Definition of justification

When we are justified, we are ‘declared right’ in God’s sight. There is no guilt for sin, and no accusation can be made. As a result, we do not deserve to be punished.

What the Lord Jesus says about justification

In Luke chapter 18, the Lord Jesus tells the story of two men praying in the temple. The Pharisee was full of pride and arrogance; he prayed about himself, to benefit himself. His prayer didn’t reach God. The Tax Collector cried out in humility, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner’, v. 13. The Lord Jesus concludes the parable by stating that the Tax Collector ‘went down to his house justified rather than the other’, v. 14.

What was it that caused the Tax Collector to be justified?

1. He knew what he was – a shameful sinner before God;

2. He appreciated the holiness of God – he stood ‘afar off’ in the sinner’s place;

3. He realized that he needed God’s forgiveness and genuinely cried out for mercy – he approached God in the right way [extra note: the English word ‘merciful’ comes from a Greek word that also means ‘to atone for sin’ and ‘propitious’, therefore the man had sacrifice in his mind, when asking for forgiveness].

Justification in Romans

God is just; simply put, God is right! The early chapters of Romans indicate that mankind is the opposite - wrong! ‘There is none righteous’, 3. 10. The whole world is guilty before God; the anger of God is inevitable. But, later in chapter 3, Paul introduces God’s unique remedy, the death and blood of the Lord Jesus. This is available to all ‘through faith in His blood’, 3. 25. There are three aspects of justification in Romans:

1. Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, Rom. 3. 24.

Justification can’t be earned. Instead, it is received on the basis of God’s free favour shown towards undeserving and rebellious sinners. God’s love is the source, 5. 8, in desiring that sinners should be cleared of any charge, at peace with Himself. ‘Redemption’ reminds us of the great price paid by the Lord Jesus at Calvary. Because of this, God can righteously act in grace towards us, as justice has been done.

2. Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ 5. 1.

The tense of the statement ‘being justified’ refers to something that happened in the past; it’s the point when I personally exercised faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins. The point when I was saved! Faith is complete trust in Lord Jesus and all that He has achieved at the cross; resting in Him alone to save me.

Peace is a great concept; F E STALLAN wrote that it ‘describes security, serenity, welfare and right relationships’ – this is all ours through the Lord Jesus.

3. Being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him 5. 9.

The blood shed means a life has been given. The principle of sacrifice is ‘without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins’, (Heb. 9. 22 ESV). The Lord Jesus ‘offered one sacrifice for sins for ever’, 10. 12. This is the price that was paid. How great the cost! But the result is also great – it was fully acceptable to God; we see this in the Lord’s resurrection, ‘Who … was raised again for our justification’, Rom. 4. 25.

The result of our justification is that we will be ‘saved from wrath’. The judgment of God which will ultimately come upon sinners is not for us.

Living out Justification

James says, ‘faith without works is dead’, 2 .26). He gives Old Testament examples of people who were ‘justified by works’, vv. 21, 25. This does not mean that they worked to obtain justification, but their belief and faith in God was shown in their lifestyle. My faith in the Lord Jesus is invisible, but my life can be seen by others. This is the challenge of justification – I stand before God ‘declared right’, but does my life match up?

So, back to the Tax Collector of Luke chapter 18. He went home ‘justified’. No doubt he was thankful to God for the forgiveness he had received, full of joy since he had peace with God. We can do the same! Further, we can appreciate something of the amazing price the Lord Jesus paid, for us to be ‘declared right’.

More study…

PHIL COULSON, Great Truths of the Bible, John Ritchie Ltd, – an invaluable overview of justification and other great gospel truths.

F E STALLAN, What the Bible Teaches – Romans John Ritchie Ltd – a verse by verse commentary of Romans to aid a deeper study, especially chapters 3, 4 and 5 relating to justification

ALBERT LECKIE, Romans a Commentary on chapters 1-8 Precious Seed Publications – a very clear and helpful commentary recently compiled from recordings of Mr Leckie’s ministry.

J I PACKER  – 18 Words –The Most Important Words You Will Ever Know – ‘Justification’ (p.135-142) – an excellent book for young and older believers.