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| Chapter 6 |
Not Guilty – Justification
We have learned thus far about God’s plan to save sinners. To review, lets briefly go through the steps:
1) All of Mankind are sinners
2) Due to sin, we are disqualified to be in front of God’s presence thus putting us into condemnation
3) However, God chose certain people to be saved.
4) Jesus Christ comes to the world and died on the cross to provide the atonement for the sins (only for those that are chosen)
5) The Holy Spirit works in the hearts (chosen people) and renews them spiritually and leads them to repentance and faith.
After, this step where are we left with? To simply put it, we are now right with God. This is where the word “justification” is put into play. What does it mean to be justified? Well, Fellows gives us a straightforward definition, “To be justified is to be declared righteous; to be accounted upright”. Whenever we hear the word “justification” we generally think of court or when we’re using a legal term. So when we think of justification in a legal standpoint we can apply the same reasoning in the case of God and us. For instance, a person commits a crime. After the evidence is investigated, the person is either found guilty and condemned or declared not guilty and justified. If the person is found guilty, then a suitable punishment is given. If someone is justified, then no punishment or guilt is brought upon that person. We have broken God’s laws. Thus, we are found guilty before God. However, those that believe in Jesus Christ are justified before God and are viewed as not guilty. Isn’t that amazing? Job asks “…How can a mortal be righteous before God?” (Job 9:2). How can we “sinners” be seen as righteous before God? Is it possible? In God’s justice, he must punish sin. If it were left up to us, we would be in a daunting condition. We are in terrible need of justification because the only other option would be being condemned to eternity in hell.
The nature of justification
Paul says “Therefore my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39). This verse shows us that justification is associated with forgiveness. Because, we are guilty sinners we are in need of forgiveness. Fellows says “Our sins must be removed from the divine record. By faith they are.” God forgives us for ALL of our sins. Like the woman who wept in repentance, Jesus said “…Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48). In Micah 7:19 it says “They are hurled into the depths of the sea”. In Isaiah 38:17 it says “They are put behind God’s back”. In Jeremiah 31:34 it says “They are remembered no more”. In the Old Testament defines forgiveness as “picked up and carried away”. Fellows shares a great story with us about a man named John Bunyan in the Pilgrims Progress. It gives us a visual of what removing of the sin may look like:
“The main character, Christian, has been carrying a great bundle or burden on his back – a picture of his sin. He tries several ways to get rid of it and even follows back advice from some, but all to no avail. Finally he comes to the cross where the bundle falls off by itself, rolls down a hill and into a tomb. What a relief he feels! How he weeps for joy!”
The joy that we feel is because all of our sins (past, present and future) are completely vanished – forever. God looks at us as if we haven’t sinned at all and as if we had kept the laws perfect our whole lives.
The ground of justification
The death of Jesus Christ atones our sins and grants forgiveness for us. He is the main reason why we are able to attribute “perfect righteousness”. But there is also something else about Christ’s work that isn’t spoken about frequently. That is his righteousness that is given to us. It says this specifically in 2Corinthinans 5:21 and Romans 5:19,
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”.
“For as just through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous”.
In the first verse it explains how our sin has been implicated to Christ when he died, and Christ righteousness has been implicated to us when we believed. The second verse shows us how Adam’s sin made his race sinners and Christ obedience gained his race righteousness. Why did Jesus have to be sinless?
1) Firstly, Christ had to be sinless in order to show that he was God. If he were to have sinned then he wouldn’t have been able to claim that he was divine.
2) He had to be sinless in order to be eligible as our “sin bearer”. If Christ had sins of his own, then he too must be punished for his sins and thus being unable to die for ours. If we refer back to the Old Testament, whenever an animal was sacrificed it had to be without any faults or defects. We can compare this to Jesus (Exodus 12:5, Lev 1:3).
3) Jesus had to be perfect in order for us to gain righteousness. Because we broke God’s laws, he followed them on our behalf.
Theologians refer to Christ’s death on the cross and his perfect obedience of God’s laws as “passive and active obedience”. His passive obedience was shown on the cross. His active obedience was shown through his daily life as he kept God’s commandments. Due to Christ’s passive obedience we are forgiven and because of his active obedience we are acknowledged as righteous. The fact that God views us as if we never sinned is astonishing. He sees us perfectly righteous in Christ.
The means of justification
It is by faith that we are justified. In Romans 3:22 it says “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe”. This can be seen not only in the New Testament but also throughout the Old Testament. We can see in the case of Abraham and David (Romans 4:1-3, 6-8). Many of people have tried to fight the Protestant Reformation because of this issue of how a person is justified before God. However, Reformers like Luther, Calvin and Knox have maintained that “justification was by faith and faith alone”. As always we can refer back to the Bible and clarify this, by looking at Romans 3:28 ,
“For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law”.
The fruit of justification
The doctrine of justification should affect the way we live our lives. Fellows says “This is true of every doctrine of the Christian faith, and this doctrine in particular should have a profound effect on us”, Some of the changes are :
1) “It should fill us with gratitude” Although we deserved eternal punishment, God has had mercy on us. He not only forgave us but made us righteous in his sight; There shouldn’t be a day that goes by where we don’t give him thanks and praise him for the wonderful gift.
2) “It should give us peace” Many people search for this “peace of mind”. However, for us it is much easier because we know that God has turned his wrath from us and forgave us for our sins. Paul says this in Romans 5:11 “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”.
3) “It should give us joy” To know that we are righteous in God’s eyes and that one day we will dwell with Him in heaven should bring us the ultimate joy. Nothing can take away our blessings or separate us from God’s love.
4) “It should give us assurance” John says “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). Fellows makes it a point to clarify the difference between “faith” and “hope”. Many people “hope” that they are going to heaven. However, John tells us that we can “know” that we have eternal life.
5) “The doctrine of justification should make us holy” The topic of holiness or sanctification will be talked about more in chapter 8, but for now we should know that because we are right with God it should make us want to please God. The reason why it is so hard to live a life of obedience is because of the lack of motivation. Unless we are converted, we do not have the Holy Spirit to help us. Which means that we do not have the right motivation. As believers we keep God’s commandments to please Him because He saved us. Fellow says,
“Justification, rightly understood, will make us grateful, assured, joyful obedient Christians”
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