Subject Four: Justification

 •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Questions by S. W. Royes; answers by H. P. Barker.
The subject about to engage us is of great importance. We may trust in the Lord Jesus as our Saviour and derive a certain amount of comfort from thinking of His precious blood and its power to cleanse from all sin. But until the soul knows what it is to be justified, there can be no solid peace.
As for those who are not believers, it is impossible to exaggerate the importance of the matter in their case, for justification lies at the very threshold of all true blessing. None can enter heaven save those who are justified from their guilt.
What Sort of People Are They Whom God Justifies?
I have no doubt that many would say, “Good people,” or, “People who do their best.” But we would discard human opinions and turn to God’s Word for light. The Apostle Paul speaks of God under a very sweet title in Romans 4:55But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. (Romans 4:5): “Him that justifieth the ungodly.” The ungodly, then, are the people whom God is prepared to justify.
An illustration of this is found in the case of two men who went up to the temple to pray. One was religious, and his religion greatly affected his life and conduct. It kept him from many an act of extortion, injustice and immorality. Twice a week he observed a rigid fast. He regularly tithed his income and gave liberally to the service of God.
The other did not belong to the religious class. He was indeed a sinner, and he made no secret of it. Even as he ventured into the temple, he felt his unfitness to be there, and standing afar off, he hung his head in evident shame.
Which of these two men was more likely to be justified? The Lord Jesus, speaking of the latter, the irreligious, ungodly sinner, says, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other” (Luke 18:1414I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (Luke 18:14)).
Yes, it is the guilty, the sinful and the vile whom God justifies when they acknowledge their condition and turn to Him. Those who imagine themselves to be “just persons, which need no repentance,” remain unjustified and unblessed.
What Is the Difference Between Justification and Forgiveness?
Forgiveness is the removal of the penalty of our sins; justification is the removal of the very charge of guilt that once lay at our door.
We shall understand the difference better if we pay an imaginary visit to a court of justice. Two prisoners are being tried for theft. The first has many witnesses to prove that he was miles away when the offence was committed. His innocence is completely established. In acquitting him, the judge says, “The prisoner leaves the court without a stain upon his character.” In other words, being innocent, he is justified.
Not so the other. But there are extenuating circumstances. He is young; it is his first offence, and others seem to have drawn him into the act against his better judgment. The judge addresses a few serious words of warning to the prisoner and discharges him. No penalty is inflicted, and he leaves the court a free man. In a word, he is forgiven. But, though forgiven, he is not cleared of the charge.
Now that illustration will help us to see the difference between justification and forgiveness. But we must remember that among men only the innocent can be justified and the guilty forgiven. Solomon realized this when praying at the dedication of the temple (1 Kings 8). In verse 32 he prays, “Hear Thou in heaven, and do, and judge Thy servants, condemning the wicked ... and justifying the righteous.” Then in verse 34 he prays again: “Hear Thou in heaven, and forgive the sin of Thy people Israel.” Notice that! Justification for the righteous and forgiveness for those who sin.
But the glory of the gospel is that it shows how God can do what is impossible among men. He can justify the ungodly, and that when there are no extenuating circumstances. He can take a vile, depraved sinner and not only forgive him but clear him of every charge so completely that the challenge may be shouted out and be forever unanswerable: “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth” (Rom. 8:3333Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. (Romans 8:33)).
If It Is God That Justifies, Why Is It Said That We Are Justified by Faith?
Faith is simply the principle on which God justifies. If God declares Himself ready to justify ungodly sinners, it stands to reason that He must state the principle on which He will do it, and the principle must be one that makes it clear to all that it is of grace from first to last. This is why it is “by faith,” or why, in the words of Romans 3:2626To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. (Romans 3:26), God is the justifier of “him which believeth in Jesus.
It is thus “faith,” and not works or vows or prayers, that is counted for righteousness, but it is God who counts it as such. It is His act altogether.
We Read That Christ “Was Raised Again for Our Justification.” What Has the Resurrection of Christ to Do With Our Being Justified?
Everything! It is the hinge on which the whole matter hangs. Suppose that I were convicted of some offence and sentenced to pay a fine. Utterly unable to find the money, imprisonment stares me in the face. A friend, however, steps forward and undertakes to pay the fine for me. But until the money is forthcoming, either my friend or myself must be detained. My friend, having taken upon himself my liability, remains until a messenger can arrive from the bank with the money, and I am allowed to go out.
Anxiously I pace up and down in front of the courthouse. Presently the messenger arrives from the bank and enters the building. In a few minutes my friend himself joins me. At once my anxiety is over. The fact of his reappearance proves that every claim of the court has been met. I am now a free man indeed, because my substitute is free.
It is hardly necessary to point out the application of this little parable. You and I are the offenders, subject to the judgment of God. Christ has offered Himself as our Substitute, and on the cross He met the claims of justice on our behalf. He paid the fine for us. Was His payment sufficient? Did God accept it as a full discharge of all our liabilities? Before He died, He cried, “It is finished.” He gave His all, His life, His blood, but was it enough?
He arose from the grave on the morning of the third day. The question was answered. It was enough. The One who had taken our sins upon Him was free! Then we are free also!
Thus the resurrection of Christ lies at the basis of our justification. Of course, when I say “our,” I mean “believers.” He “was raised again for our justification.”
In Romans 3:2828Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. (Romans 3:28) It Says That “a Man Is Justified by Faith Without the Deeds of the Law.” How Do You Reconcile That With James 2:2424Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. (James 2:24), Where We Read That “by Works a Man Is Justified, and Not by Faith Only”?
The two passages do not need reconciling. Sometimes people imagine that they have discovered contradictory statements in some scriptures, but the flaw is in their thoughts, not in the Word of God.
In the present case, the difficulty disappears when it is seen that in Romans it is justification before God that is spoken of, while in James the subject is justification before men. The two things are placed in contrast in Romans 4, and in verse 2 emphasis is laid upon the fact that justification by works is “not before God.”
God takes note of the believer’s faith and reckons it to him for righteousness. But faith is invisible to the eyes of men. If they challenge us as to our ground for professing to be pardoned and saved, children of God and heirs with Christ, we cannot simply reply, “We have faith.” We must justify ourselves for the place that we take otherwise than by words. Job’s friend, Zophar, once asked, “Should a man full of talk be justified?” (Job 11:22Should not the multitude of words be answered? and should a man full of talk be justified? (Job 11:2)). No, indeed. Not good talkers but good walkers are justified in the sight of their fellowmen. Not by lip, but by life — not by words, but by works — can we carry conviction to others that we are what we say we are.
With this side of the truth James deals. Paul, too, in some of his epistles, notably that to Titus, lays much weight on the importance of good works, not as an auxiliary means to our justification before God, but as a testimony to men and for the sake of “[adorning] the doctrine of God our Saviour.”
Let no one, however, begin to talk about good works before he is sure that he is justified from all things, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
By no means. The three expressions convey different thoughts, but they all refer to the same act. The grace of God is the source of our every blessing; the blood of Christ is the channel by means of which it reaches us, while faith is simply the appropriation of it all to ourselves.
Let me illustrate what I mean. This city is supplied with water from the river that comes flowing down from the mountains. There is an abundant supply there for the whole place. Pipes are laid, leading to the houses of the people, and when anyone wants water, all he has to do is to turn on the tap. The river, containing an inexhaustible supply of water, is like grace. God’s grace is the spring and source of all blessing. In this sense we are “justified ... by His grace.”
The pipes are the means by which the water is brought to our doors, just as the blood of Christ is the means by which God’s grace is made available for sinners. We are thus “justified by His blood.”
And what is “justified by faith”? Faith is coming with the empty pitcher and turning on the tap. It is the appropriation to one’s self of the blessing which originates in the grace of God and is made possible for us by the blood of Jesus.
Bildad the Shuhite, Another of Job’s Friends, Asked, “How ... Can Man Be Justified With God?” (Job 25:44How then can man be justified with God? or how can he be clean that is born of a woman? (Job 25:4)). How Would You Answer That Question?
The first thing is to cease justifying one’s self. “Ye are they which justify yourselves,” said the Lord Jesus to the Pharisees, and as long as a man does that God will not justify him. When we cease trying to justify ourselves, we justify God in His judgment on us because of sin. “The publicans justified God,” we read, and this was the very opposite of what the Pharisees did. Condemning one’s self and justifying God thus go hand in hand. We take sides with God against ourselves and acknowledge the truth of His verdict upon us as guilty, vile, hell-deserving sinners. That is the first step.
Besides this, we have to look right away from ourselves to Christ. To believe in Jesus is to be justified from all things (Rom. 3:2626To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. (Romans 3:26); Acts 13:3939And 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)). When we learn what His death has accomplished for us and how His resurrection clears us from every charge, we understand what it is to be justified, and “peace with God” is the blessed result (Rom. 5:11Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: (Romans 5:1)).
Christians Are Sometimes Very Inconsistent in Their Walk. Do Such Christians Continue to Be Justified People?
If none were justified but those in whose conduct there are no flaws, you would have to search a long time before you could discover a justified man.
But let us see how the Christians at Corinth were spoken of. Their conduct was far from perfect. They had laid themselves open to rebuke on matters connected with the first principles of morality. Nevertheless, in the most unqualified way, the Apostle Paul could say of them, “But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified” (1 Cor. 6:1111And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11)). Notice that these words are addressed to them immediately after a scathing rebuke for their contentiousness. True, they were reminded that they were washed, sanctified and justified in order that they might flee the things from which they had been washed. But they are not told, in view of their sin, that they had to be washed again, sanctified again and justified again. Their justification is spoken of as a thing that was completed once for all, and that fact is the basis upon which an appeal for a consistent, godly walk can rest.
How May Anyone Know for Certain That He Is Justified?
A scripture that we have already referred to supplies a full and clear answer. Turn to Acts 13:3939And 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), and you will read these words: “By Him [that is, Jesus] all that believe are justified from all things.” I don’t think any words of mine could make it plainer than that.
Do not regard these words merely as a saying of Paul’s. They are God’s words, recorded in God’s Book for the blessing of our souls.
Now what is it that God says in this verse? That all who believe are justified from all things.
Of whom is it said that they are justified from all things? Of all that believe.
In view of this wonderfully clear and simple statement, clothed as it is with all the authority of God Himself, let me ask everyone a question: Are you justified from all things?
If you stand within the circle of “all that believe,” you can truly say, “Thank God, I am.”
And if anyone should ask you how you know it, you can reply, “God says that ‘all that believe’ are justified. I am one of those of whom He speaks, a believer in Jesus, so I am justified.” How happy when one is simple and childlike enough to take God at His word!
How Can God, Who Is Too Pure to Behold Iniquity, Be Righteous in Justifying an Ungodly Sinner?
That is a problem indeed! But, thank God, the solution is to be found in the cross of Christ. The demands of justice were fully satisfied by His blood, and the way was opened for God to justify and bless ungodly sinners without compromising His character as a God of holiness and truth.
God’s object, from the world’s foundation, was the blessing of man, and this object has been attained, not by minimizing in the least degree His judgment against sin, but by One being provided who was able to bear that judgment, in all its severity, and exhaust it.
No one, in view of Calvary, can say that sin is a light matter in God’s sight. He has made it clear to the universe that He has an infinite abhorrence of evil and that He does not and cannot bless men apart from the claims of justice being satisfied. The blessing that He offers is offered righteously. The work of Christ has glorified God in such a way that He is just, as well as gracious, in justifying the ungodly sinner who believes in Jesus. (See Romans 3:2626To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. (Romans 3:26).)
For How Long Is a Believer Justified?
For as long as Christ is on the throne of God. The believer’s justification will last until Christ goes back to the cross of Calvary and undoes the work which He did there. And when will that be? Never! That work remains in all its permanent effectiveness. The One who performed it has been raised from the grave and seated at God’s right hand. As long as He is there and as long as His work retains its effectiveness, for so long will the weakest believer in Him be “justified from all things.” No change in us, no failure in our conduct, no coldness of heart, no feelings of despondency can either displace Him from the throne or diminish the value of His work. Then, thank God, they cannot impair our justification. Notwithstanding our failures and our shortcomings, we are as clear of sin before the eye of God as Christ is.