Justification by Faith
The Straightening of Us Sinners for God's Kingdom
SIN HAS CORRUPTED EVERY PERSON on the face of the earth. No religion or secular culture has succeeded in restraining its spread. Sooner or later it comes out in everyone like a caged animal waiting for its door of opportunity. Solomon stated it well when he said, For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not--Eccl 7:20.
It is because of our sin that God's grace is called to work. Sinners who try to withstand the judgment handed down by God's Word, and make out that they are not as bad as others, shut themselves out from His grace. They find no meaning in those wonderful words Paul gives us in his Epistle to the Romans--justification, redemption, propitiation, remission, or atonement.
On the other hand, the person who sees he or she is a sinner to the core finds wonderful relief in the redemption offered through Christ and the justification that follows. The propitiation of sins and their remission becomes marvelous. Atonement becomes real and the soul is reconciled with God.
So, it's to our human lostness that the marvel of salvation flies. To us who are sinners, what those above words say and mean brings a powerful hope. They shut no one out from God's offer of grace. This is one of the greatest marvels of their power.
To see the words in their setting, we look at this statement from Paul's Epistle to the Romans.
21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets;
22 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:
23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
24 Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
25 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... (There's more. We'll look at it later.)
There they are. What beautiful words! Like we sometimes sing, they're "words of life and beauty." Here they are laid out for those who have sinned and come short of the glory of God. They're not words for good people.
They're not words for souls working to obtain their salvation. They're not words for those keeping resolutions and subscribing to doctrine so they can call themselves Christians. They're not for those who think they're Christians because they were born into a "Christian" family. They're not words for those who suppose they're Christians because they've joined a church. They are simply words for sinners who are willing to repent and place their trust in the Lord Jesus.
JUSTIFICATION IS THE WORD we're taken up with in this article. We draw it from being justified freely by His grace in verse 24 above. It means being made right before God, as well as right within one's self.
Printers use the word "justify" to speak of bringing the right margin of a column of print into a straight line. They do this by placing varying amounts of space between words and letters so that each line becomes the same length. (As you look at this column of print, you see we have not justified the right margin.) The justification of a sinner, however, is much more than the justification of a column of print.
The justification of a sinner goes right to the crookedness of a life and brings about an actual straightening of the inner man so there is no need to place blank spaces in a soul to make it appear straight. A justified soul becomes real in every part. A genuine person emerges with no need for religious cover-up. In fact, open honesty is one of the greatest values coming with justification.
Justification works in two directions--one, before God, and two, in the heart of man. First, it makes a sinner legally right with God. This is an instant work. It takes place as soon as a soul turns to the Lord. When a repenting and believing sinner receives Jesus as Savior, he or she becomes just as right before God as Christ Himself is. God accepts Christ's righteousness in place of the unrighteousness of the sinner.
Paul laid this out in II Cor 5:21-- 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.
This is The Grand Exchange. Christ Jesus Who knew no sin received on Himself the sin of the human race, took its penalty, and offers now His righteousness to those who trust Him. This is the bedrock foundation for justification.
Righteousness in the above verse is from the same word in the Greek New Testament as justification. They both point to our being legally exact before God, without one hint of judgment against us. Paul made this even more clear in I Cor 1:30--But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, Who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. (Again, righteousness is the same as justification.) What a powerful list of four in this verse! The instant Christ enters our life, they become ours to know and to grow in.
AFTER JUSTIFICATION has done its initial work, it turns inward to straighten our inner man. This can go on for a lifetime as it reaches all the way into the sinful inclinations of our souls, even those we've inherited through our family lines. It lays hold on our way of thinking and responding. It reaches into the dark parts of our soul and brings a light that, instead of frightening us, exposes the trash dumped there and provokes its removal.
There is a reason why justification goes on for years. It is because any one of us can see only a part of sin's dreadful hold when conviction first strikes. No person knows the extent of his sinfulness upon first believing. As we grow in relationship with Christ, the exceeding sinfulness of our sin increases, repentance deepens, and justification works further. Early repentance generally is slight compared with that coming later.
There is a miracle in justification. It is the impartation of divine life. The inward parts of every one of us are so deformed we, alone, can never straighten ourselves. The Lord comes in to do the work. He gives something out of His nature to work its way into us. Marvelously, this enters into every part of us and becomes the real secret behind inward righteousness.
Peter spoke of this kind of righteousness when he said, His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him That hath called us to glory and virtue: whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust--II Pet 1:3,4.
This passage is powerful! Every word in it points to the work justification will do in us. Its work comes out of His divine power. It cannot be accomplished by any other power--not even that of a powerful commitment to a religious movement. Its work is given unto us. We cannot earn it or buy it. Its work reaches all things that pertain to life and godliness. No area of life is left untouched by it.
Justification comes about through the knowledge of Him That hath called us. The Greek word Peter used for knowledge needs to be translated a little stronger. It's epignósis and is better translated "acknowledgment." We can have all the knowledge in the world, but it is when we acknowledge Him that His divine power takes over and does its work in us. This is like knowing He's at the door, opening it, and inviting Him in.
God has given us exceeding great and precious promises to bring us forward in our justification. The Bible is so full of these promises it must take a lifetime to discover them. Even after years, those promises we've known the longest still come upon us like new and shining gems first discovered.
The promises God has given us reach toward our becoming partakers of the divine nature. This is the heart of justification. It's not producing something right and pure out of our own doing. Such a corruption has taken hold of us that only the infusion of His divine nature can overcome it and make us right.
WHAT DOES A SINNER DO for justification to begin its work? Paul laid out the answer clearly when he said, I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks (the "Gentiles'), repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ--Acts 20:20,21. This is for everybody--no race or culture excluded. We see the two simple steps revealing the beginning of justification--REPENTANCE toward God and FAITH toward out Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance is the changing of our mind about ourselves and admitting our failure. Faith is the moving of our soul into a relationship with Jesus Christ.
There are three kinds of sinners who need to repent: • those who think their sin is not bad, • those who think their sin is too bad, and • those who give little thought to their sin. Both the Law of God and the conviction of the Holy Spirit bring everyone to the same level. Then, repentance brings everyone to the same ground before God. Repentance makes us say, "I am a sinner and I am sorry for my sin." Faith then takes over. It comes as a gift from God to the repentant sinner.
For some souls, faith is a foreign thing and there is little to which they can relate it. The earliest idea of its meaning came to me in a story I heard years ago about a father standing at the bottom of a wall telling his little son to jump into his arms. The son jumped and the father caught him. He jumped because he had faith in his father.
I learned more about faith from the story of a missionary laboring at translating the Scriptures into a new language. He found there was no word for "faith" or "believe" in the language with which he was working. Baffled at how to translate even John 3:16, he prayed and waited. One day a native person came running into the missionary's hut and fell nearly exhausted into a big chair. He exclaimed in his language something that meant: "How good it is to lean my whole weight on this chair!"
The missionary jumped up rejoicing. He had it! He had his word for "believe." Into that language he put the verse saying: For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever LEANS HIS WHOLE WEIGHT ON Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
What else works to bring about justification?
• There is the Word of God with its cleansing and justifying power.
Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to Thy Word--Ps 119:9. I learned this years ago and still find there is nothing so cleansing to my own soul as a daily "bath" in the Word of God--sometimes a long soaking bath.
• There is the cross with its power to put sin to death and make us alive and just in Christ.
For in that He (Jesus) died, He died unto sin once: but in that He liveth, He liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord--Rom 6:10.11. There is no more powerful statement for our justification than this. The word reckon is the key.
• There is the healing work of justification that comes through the fellowship of believers.
Confess your faults one to another; and pray one for another; that ye may be healed…--Jas 5: 16a. What a powerful effect this can have in a life! It is one of the main benefits of being in a fellowship.
• There is the cleansing and justification that comes from confessing our sins to God.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness--I John 1:9. We never let go of this.
We can't fully describe justification in this brief article any more than we can describe the sin of every person in the world. But we can say this: There is no person outside the reach of God's grace and its power to bring the justification of life to everyone.
JUSTIFICATION HAS IN IT a powerful element of mercy. This is not a sympathetic thing letting a sinner slip by with crookedness. It's a mercy that is unrelenting in its determination to bring righteousness into the inner man of every believer. Mercy works to make a soul right in every area of life and will not give up till this work is done.
God's mercy uses things that happen to us to help work justification in us. Some persons have difficulty allowing things that happen in their lives to work toward their good. When it comes to understanding what is happening to them, they cannot distinguish whether it is a work of Satan, the judgment of God, the work of someone opposing them, or an accident of nature. But to those of us committed to the Kingdom of Christ, any of these can become instruments of straightening--tools of mercy--to work righteousness in our inner man. This can make anything that happens to us an ultimate cause for rejoicing. It is particularly interesting to see something brought on by Satan actually working in a believer to make him or her more right and pure for the Kingdom of Christ.
A psalmist had understanding regarding this matter and made three statements that are of immense help to us who sometimes face affliction.
• Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now have I kept Thy Word Ps 119:67
• It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn Thy statues Ps 119:71
• I know, 0 Lord, that Thy judgments are right, and that Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me. Ps 119:75
Those of us who are in this wonderful justification process don't have to fear anything that might come. We learn, over and over, that it all works out to our good. Rom 8:28 remains a reality to us.
Why is justification to be desired, even if it must come through affliction? Because the crookedness of sin brings death. Those who continue with it reigning in their lives suffer now--and will suffer forever--its deadening effects. It separates us from the awareness of God. It makes us center upon ourselves. It works in us to do harm to others. It dulls our conscience and makes us not care about consequences. At the same time it leads us into situations that create remorse. It is the cause behind much physical sickness. It attracts seducing spirits.
On we could go telling of the degrading ways of sin. Because of all this, justification is to be desired. It can reach into the soul of every person, wrench loose all the sin, and straighten the crookedness that has come because of it.
BECAUSE OF PAUL'S BACKGROUND as a Jew, he struggled with the Law of Moses and the righteousness it demanded. His attempt to gain right standing with God through the Law was vain. The Law only revealed his sinfulness and demanded more than he could attain. This forced him to say, And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death--Rom 7:10.
Paul did find the value of the Law, however. It revealed the sinfulness of his nature and crowded him to the only hope available for him--the righteousness of Jesus Christ, Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification--Rom 4:25.
But what about those who have little concern for the Law of Moses and its righteous demands? What crowds them to the place of justification? This is a work of the Holy Spirit. He convicts souls of the sinfulness of sin. The soul was not made for sin; it was made for the righteous ways of God. Therefore, when the Holy Spirit moves in, the desire for an inner man free from sin comes with Him.
When the conviction of the Holy Spirit is mingled with the Word of the Gospel, it produces faith. This is what reaches out and receives the miracle of justification. The Holy Spirit invades the human spirit and a new life of righteousness begins. Things demanded by the Law and beyond the reach of sinners become the normal way of response and life.
The Holy Spirit, on entering one's inner man, works righteousness even when the Law of Moses is not known. Paul spoke of this in Rom 3:21a,22a when he said, But now the righteousness of God without the Law (or apart from any law) is manifested. This is the righteousness of God which is by faith in Jesus Christ.
Well now, we shouldn't say there is no law involved here at all. There actually enters a new law. Paul called it the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. This is from Rom 8. It's a matter so powerful and grand we can never write all that could be written about it. Maybe we'll try to say some things in a later article, but you can begin now knowing its work because it is made effectual in us by the Holy Spirit.
NOW HERE is one of the most powerful things about justification. It reaches into all of our crookedness and makes of us something straight and beautiful for God's Kingdom. This is wonderful. Some of us have been so ruined there could never be anything at all good in us were it not for the grace that brings us into His Kingdom. This grace is making a people who speak of the glory of His kingdom, and talk of His power (Ps 145:11). It's making a people who understand what it means to become a new creature (II Cor 5:17).
This brings us to the point of something so powerful it never ceases releasing its energy unto us. Paul had reference to all this when he said, For I am not ashamed of THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith (a process begun by faith and continued by faith): as it is written, The just shall live by faith (Rom 1:1,6,17).
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