The doctrine of justification is the best news in the world. Justification is not intended for debate, but to fuel the fires of worship and joy that burn deep within our hearts. Sure, sometimes debate is necessary. Paul wrote Galatians to defend the truth that we are justified by faith in Christ alone and not by works of the law. But polemics are not the end; they are a means to the end. The end is joy overflowing in praise.
In Romans 5:1, Paul says:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
Did you catch the note of joy?
So let's think about justification, for the sake of exultation. Let's aim for clarity in understanding this important doctrine in order to maximize our joy in three glorious realities it makes possible.
1. We have peace with God
Nothing is more important than being at peace with God. To be at odds with the God of the Universe is a terrible thing. To be under his wrath and curse, subject to his righteous judgment is horrifying. We need peace with God and the only way to get it is through justification.
What is justification? The Westminster Shorter Catechism answers, "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."
"Is this relevant to my life?" you might ask. Only if you are a sinner. Just take inventory of the last twenty-four hours:
· If you have failed to love God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength
· Or have been irritable or grumpy with your spouse or kids
· Or lost your cool when someone cut you off in traffic
· Or indulged a lustful thought
· Or secretly coveted the position or circumstances of someone else's life
· Or have silently (or audibly) complained about anything
· Or neglected to show love to family, friend, or foe
In short, if you have failed to do anything that God requires or to refrain from anything he forbids, then this is extremely relevant to you. Because the only way you can have all of your sins freely forgiven by God is through justification.
So, how does God justify us? Through the righteousness of Jesus Christ, credited to us through faith alone. To put it simply, God treated Christ Jesus as if he had lived a totally sinful life, in order to treat ungodly sinners as if they had lived the totally righteous life that Jesus lived. "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 2:21).
Now, let the reality of this sink in. Through the cross, God has made a way for sinners (like us) who deserve wrath to be treated as if they had never sinned. But more than that, he actually treats us as if we have lived the obedient, just, and perfect life of Jesus himself.
Who is this for? Those who believe. God is "the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Romans 3:26). "And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness" (Romans 4:5). "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes" (Romans 10:4).
2. We have obtained access into grace
But there is more. In addition to peace with God, justification by faith gives us access to God's grace. "Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand" (Romans 5:2).
What does Paul mean by this? The end of Romans 5 answers: "Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (rom. 5:20c-21). Just as sin reigned or ruled with the outcome of death, so grace reigns through righteousness, with the outcome of eternal life.
This means that we not only are released from sin's penalty, but also sin's power to rule over us. "For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace" (Romans 6:14). In the words of Charles Wesley, "He breaks the power of canceled sin, he sets the prisoner free!" God not only removes the guilt of sin, he also releases us from its grip.
3. We rejoice in hope of the glory of God
As wonderful as this is, there is still more: "Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Romans 5:2).
Here we see joy at its fullest. Not only do we enjoy peace with God, and stand in his grace, but we also rejoice (or delight, exult, or boast) in hope of his glory. Hope, in Scripture, is a very strong word. Hope isn't a flimsy wish, but a confident expectation. And we hope in the glory of God. With firm confidence, we anticipate the day when God's glory revealed in Jesus will replace the sun as the bright center of the Universe renewing all things to their intended purpose. Sickness, war, famine, poverty, disease, injustice, and suffering, will be banished from the world once and for all. Every tear will be wiped away. Sin will be no more.
Peace with God, freedom from the reign of sin, the glorious hope of a renewed world. These are ours through the justifying grace and mercy of God, given to us through Jesus Christ his Son. It really is the best news in the world!
Brian G. Hedges is the lead pastor for Fulkerson Park Baptist Church in Niles, Michigan. He has been married to Holly since 1996 and has three children: Stephen, Matthew, and Susannah. He has contributed articles to Heartcry! A Journal on Revival and Spiritual Awakening, Pastor Connect, and The Banner of Truth magazine. He is the author of christ formed in you: the power of the gospel for personal change (Shepherd Press, 2010). And licensed to kill: a field manual for mortifying sin (Cruciform Press, 2011)