There are five means of justification: before God—by His grace, in Christ's blood, by His resurrection and through faith; and before men—by works.
The Scriptures have much to say about God's justification of those who believe on Christ as their Saviour. Let us notice some of the familiar passages which deal with this subject, one of the great doctrines relating to salvation: "Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:24); "And by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses" (Acts 13:39); "Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him" (Rom. 4:25; 5:1, 9); "Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified...Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth" (Rom. 8:30, 33); "That being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs..." (Tit. 3:7).
To "justify" means to render and regard as righteous, and this is just what takes place when God justifies a person. He pronounces the believing sinner righteous and, ever after, treats him as such. It has been said that to be justified means to be "just-as-if-I'd" never sinned. This is correct, but justification means more than this. It not only includes pardon from our sins, but it gives us a perfect and eternal standing before God. Whereas Adam, before he sinned, was innocent, we who are justified are righteous.
Righteousness, in fact, is the very thought of justification. Both words come from the same root, and to be justified simply means to be accounted righteous.
All men by nature have need of justification, "for there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not" (Eccl. 7:20). "As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one" (Rom. 3:10). Nor can man justify himself. "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His [God's] sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20). "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified" (Gal. 2:16).
No, man cannot justify himself, nor can God justify men at the expense and sacrifice of His own righteousness. How thankful we can be that He is not only "a just God," whose righteousness must be maintained and cannot be lowered, He is also "a Saviour" (Isa. 45:21)! It is because of this that He can justify guilty sinners, such as all of us are by nature and practice. "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on Him [Christ] the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:6).
Before God could pronounce sinners righteous, the sin question had to be settled; and it was settled at Calvary. "For He [God] hath made Him to be sin for us, Who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (II Cor. 5:21). "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" (Rom. 3:24-26).
Therefore, because God, who is "of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look upon iniquity" (Hab. 1:13), has maintained His righteousness absolutely by laying all sin on His Son at the cross, He is now free to give His very own righteousness to those who accept His Son. A holy God can now pronounce guilty sinners righteous. "But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness" (Rom. 4:5).
Justification, then, gives us a perfect and unchangeable standing before God. The justified sinner stands before God in Christ "who of God is made unto us...righteousness" (I Cor. 1:30).
God's Word presents five aspects of justification. First, as already mentioned, we are justified by grace: "Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:24). Justification, like all the other and precious things connected with our salvation, is by grace and is, therefore, given without works or merit of any kind. "Being justified freely [giftwise] by His grace."
Originating in God's grace, our justification was procured by the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ "whom God 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" (Rom. 3:25,26).
Paul preached to the Jews in the synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia about the Lord Jesus, that "when they had fulfilled all that was written of Him, they took Him down from the tree, and laid Him in a sepulchre" (Acts 13:29). He had laid down His life for us; His blood had been shed, "and by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the Law of Moses" (vs. 39).
Our justification is guaranteed by our Saviour's resurrection "who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification" (Rom. 4:25). The Gospel message itself, by which men are saved (Rom. 1:16), not only tells us "how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried," but also "that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures" (I Cor 15:3, 4).
His resurrection from the dead shows us that His atoning work on the cross was acceptable to God, and it also assures us that our standing is in the resurrected and glorified Christ, who sits at the Father's right hand. "God...raised Him up from the dead, and gave Him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God" (I Pet. 1:21).
This marvelous justification, originating in God's grace, procured by the death of the Lord Jesus, and guaranteed by His resurrection, becomes ours by faith in Him and His finished work. "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:1). How simple, and how much like our God who, having declared that "there is none righteous, no, not one," and that "by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight," tells us further that "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" (Rom. 3:10, 20-22). So, "to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness" (Rom. 4:5).
Lastly, our justification is manifested by works. "Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only" (Jas. 2:21-24).
When James writes thus of justification by works, he is not speaking of justification before God, which is by faith alone, but of justification before men. He is speaking of that aspect of justification which can be seen. "Seest thou how faith wrought with his works?" he says of Abraham. "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." It is by good works that we manifest to men the fact that we are the Lord's. They may disregard our testimony by word but they cannot help but see our testimony by life.
In summary, justification (which is altogether the work of God) gives us a perfect standing: "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" (II Cor. 5:21), "who of God is made unto us… righteousness" (I Cor. 1:30). We who have believed stand before God in Christ, "to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved" (Eph. 1:6). "As He is, so are we in this world" (I John 4:17).
Justification also provides a perfect peace between God and the believer. "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5: 1). It gives us, too, a perfect access into God's presence: "By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Rom. 5:2); and a perfect security and a perfect protection from all charges that could be brought against us: "Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified…Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth" (Rom. 8:30, 33).
Justification is a judicial thing. The sinner comes into God's courtroom with all the guilt of inherent and practiced sin upon him. By virtue of his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, God pronounces him righteous and will henceforth treat him as such, as a member of the family of God. As we contemplate such grace, we can but cry out in adoration and praise: "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31).
Copied for WholesomeWords.org from Great Doctrines Relating to Salvation by John B. Marchbanks. Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1970. Chapter 5.
Selections from Great Doctrines Relating to Salvation