Lesson 3 – Justification


Survey Studies in Reformed Theology

Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies
Lessons by Bob Burridge

Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New American Standard Bible (1988 edition) unless otherwise noted.

Subjective Soteriology – Lesson 3: Justification
by Pastor Bob Burridge ©1998, 2010, 2012

Lesson Index
The Work of Justification and the Individual
Evidences that Justification is “Forensic”
Justification is distinct from Sanctification
Justification is More than Mere Pardon
The Objects of Justification
Faith is the Means of Justification
The Sins of the Believer
No Dispensational Differences in Justification

Westminster Confession of Faith XI

I. Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; nor by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness, by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.
II. Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.
III. Christ, by his obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are thus justified, and did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to his Father’s justice in their behalf. Yet, inasmuch as he was given by the Father for them; and his obedience and satisfaction accepted in their stead; and both, freely, not for anything in them; their justification is only of free grace; that both the exact justice and rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners.
IV. God did, from all eternity, decree to justify all the elect, and Christ did, in the fullness of time, die for their sins, and rise again for their justification: nevertheless, they are not justified, until the Holy Spirit doth, in due time, actually apply Christ unto them.
V. God doth continue to forgive the sins of those that are justified; and, although they can never fall from the state of justification, yet they may, by their sins, fall under God’s fatherly displeasure, and not have the light of his countenance restored unto them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance.
VI. The justification of believers under the old testament was, in all these respects, one and the same with the justification of believers under the new testament.

Westminster Shorter Catechism

Answer 33 “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein He pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.”

The Work of Justification and the Individual

Justification is a judicial declaration settled in the eternal decree of God, and grounded upon the objective work of Christ which satisfied the demands of divine justice for all of the elect (WCF chapter 8). It is therefore a forensic act.

Jesus in his suffering and death in the sinner’s place removed the offensive guilt of sin effecting restoration to fellowship with God covenantally, and enabling the flow of spiritual life into the sinner.

In Justification the objective work of the Savior is subjectively applied to each individual for whom satisfaction has been secured. By imputation the sinner is accounted as righteous before the judgment seat of Christ. He is not considered holy because of any works, merits, or attitudes of the sinner himself, but for the merit of the Savior alone.

Evidences that Justification is Forensic
The term justification is a purely declaratory and legal term. It is a pronouncement of the divine court that justice and the demands of holiness have been met.

Charles Hodge clarifies the meaning of the term, “That to justify means neither to pardon, nor to make inherently righteous or good is proved — 1. By the uniform usage of the word to justify in Scripture. It is never used in either of those senses, but always to declare or pronounce just. It is unnecessary to cite passages in proof of a usage which is uniform.” (Systematic Vol 3, Page 120)

This usage is evident in each of the uses of the term in Scripture. The following texts demonstrate the forensic nature of justification.

Deuteronomy 25:1 If there is a dispute between men and they go to court, and the judges decide their case, and they justify the righteous and condemn the wicked,

Galatians 2:16 nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.

Justification is distinct from Sanctification
Justification is not the same as sanctification which is the bringing of the person’s attitudes and behaviors into agreement with what is morally good. Justification has to do only with one’s standing, not his acts. (Sanctification will be taken up in more detail in WCF chapter 13.)

Some have therefore said that justification is associated with regeneration, and sanctification is associated with conversion. The confusion of these two distinct concepts has caused some to speak of justification as including an infusion of righteousness, rather that an imputation of righteousness. This Romanist view makes the continuing good works of the believer to be a truly meritorious element in his being forgiven. This is contrary to its forensic nature which is consistently the way it is presented in Scripture.

Though sanctification is not the same as justification, neither can occur without the other. Those truly remitted of their sins are those for whom Christ died. Those for whom he died show their sonship by growing in personal obedience, repentance, and a desire to live in ways that honor God. Justification does not appear by itself in the regenerated heart. It is accompanied by all the fruits of regeneration which are manifested through the conversion of the sinner’s life. James 2:14 and 17 confirm that a true redemptive faith is not alone. It is but one attribute of the renewed relationship with God in the believer.

James 2:14 What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him?

James 2:17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

Justification is More than Mere Pardon
In justification as a forensic act the offenses of those justified are neither set aside, nor merely pardoned. The justice of God demands that full satisfaction of the penalty of sin must be made. Either the sinner himself faces an eternity of separation from God in agony and suffering, or the Savior is taken as a substitute for the sinner.

The presumption that justification is mere pardon considers only the penal aspects of sin. Pardon sets aside the consequences legally required by a crime. In declaring a sinner to be justified God does not circumvent the demands of established justice. Justification is the declaration of God as Judge which affirms that all the demands of justice have already been met for the sinner by the substitutionary atonement of a Redeemer.

The Objects of Justification
God redeems no one other than those he intends to redeem and none he does not intend to redeem. Otherwise God either intends against himself, acts against his own intention, or utterly fails to do what he intends. These alternate options are contrary to the revealed character of God. In Romans 8:29-30 it is explicitly shown that all those foreknown by God in his eternal redemptive plan are predestined and effectually called. All those effectually called are Justified and glorified.

God is not bound by any principle outside of his own decrees. He is therefore free from constraints as he acts in justifying the sinner. There can be no obligation imposed upon the redemptive plan of God that does not flow from the eternal and perfect nature of God himself. The imagined boundaries set by the reasoning of the fallen heart must not be permitted to influence the establishment of a biblical theology. God can not be bound by supposed standards of fairness which do not flow from his own holiness and perfect justice. He justifies according to the good pleasure of his will.

Faith is the Means of Justification
God has ordained that faith alone is the instrument by which the sinner is declared to be justified.

John 3:36, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

Acts 10:43, “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.”

This justifying faith should not be viewed as a work of the unregenerated sinner. No one is saved by any works which he performs or intends (Romans 3:20-28, Galatians 2:16). Faith, therefore, is a work of God’s grace in us. It is not an exercise of the lost human heart or mind. The use of such instrumentalities as secondary causes toward his decreed purpose is established by the absolute sovereignty of God. He not only ordains the final outcome, but also all the means toward all ends. (The nature of saving faith is taken up in WCF chapter 14).

Some claim that the act of faith itself, or the performance of any evangelical obedience is accepted as righteousness by God. This neglects the reality that justice is a divine attribute. If any foundation other than the atoning suffering and death of the Savior is admitted as the grounds of justification, then the sacrifice of Christ is diminished and transformed into a most cruel and unnecessary act of God.

While Scripture directly presents faith as that instrument by which we are justified, it is not presented as the cause or foundation of our justification. The cause is the eternal and unchangeable decree of God. The judicial foundation for it is the redemptive work of Christ consisting of both our guilt being imputed to him who knew no sin, and his righteousness being imputed to us who deserve only condemnation. These are the two opposite forensic pronouncements: justification and condemnation. Both are declarations of the Sovereign Judge. If either was not forensic in nature then imputation would be meaningless and contradictory to God’s holy nature.

The Sins of the Believer
Since justification is imputed not infused, the justified sinner remains at the first moment of his justification a beginner in his progress in personal and subjective sanctification. All who are justified are clothed in the Savior’s righteousness judicially, and they have the seed of personal holiness germinating in them, growing toward the likeness of Christ’s righteousness. Personal obedience, understanding, and faith is in us imperfectly in this life and often calls for the correction of the “fatherly displeasure” of God toward his children. While the redeemed cannot fall again into condemnation (Romans 8:1), they do again and again transgress God’s revealed law and must come to him repentantly. They must rest by faith in the promise and work of Christ, calling for forgiveness, deliverance, and restoration to God’s blessed rewards. The chastising of God is not light toward his children. He loves them too much to let the remains of sin continue uncorrected.

Hebrews 12:4-13, “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him; For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives.’ It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.”

“Furthermore,we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness.”

“All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.”

No Dispensational Differences in Justification
As the history of God’s redemptive work unfolds, there are some temporal distinctions that must not be dismissed. While we are elected by God’s grace and are purposed by decree to be justified from before the foundation of the world, we should not say we are justified before creation. That ignores the distinction between the decree, which is the ultimate cause of our justification, and its execution in time by application to the individuals chosen by grace. While atonement was made for all the elect on the cross of Calvary, we ought not say that we were justified at the time of Christ’s death. That ignores the distinction between the grounds of our justification and its application to the elect persons.

However, we must not distinguish between eras in the outworking of the eternal decree as if in different periods of redemptive history the elect were justified differently. Those who propose that law was a means of justification in the Old Testament and grace in the New, obscure the meaning, grounds, and forensic nature of justification. Law has never been a means of removing the guilt of sinners. It exposes their sin and declares the perfect standard of God’s holy requirements toward all men. Grace has never been absent. If it was not for grace there would have been no saint in either testament who would have come to God trusting in the promise of redemption.

Though temporal execution of the grounds of justification waited until the fullness of time when Jesus Christ died for his people, this has always been the foundation for the removal of guilt by God. He is not restricted to events which have already taken place in time. The planned work of the Savior has been the grounds for redemption and justification from the time of the first sin in Eden.

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