Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. (Romans 3:27-28, KJV; all Biblical quotations are from the KJV.)
What is justification? Wayne Grudem, whose Systematic Theology my family and I are reading in our after-breakfast Bible reading, defines it as having two elements, the first’s involving God’s forgiving our sins and imputing Christ’s righteousness to us and the second’s involving God’s declaring us righteous in His sight. He considers the two elements in reverse order. I’ll share some of what he says here.
Some passages from the Bible which show that “justify” can have the meaning “to declare righteous” are:
– “If there be a controversy between men, and they come into judgment, that the judges may judge them; then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked” (Deuteronomy 25:1). Clearly “justify” means “declare to be not guilty” just as “condemn” means “declare to be guilty.”
– “He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the LORD” (Proverbs 17:15). Again “justifieth” and “condemneth” clearly mean respectively “declares to be not guilty” and “declares to be guilty.”
– “And all the people that heard him [Jesus], and the publicans, justified God, being batized with the baptism of John” (Luke 7:29). God’s already being righteous, obviously the people declared, not made, Him righteous.
– “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth?” (Romans 8:33-34.) Since “justifieth” is contrasted with “condemneth,” which means “declares guilty,” it must mean “declares not guilty.”
Some passages from the Bible which indicate that God’s declaring us righteous in His sight involves His declaring our sins to be forgiven and His declaring Christ’s righteousness to be imputed to us are:
– “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity” (Psalm 32:1-2, quoted in Romans 4:7-8; sins forgiven).
– “There is therefore no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1; sins forgiven).
– “He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10; righteousness imputed).
– “The righteousness of God is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ [literally, through faith in Jesus Christ] unto all and upon all them that believe” (Romans 3:21-22; righteousness imputed).
God’s declaring us righteous comes to us entirely by God’s grace, without any merit in us, and is received by faith.Some passages in the Bible which assert this are:
– “By deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight … For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:20,22-23; grace).
– “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9; grace).
– “[God is] the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:26; faith).
– “A man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ [literally, through faith in Jesus Christ], even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ [literally, by faith in Christ], and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16; faith).
Martin Luther’s recognition and proclamation of justification by faith alone sparked the Protestant Reformation. However the Roman Catholic Church still holds that salvation depends on acceptance of its teachings and adherence to its practices as well as on faith in Jesus Christ, and even some Protestants hold that it depends on good works as well as on faith. Grudem affirms that “a right understanding of justification [namely, what I’ve described above] is absolutely crucial to the whole Christian faith” and describes the basing of salvation on good works as a “false gospel” (page 722; see pages 728-29 for a description of traditional Roman Catholicism).
But what about James 2:24, “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith alone”? The context reveals that James is addressing the teaching that a simple profession of faith is enough and that it doesn’t matter how a person lives as long as he or she makes that profession. He argues that a true faith will manifest itself in love towards our neighbours and other good works. Calvin comments on the verse, “A man is not justified by faith alone–that is, only by a bare and empty awareness of God. He is justified by works–that is, his righteousness is known and approved by his works” (A Harmony of the Gospels…Volume III and The Epistles of James and Jude, translated by A. W. Morrison, Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1972, page 286). He concludes, “We agree that good works are required of righteousness, but we do not allow them the power of conferring it, since at God’s tribunal they must draw back (page 287). Both Grudem (pages 731-32) and I agree.
Grudem concludes his consideration of justification by pointing out two practical implications of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. It “enables us to offer genuine hope to unbelievers who know that they could never make themselves righteous before God” and “gives us confidence that God will never make us pay the penalty for sins that have been forgiven on Christ’s merits” (page 732).