Ruling Elder, Agros Church
This is article 2 in the “The Gospel” series (see part one here). The Gospel Series is a collection of articles that serves to equip Christians with a foundation for worldview rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Justification is a term that is derived from the Greek word dikaioō, which is a legal term that means to “make one righteous”. This concept is often referred to as “penal substitution” or “substitutionary atonement,” and explains how Christ takes on Himself the sins of the believer, is punished for those sins, and imputes His righteousness unto the believer, having paid the due penalty for their sin.
Justification - Having Been Saved
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”
Romans 5:1 ESV
What is most commonly referred to as “salvation” is really the term justification. This is the act upon the believer in which Christ, without the help or work of the believer, takes upon Himself the sin of a person and pays, with His own works and life, the just punishment due to the believer. The wrath of God is poured out completely upon Jesus for the sin of the believer. Christ, having emptied Himself, not considering His eternality or Godship, humbled Himself, entering the form of flesh by means of virgin birth according to prophecy, and lived a perfect, sinless life on behalf of the believer (Philippians 2:6-8). He fulfilled all of the law and prophets according to the scriptures (Matthew 5:17-20), and was perfectly obedient, dying on the Roman cross under Pontius Pilate. It is solely by this work of Christ on earth, in His death and resurrection, being truly man and truly God, that man is justified in the sight of God. God’s wrath is completely satisfied for the believer in the work of Jesus Christ (Romans 3:24-26). It is by faith, granted by God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, that the believer receives this grace and is justified before God for their crimes against Him.
Dead in Sin
It must be said, that prior to this work of the Holy Spirit, that a person is completely and utterly spiritually dead before God (Ephesians 2:1), having heaped upon themselves wrath rightfully owed to them as a result of their sin, which they willfully participated in and enjoyed (Romans 6:17). This is what is meant by the term “Monergism”. Monergism means that God, without any assistance by man, justifies the believer, for man is incapable of responding to God in any capacity prior to the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. The justification of the believer is accomplished by God alone. The alternative view called Synergism, is the cooperative effort on behalf of the person being saved that affects salvation. In simple terms, God is not able, on His own, to save man, and requires their help. Yet, the Bible says that any and all works outside of Christ are as filthy rags to the Lord (Isaiah 64:6), and as a result, a person has no merit outside of Christ before the Lord. That is to say that not only is a person an enemy of God prior to regeneration (Romans 5:10), they are absolutely incapable of working off the penalty due to them or responding to God of their own accord. The regenerative work must be done prior to the response.
By Grace Through Faith
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV
Paul, in His letter to the church at Ephesus, reveals to the believer a critical component of justification - it is not about mankind, it is about God and His glory. The response of the believer is not to be boastful or proud, but humble and lowly. The Gospel in the Scriptures reveals clearly that salvation is not to be considered an accomplishment of the individual, but glory solely belongs to the Lord, who created the Heavens and Earth and all that inhabit them. The justification of the ungodly is a work that can only be accomplished by the most just Being, the Lord of Hosts, the Creator of all things, from eternity to eternity. Thus, all credit, glory, honor, praise, and worship belong to Him, and the life of the believer ought to reflect this reality.
Justification and the Five Solas
Justification is one of the most precious doctrines of Scripture, and embodies the heart of the reformation. Encompassed in this doctrine are all of the Solas - Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, and Soli Deo Gloria. The Scriptures alone are sufficient as the rule of faith, that the believer is justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone. This beautiful doctrine of salvation embodies the reformation principle coined by William Perkins, “The Golden Chain of Salvation.”
"For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified."
(Romans 8:29-30 ESV)
Justification and Worldview
The doctrine of justification has heavy worldview implications. The nature by which man is saved determines the position a believer puts God in their life. If the justifying act is done by God alone through faith that He has bestowed upon the believer, then there is no room for boasting - God is held above the believer as the sovereign over their life. The alternative position, which says man can choose to reject God when He calls them, reveals a weak God that is unable to save a person due to His will being weaker than that of the person He is saving.
The proper view of Biblical justification puts God as sovereign over all things. He alone predestines, calls, justifies, and glorifies. His will cannot be frustrated by man, and thus He is God. The unfortunate twisting of the doctrine of justification that has been done over the last several centuries has reduced the Gospel to something that man chooses to do for himself, and God is merely the one who gives the opportunityfor salvation. Revelation 3:20 is often misunderstood to be talking about the doctrine of justification, and the analogy is used that Jesus is standing on the other side of the door, and all a person has to do to accept Him into their heart, is open the door. It must be noted that this passage is addressed to the churchat Laodicea and that the following verse proclaims that the person must hear the voice of Christ to open the door, and so the application of the text is not to the unbeliever, but one who is able to hear Christ, the believer! We know from Scripture that man is dead in sin, at enmity with God, and must be brought back to life in Christ. The whole canon of Scripture, as well as the surrounding verses, shows that this handling of Revelation 3:20 should be rejected - that we are dead on the other side of the door without Christ. This concept is beautifully given to us by God in Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church.
"And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." (Ephesians 2:1-6 ESV)
The Importance of a God-centered Salvation
The Bible clearly speaks in terms of the roles God plays in salvation, and the roles that man plays in salvation. There is a particular order and method by which God justifies a person. First, He regenerates their heart, calling them towards Himself. Once God has called a person, they respond through faith. Scripture speaks strongly that God will accomplish what He has started, and once God has started working in a person, they will be radically changed from their old self. This is the love of God, that He gives eternal life to those who would believe. Those that God calls, He justifies, and it is not of their own work, so that they may not boast. The very faith that the believer responds with cannot even be accredited to them on their own merit, for their faith is also a gift, given by God.
Man cannot usurp God, he is not mightier than God. This is the view of God throughout Scripture in its entirety. The pursuit of Christian living must begin with this chief principle, that we are from the dust, and will return to the dust. God is without beginning and end, from everlasting to everlasting, and deserves all glory and worship for His work in those that believe upon Christ.
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