Justifi-what?

Aaron Menikoff

Justifi-what?

Justification.

This is an important word. Paul tells us that Christ "was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification" (Romans 4:25). One who has been justified has been declared righteous. It is not that a Christian has been maderighteous, as if God does some work inside us so that we are finally worthy to be adopted in his family. It is that the believer has been declared righteous by the powerful work and will of God. 

Read carefully the following definition of justification. It comes from New Hampshire Confession of Faith:

We believe that the great Gospel blessing which Christ of his fulness bestows on such as believe in Him, is Justification; that Justification consists in the pardon of sin and the promise of eternal life, on principles of righteousness; that it is bestowed not in consideration of any works of righteousness which we have done, but solely through His own redemption and righteousness, [by virtue of which faith his perfect righteousness is freely imputed to us of God;] that it brings us into a state of most blessed peace and favor with God, and secures every other blessing needful for time and eternity.

I recently read Guy Waters's little book, justification: being made right with god? It is a short treatise on the crucial topic of justification. His second chapter, "Justification Applied," reminds us that the doctrine of justification is not the stuff of dry theological textbooks but a much needed truth for everyday life.

The doctrine of justification is a most comforting doctrine. Here are five reasons why:

  1. You no longer need to look inside yourself to be right with God. One is justified by Christ's work, not your own. We are now free from depending upon our own strength, will, smarts, or experience to be approved by God. Again and again in the Bible, we are presented with individuals who are trying to prove or earn a right standing before a holy God. But justification teaches that such a standing cannot be earned by a sinner--it must be received through faith. The doctrine of justification puts to death the idea that if we are just good enough God will let us into his presence. 
     
  2. You are now free to serve God wholeheartedly and cheerfully. Because of the doctrine of justifcation, serving God is no longer impossible and it is no longer a burden. You are now able and willing to serve the Lord. "It is for freedom," as Paul wrote, "Christ has set us free" (Galatians 5:1). Peter made it clear that Christ "himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness" (1 Peter 1:24). Having been justified, the life we always wanted to live is now in reach. This does not mean that serving God will always be easy. But it does mean that serving God is always possible.
     
  3. You can enjoy peace in any and every circumstance. The Christian life is a struggle, but it is a peaceful struggle. We are at war against sin, but we are at war with the sure and certain knowledge of victory. The believer has a peace that cannot be stolen from him, because it was not earned by him. Some believers wonder if they have peace since they don't feel at peace. It is easy to confuse the peace promised by Scripture with the kind of peace promised by a Caribbean vacation! The two are not the same. The peace of justification is the assurance that regardless of the pain that you endure, your confidence in Christ will continue.Paul put it this way (and notice the link between justification and peace): "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1).
     
  4. You can rejoice in any and every circumstance. Christians will be discouraged, they will be tired, they will be shaken. But joy is always possible because the greatest enemies (sin and death) have been defeated. Again, hear Paul, "Through him [Christ] we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope . . ." (Romans 5:2).
     
  5. You can please God in any and every circumstance. It's not just that we can serve God now. It's not just that we can have peace now. It's not just that we can have joy now. But the doctrine of justification teaches that we can please God, now. Listen to Paul, "By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Romans 8:3). Those who walk according to the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:8). But those who walk according to the Spirit can please God! But who walks according to the Spirit? Only those who have been justified by faith alone in Christ alone.

How familiar are you with the Bible's teaching on justification? As you can probably tell, the idea that we are declared righteous not on the basis of what we do but on the basis of what Christ did is at the heart of the Gospel. Do you know this doctrine? I'm not asking how comfortable you feel explaining it to someone else--that will come with time. I'm asking if you have truly experienced it, if you have really tasted the rest and peace and joy that come from having been justified. 

Sweet as home to pilgrims weary,

Light to newly opened eyes,

Or full springs in deserts dreary,

Is the rest the cross supplies;

All who taste it

Shall to rest immortal rise.

~ joseph swain, 1792 

 

Aaron Menikoff (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Senior Pastor of mt. vernon baptist church in Atlanta, GA. He blogs regularly at "free to serve."

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