God’s Legal Declaration
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23–24).- Romans 3:23–24
Last week we observed that when James speaks of justification, he uses the term to mean “demonstration.” James reminds us that we are justified by our faith and that good works done in obedience to God demonstrate a true, saving faith. But our works do not earn redemption for us.
However, though James uses “justify” to mean “demonstrate,” it must be noted that this is not the meaning that many of the other biblical writers (especially Paul) have in mind when they speak of justification. Rather, most of the time when we find the term justification in the Bible it is used to refer to the legal declaration given by God proclaiming that those who are in Christ are righteous in his sight. This has carried over to systematic theology so that when theologians speak of justification, they are speaking of that act of God whereby He declares us righteous. In order that we might better understand the doctrine of justification we will base the next two weeks of studies on the series Justification by Faith Alone by Dr. R.C. Sproul.
The doctrine of justification answers the central concern of mankind: How can man stand before the judgment of a perfectly holy God? All non-Christian religions base their hope of righteousness on the performance of good deeds. They affirm that if at the end of life good deeds outweigh bad deeds, then a person will be counted as righteous in God’s sight.
This answer offers little consolation to those who have a true understanding of the depravity of man. The Bible tells us that since the Fall, man is so corrupt that even his best deeds are as filthy rags in the sight of God (Isa. 64:6–7; Rom. 3:23). No one can ever do enough to merit God’s declaration of righteousness.
No one, except for Jesus Christ, is able to merit the righteousness that God requires. God can declare us righteous based upon Jesus’ righteousness that is credited to our account when we place our faith in Christ alone. In the coming days we will discuss various aspects of the doctrine of justification by faith alone and defend it against its detractors.
How do you hope to stand before the judgment seat of God? Are you counting on your own goodness? Or, do you understand that the depth of your sin makes it impossible that your good works could ever make you righteous in God’s sight? The Gospel tells us that we can be accepted into God’s presence based not on our own righteousness but on the righteousness of Christ alone. Go before the Father today confessing your need for this righteousness.
Passages for Further Study
Pss. 51; 89:14