legal standing has already been decided. We can never be un-justified. We are acceptable to God right now and forever, to the glory of God. The Day of Judgment will confirm what God has already declared, that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
One man who experienced the joy of justifying faith was the poet William Cowper. Cowper had long suffered from depression, and for a time he lived in an insane asylum where conditions were appalling. Despite all his physical and psychological torments, his most acute sufferings were spiritual, for he considered himself a condemned sinner. Yet the day came when Cowper found his legal remedy in the saving message of justification by faith alone. This is the story he told:
The happy period which was to shake off my fetters and afford me a clear opening of the free mercy of God in Christ Jesus was now arrived. I flung myself into a chair near the window, and, seeing a Bible there, ventured once more to apply to it for comfort and instruction. The first verses I saw were in the third chapter of Romans: “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 manifest his righteousness.” Immediately I received strength to believe, and the full beams of the Sun of Righteousness shone on me. I saw the sufficiency of the atonement he had made, my pardon in his blood, and the fullness and completeness of his justification. In a moment I believed and received the gospel.1
This gift of righteousness is available to everyone who believes and receives the gospel. By his free grace, God offers full and complete justification on the basis of the atoning work of Jesus Christ. Everyone who has faith in Jesus Christ will be declared righteous forever at the bar of God’s eternal justice.
1 William Cowper, quoted in James Montgomery Boice, Romans, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1991), 372.
Dr. Philip Ryken serves as the president of Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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