14 July 2020
What is central in Christianiity is the term ‘justification’ and no one has actually understood the Christian faith without understanding the meaning of this term. The doctrine behind this term is the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
As we study the gospel of John we read, “But to all who did receive HIm, who believed in HIs name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).
The famous verse John 3:16 elaborates this truth:
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life”.
Here in this gospel, it is clearly stated that those who received Jesus Christ, who believed in His name are given the right to become children of God and they should not perish but have eternal or everlasting life.
Behind these verses unfolds the great doctrine of justification by faith alone. It is the good news that sinful men and women may be brought into acceptance with God, not because of their works, but through a simple act of trust in Jesus Christ. This is in fact the truth of the gospel, the principal article of all Christian doctrine, within which the knowledge of all godliness is ‘contained’. Therefore we need to know this truth well and to teach it to others.
“Justification” is a legal term, borrowed from the law courts. It is the exact opposite of “condemnation”. To condemn is to declare someone guilty; ‘to justify’ is to declare that someone not guilty, innocent or righteous. In the Bible, it refers to God’s act of unmerited favour by which He puts a sinner right with Himself, not only pardoning him, but accepting him and treating him as righteous.
Our conscience and experience tell us that something is wrong between us and God. There is friction instead of harmony between us and God – this is the human predicament described in the Bible: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one”(Romans 3:10-12).
We are alienated from His fellowship and banished from His presence (Genesis 3). We are under the judgement, the just sentence, of God; God is righteous and we are not. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
How then can man be righteous before God? How can a condemned sinner be justified? It has been the religion of the ordinary man to urge him to pull his socks up a bit higher and try a bit harder to succeed in winning his own salvation. This had been the experience of Martin Luther, the initiator of Protestantism and Reformation, who was a monk who tried so hard to be right with God. He fasted, sometimes three days on end without a crumb; he kept the rule of his order so strictly to a point that he almost expired with vigils, prayers, reading and other works.Yet he could not find any sense of inner tranquility until he found that a man can only be saved by faith, which means belief that God was in Christ seeking to save; only then did Luther find himself reborn and felt himself to have gone through open doors into paradise. He found justification by faith in Christ alone, not in performing works or keeping of the law.
For the Jews and the Judaizers, the pursuit of salvation in God is justification by works of the law. By ‘the law’ is meant the sum total of God’s commandments, and by ‘works of the law’ acts done in obedience to it. Their position was this: “The only way to be justified is sheer hard work. You have to toil at it. The “works” you have to do is the “works of the law”. That is, you must do everything the law commands and refrain from everything the law forbids. The Apostle Paul describes them as ‘seeking to establish their own….righteousness’ (Romans 10:3).
In reality, nobody has ever been justified by the works of the law, for the simple reason that nobody has ever perfectly kept the law. The works of the law, a strict adherence to its demands, are beyond us. We may keep some of the law’s requirements outwardly, but no man except Jesus Christ has ever kept them all. Indeed, if we look into our hearts, read our thoughts and examine our motives, we find that we have broken all God’s laws.
The only way to justification is ‘through faith in Jesus Christ’ as stated in the gospel of John and affirmed by Christ Himself in John 14:6. Jesus Christ came into the world to live and to die. In His life His obedience to the law was perfect. In His death He suffered for our disobedience. On earth He lived the only life of sinless obedience to the law which has ever been lived. On the cross He died for our law-breaking, since the penalty for disobedience to the law was death (Romans 6:23). All that is required of us to be justified, therefore, is to acknowledge our sin and helplessness, to repent of our years of self-assertion and self-righteousness, and to put our trust and confidence in Jesus Christ to save us. Faith in Jesus Christ is not intellectual conviction only, but personal commitment. It is an act of committal, not just assenting to the fact that Jesus lived and died, but running to Him for refuge and calling on Him for mercy.
The Apostle Paul, before his conversion, was a Hebrew among Hebrews, a pharisee, a student of Gamiiel, one who kept the law very strictly, knew from experience that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. He wrote: ‘because by works of the law shall no one be justified’ (Romans 3:20).
Whatever our religious upbringing, educational background, social status or racial origin, the way of salvation is the same. None can be justified by works of the law; all flesh must be justified through faith in Christ. It is justification by faith alone in Christ alone – God, in His grace and mercy, s