Justified by Grace
One of the greatest, and certainly the most fundamental, of all the blessings of salvation that are bestowed upon us through our Lord Jesus Christ by grace is that of justification.
In general, we may say that justification is the act of God whereby we become righteous before Him. It means that we stand before the judgment seat of God, as we always do; that God judges us, as He always does; that He applies the perfect standard of His holy will to us, to our being and nature, to our life and walk; that He expresses His verdict upon us, and that this verdict declares us free from all sin and guilt and perfectly righteous, so righteous as if we had never had any sin, as if we had always perfectly kept His every commandment. It also means that He inscribes that verdict by which He declares us righteous in our very hearts, so that we are conscious of it, are assured of our righteousness before God. This gift of grace is so fundamental and all important because it is the key to all other blessings of grace. For God loves the righteous, and He hates all the workers of iniquity. He cannot look with favor upon the ungodly. If, then, we are to become the objects of His loving kindness, it is prerequisite that we are righteous. And the possession and consciousness of this righteousness fills us with unspeakable joy and with a great and profound peace. "Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord will not impute sin." (Romans 4:6-8) And again:"Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 5: 1)
The wonder of this justification is that at the very moment when God declares us righteous, we are very really sinners, worthy of damnation in ourselves, and that of this we are deeply conscious. The believer who receives this grace of justification is a justified sinner. For "to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." (Romans 4: 5) That is the great marvel of it.
It is very important that we clearly understand this. The justified sinner is not one who formerly was ungodly and therefore was the object of God's condemnation, but who has reformed, converted himself, become godly, pious, religious, and who now appears in the judgment of God with his new piety and good works, and on the basis of them is declared righteous. Not at all! The contrary is true. The justified sinner is very really a sinner in himself, and as such he appears in the moment of justification before the tribunal of God. He is an enemy of God. His nature is corrupt, and there is no good in him at all. He is wholly inclined to all evil. He has transgressed all the commandments of God and kept none of them. Yea, what is worse, at the very moment when he stands before the judgment seat of God, he sins and violates God's precepts. And he knows this. He carries the testimony in his own conscience that he is a sinner, worthy of damnation; that he is inclined to all evil and incapable of doing any good; that he trampled God's holy law under foot, and that even now, as he stands before God's holy judgment seat, he continues to transgress. He is deeply conscious of the fact that if God will enter into judgment with him and deal with him according to his nature and deserts, he cannot stand for a moment, but must expect that he will be sentenced to eternal damnation. All he can do, and even that he cannot and will not do of himself, is to cry out, "God be merciful to me, a sinner!" And the marvel of justification is that this sinner, who has nothing to bring before God but corruption and rebellion, is declared righteous before God, and hears the verdict that he has no sin, that all his sins are blotted out and forgiven, that he is clothed with a righteousness that makes him worthy of eternal life and glory. He is justified by grace!
Such is the clear teaching of Scripture. "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." (Romans 3 :23, 24) The sinner receives a righteousness that is not his own, but wholly of God, and that is given him, imputed to him, reckoned to him by grace. For, "by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. 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." (Romans 3 :20-22) All boasting is excluded, for "a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." (Romans 3 :28) And even "as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." (Romans 5:18, 19) From all this it is abundantly evident that God is revealed as the God Who justifies the ungodly, and that the sinner is made righteous by a righteousness which is of God, without any works of righteousness on his part whatever.
But here several questions arise. The first of these is: how is it possible that God can justify the unjust? How can He pronounce a sentence of justification upon him who is guilty and corrupt? Does not Scripture teach everywhere that God is righteous and just, and that He will by no means clear the guilty? How then is it possible to believe in God as the God Who justifies the ungodly?
The answer of the Word of God is: through Jesus Christ our Lord. We are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. The righteousness that is ours through the grace of justification is by faith of Jesus Christ. It is in Christ that God revealed Himself as the God Who justifies the ungodly. Christ is the righteous one. In Him there is a righteousness that is so great and mighty that it blots out all our sins and clothes us with an eternal righteousness, makes us worthy of eternal life. In the judgment of God Christ took our place. He assumed full responsibility for us. All our sins He took upon Himself, and He bore them away for ever. For He not merely suffered the punishment for the sins of His own; but in suffering the wrath of God He was perfectly obedient, even unto the death of the cross. His death was an act. He laid down His life. He sacrificed Himself. Voluntarily, motivated by the love of God, He went down into lowest hell, that there He might bear the wrath of God against sin. And thus He satisfied the justice of God. He made an atonement. He removed the guilt of sin and merited eternal righteousness. And God justified Him and pronounced the verdict of perfect righteousness upon Him, when He raised Him from the dead and gave Him everlasting glory and immortality. In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead God revealed Himself as the God Who justifies the ungodly. And if we believe on Him, we receive by that faith the sentence of God's justification in our hearts. For this righteousness of Christ is imputed to all those for whom Christ died and was raised, so that we are as perfectly righteous before God as if we ourselves had performed that act of obedience on the cross which Christ performed for us. And by faith we lay hold upon this verdict of justification, so that we know that even though all things testify against us in this world of sin and death, we are righteous before God and heirs of eternal life.
But another question arises here. How can the righteousness of Christ be reckoned as ours? Or how could, in the justice of God, Christ die for our sins? Do we not rather meet here with a double injustice, namely, that the righteous is punished, and the guilty is acquitted? If in a worldly court one is found guilty of murder, would a judge inflict capital punishment upon another instead of the guilty one, even though that other would voluntarily offer himself to take the murderer's place? Would that not be considered a double perversion of justice? Moreover, how can the death and obedience of the one be the righteousness of countless sinners?
But here we must remember that Christ is not merely another man, but He is the Son of God come into the flesh. No mere man has a life to substitute for another's: for his life is not his own, and, besides, he is himself a sinner under sentence of death. But Christ is the Son of God, very God Himself, Who took our flesh and blood upon Himself voluntarily. He became man by an act of His own will. He had power to lay down His life for others, if He so pleased. And before the world was, He had been appointed the Head of all the elect, so that He represented them and was responsible for them. By God's eternal decree of election they are one body, one legal corporation, represented by Christ Who is their Head. Christ, therefore, can be summoned before the bar of God's judgment and appear there for all His own, assume responsibility for them, take all their guilt upon Himself, and pay for their sins by an act of perfect obedience on His part. And again, because He is not a mere man, but the Son of God in the flesh, His death is of immeasurable value, infinitely precious, capable of blotting out the sins of all His own and of procuring for them eternal righteousness and everlasting life and glory. This, then, is the marvelous grace of God in justifying the ungodly. He Himself came down to us, assumed our human nature, and in that human nature assumed responsibility for our sins, became obedient unto death, yea unto the death of the cross, thus blotting out the handwriting of our sins that was against us. In Christ He is the God Who justifies the ungodly. By grace are ye saved!
You say, perhaps, that we must believe in order to be justified before God, and that, therefore, it is faith that makes us righteous before God. And it is true enough that we are justified by faith only. He that believeth on Him Who justifies the ungodly is righteous, and he only. And that means that we must believe on God as He revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, crucified and raised from the dead. For this righteousness is imputed to us "if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead." (Romans 4:24) There is no other way than that of faith to become righteous before God. We must try no other way. All our good works are but filthy works. All our own goodness and piety, our very religiousness and the very best of our religious acts must be utterly discar~ed as a ground of righteousness; and we must come before God as naked sinners, but believing on God Who justifieth the ungodly, if we would obtain righteousness and life. By faith we are justified. But let us beware, lest we make of faith another good work on our part on the ground of which we are justified. Faith is not the ground of our justification. We are not justified because we believe. Nor are we justified by faith because through faith we become holy and capable of doing good works. Christ crucified and raised is the only ground of our righteousness. And faith is only the means whereby we are united with Christ and the spiritual power whereby we lay hold on this righteousness, so that we know and wholly rely on God Who justifieth the ungodly.
Besides, let us not forget that faith itself is a gift of God. No man can or will of himself accept Christ and believe on God Who raised Him from the dead. God through Christ by His Spirit works within our hearts the justifying faith. And so it is all of grace. By grace God came down to us in our sin and death, and in the Person of His only begotten Son assumed our flesh and blood. By grace Christ died for our sins on the accursed tree and was raised on the third day for our justification. By grace God chose us and ordained us to eternal righteousness and life in Christ before the foundation of the world. And by grace He gives to us the power of faith, thus uniting us with Christ and causing us to believe on Him Who justifieth the ungodly. By grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God!
But the objection might be and often is raised against this doctrine of free justification that it is dangerous and demoralizing. If it is true that whatever we do has no bearing on our righteousness before God, so that our sins do not prevent our justification and so that our good works cannot increase our righteousness, does it not follow that a justified sinner may well live and continue in sin?
Superficially considered, this conclusion would appear quite logical and inevitable. Just imagine: our works have nothing to do with the verdict of justification which God pronounces upon us! God justifies the ungodly! Though your sins be as scarlet, God's sentence is that you are righteous. Though you live the most painstaking life of godliness, you cannot add to this righteousness that is freely given you: for it is perfect in Christ. Well, then, will not a justified sinner conclude that he may as well live in sin, seeing that nothing can change his imputed righteousness? Nay, what is more, does not the doctrine that one is justified by mere grace directly lead to the conclusion that we ought to live in sin, in order that grace may abound? The enemies of this truth often raise this objection. They did so already in the days of the apostle Paul. Even then there were those who slanderously reported the apostles as teaching, "Let us do evil, that good may come." (Romans 3 :8)
Yet this objection is without ground. For let us remember that we are justified out of faith and that by faith we are united with Christ and live out of Him. And it is quite impossible that one who lives out of Christ should deliberately continue in sin. He has died with Christ, and is raised with Him unto newness of life. Hence, he condemns his own sin and hates it. He is dead to sin. By faith he repents and cries out, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" By faith he hungers and thirsts after righteousness and lays hold on the righteousness of Christ. And by that same faith he abhors the ways of sin and earnestly strives to walk in holiness in the midst of the present world, longing for the day when he shall be perfectly delivered from the body of this death, to sing the praises of His Redeemer, Who delivered him from the dominion of sin and called him out of darkness into His marvelous light!
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