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Doctrine of Justification

February 27, 2022 Series: Great Doctrines of the Christian Faith

Scripture: Romans 3


Last week we finished out discussion on Regeneration and Conversion as part of the Doctrine of Salvation.

Today, we are going to move to Chapter 11 of the Confession and begin talking about the Doctrine of Justification.

This is a subject that has often been misunderstood and twisted – especially at the hands of the Roman Church and the modern evangelical church.

Let us begin by reading the first two articles of the Confession: WCF 11: Articles 1 & 2

For the past several weeks, we have examined and learned about the real and true changes expected in the life of a believer

  • The newness of the heart
  • The newness of life
  • The newness of a way of life

This was born out of the response to the effectual call of God and the regeneration work of the Spirit.

Whereby, previously, because of sin

  • We were utterly indisposed
  • We were disabled
  • We were made opposite to all that is spiritually good
  • We were wholly inclined to all evil

But now, having responded to that effectual call we are now able to obey God, through His grace.

All of what we have been speaking about, heretofore, involves a change in the condition of man.

What we are now bringing to bear, deals with a change in the state of man – justification.

This doctrine is of supreme importance and was one of the key foundations of the Reformation.

It is the foundation of peace with God, with a hope for eternal life, and of the promise of the good favor of God.

In fact, Paul says not believing in justification, the righteousness of God, is grounds for being rejected by God. (Romans 10:1-4)

First, we must understand what is meant by the term justification.

  • Ambiguity leads to confusion
  • Confusion leads to misunderstanding and perversion.

The Meaning of Justification


  • Justification means to declare one as just
    • It is a legal act of God by which He declares the sinner to be righteous on the basis of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Justification is not

  • It is not a process of renewal.
    • Unlike regeneration.
    • Unlike conversion.
    • Unlike sanctification.
  • It does not affect the condition of man.
    • Unlike regeneration.
    • Unlike conversion.
    • Unlike sanctification.
  • It does not mean one is as if one has never sinned.
    • For we have sinned and that can never be changed (Romans 3:23)

Justification is

  • It does affect the state of man.
  • It means that we as sinners have been declared righteous because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ
    • Which satisfies God's wrath
    • Which satisfies God’s justice
  • Christ performs a work
    • That justifies those who could not justify themselves
    • That reconciles those who could not reconcile themselves.
  • Justification is a work of Christ the mediator.
    • It is the work that is required in the covenant for Him in order that we might be made partakers of God's covenant of grace.
  • Justification is Christ’s work not ours.
  • Justification is an act of Christ, a legal act, as our surety.
  • Justification restores one to a right standing under the Father.

This is a high-level definition, description of the doctrine of justification.

Next, we need to understand what it means to justify.

The Meaning of the word Justify

The Romish Church will contend, as do some Arminians, that to justify means the infusion of grace.

  • That one becomes inherently righteous
  • That one becomes inherently holy
  • That there is a change in the condition of man

But is not and cannot be what the Scriptures teach.

Justification is a judicial act of God

  • It is not a change of nature
  • It is a change of the sinner's state in relation to the law.

The Greek word δίκαιος (dika – ious), and the English word righteous, have two distinct senses.

  • Sometimes they express moral character.
    • When we say that God is righteous
      • We mean that He is right.
      • He is free from any moral imperfection.
    • When we say that a man is righteous
      • We generally mean that he is upright and honest
      • That he is and does what he ought to be and do.

In this sense the word expresses the relation which a man sustains to the rule of moral conduct.

  • At other times, these words express, not moral character
    • The relation which a man stands to justice
    • Whether he is guilty or innocent of the law

This can be seen in Matthew 27:24

  • Pilate declares he is innocent of the blood of this just man
  • He is saying that he finds no guilt performed by Jesus according to the law

(Note, some modern translations omit the word “just” against the testimony of the authorized version and the preservation of the Word of God. Omitting this word is an error and weakens Pilate’s declaration of the innocence and righteousness of Christ and also weakens the condemnation against those who declare Christ as guilty when He was not. (Psalm 94:21, Proverbs 17:15)

This can be seen in Romans 4:5

  • God does not declare the ungodly to be godly
  • God declares that the ungodly is still ungodly and God cannot declare a sinner to be not a sinner

God declares the sinner to be just in that that, even though the sinner is a sinner, the sinner is not due the punishment for his sins based on the grounds of what Christ has done.

So, you see, justification is a forensic declaration.

It is a judicial declaration that one is no longer liable to the punishment for his sins – not that one has never committed sin – but that punishment has been paid and the sinner, no longer being liable, is declared as just – is declares as having had the punishment paid.

Scriptural Examples

Old Testament

Exodus 23:7 – will not declare the wicked to be in harmony with the law

Deuteronomy 25:1 – notice justify vs. condemn

Psalm 143:2 – notice the process of judgment

Psalm 32:3 – imputeth not “iniquity,” guilt of sin

Proverbs 17:15 – must mean to declare, not “make” righteous

The Hebrew term for “to justify” is (tsuh – dack), which in the vast majority of cases means “to declare judicially that one’s state is in harmony with the demands of the law

New Testament

The Greek word δίκαιος (dika – ious)

  • to declare righteous, free from guild
  • Modern translations - acquit – a good rendering

With respect to the verb use:

  • It is “to declare forensically that the demands of the law as a condition of life are fully satisfied with regard to a person

With respect to the noun use:

  • is peculiar in that it never expresses what a thing is in itself
  • it always expresses what it is in relation to something else, to some standard outside of it

Each of these examples show the word justify is used in this sense to declare or pronounce just – free from the deserving of punishment.

The word always expresses a judgment

  • whether of the mind, as when one man justifies another for his conduct
  • officially of a judge

Romans 8:33, 34 – justification is made antithetical to condemnation, two words with opposite meanings

John 5:24 – the interchangeability of the two words

To condemn

  • is to pronounce guilty
  • is to pronounce worthy of punishment.

To justify

  • is to declare not guilty
  • is to declare that justice does not demand punishment
  • is to declare the person cannot be condemned

We know from our study of the attributes of God

  • The justice of God requires all violations of the law of God, of holiness, be satisfied.
  • The justice of God cannot be withheld from any violator or transgression

We also know from our reading of Scripture, that all men are guilty and therefore, worthy of punishment.

So, the question becomes, how does one become just with God? How does one avoid the punishment rightly due them for their transgressions of the law?

If God is not just or if God is not righteous and He can set aside His law

  • Then there is no need for justification
  • Then there is no God

But we know God’s justice is firm, right, and good.

Therefore, if the sinner is to avoid eternal punishment…how is he to be declared just?

Before we look at this, let us make sure we understand the effects of justification

Privileges of Justification

Justification is a work of Christ.

  • It is not a work that you or I can do
  • It is the work of Christ who is reconciling and restoring man to the Father.

Justification removes the guilt of sin

  • It restores the sinner the rights of a child of God
  • It restores to the sinner the rights of an eternal inheritance. (Col 1:12-14)
  • It does not change the inner life of man – only the state of his relationship to God.
  • These must be joined together as a right to life cannot be given to one whose sins have not been pardoned and no one but whose sins are pardoned can expect a right to eternal life

Thomas Ridgley expands upon this concept of the removal of the guilt of sin explaining it as a debt which is owed to God, by man, for disobedience.

There is, he describes, a 2-Fold Debt owed to God

A 2-Fold Debt Man Owes to God
  1. There is the debt man owes to God in obedience as a creature made under the law.

Psalm 103:3 – therefore, when a man transgresses the law of God, he should be expected to receive punishment (or correction or chastisement) for his disobedience.

Luke 11:4 – Christ tells us to pray that our sins (debts) may be forgiven when we do not properly pay our debt of obedience.

It is because of this that man is never freed from obedience to the law – refer back to John 14:15 and 1 John 5:3

This debt, therefore, is never removed.

This debt, therefore, is not part of justification.

So, put out of your heads any ideas that you do not have to obey the moral law of God.

  1. The second debt which a man owes to God is that which is due as punishment for disobedience.

This is the punishment due as part of God’s Divine Justice.

This, and this alone, is removed as part of justification.

The justified sinner is declared, legally and judicially, to be cleared from this second debt solely based upon the work of Christ.

Justification restores to us a right relationship with God.

  • It is bringing us back into a right relationship.
  • It goes back to the concept of a covenant God
    • The covenant that God has determined before the foundation of the world.
    • The covenant that God will have and has selected for Himself a people
    • The covenant that the Mediator will become that legal surety to legally bring us to God.
  • It is the removing of the enmity between the elect and God.

Justification is a new relationship, a new covenantal relationship.

  • There is no longer anything between God and the redeemed
    • Through the work of a greater mediator of the Covenant.
    • Through the work of a better covenant.
      • It is forever.
      • It is sure
    • Ephesians 1:6 – if we are accepted, then so are our works, as imperfect as they are

Thus, the justified sinner:

  • has a right and a title to eternal life
  • has a right and a title to the inheritance as a child of God
  • has a right to come before the throne of God through Christ

How is a Sinner Declared Just?

A just person is:

  • one who is righteous
  • one who has never sinned.

But that cannot be any person after the fall of Adam, so then, the question is, how can one go back and undo their sin?

They cannot.

So, there must be another path.

There must be a debt paid to cover the penalty and the guilt due because of sin.

This debt, is therefore, paid and can only be paid by Christ.

The only way to avoid the justice of God is through a sinless obedience to the law – a perfect obedience.

Christ alone, has fulfilled this.

Christ pays the penalty and takes the punishment that was rightly due to those whom the Father has given Him

  • He acts our surety
  • He stands in our stead
  • He takes the punishment upon Himself
  • He pays the debt

Similar to Philemon 18

  • Hebrews 7:22, 9:28
  • 1 Peter 2:24

When a sinner is declared just, he is not declared to be perfect, holy, or acceptable “just as he is.”

A sinner is declared to be just – declared that the punishment he was rightfully due has been a paid.

Justification is through Imputation

When a sinner is justified, the righteousness of Christ is imputed to him.

Romans 5:19

2 Corinthians 5:21

It simply means the righteousness of Christ is laid, is charged to our account. Our lack of righteousness is covered by Christ’s righteousness.

It is not infused

  • The sinner does not become a righteous man
  • It does not change his moral character
  • It is only a change of state – a removal of guilt

Justification Only Through Faith

Faith is the instrument in which the work of Christ is given through the renewing the Spirit of God.

This is so frequently mentioned in the Scriptures that it cannot be gainsaid.

  • we are justified by faith, in opposition to works (Rom. 5:2,3)
  • faith alone receives and applies the righteousness of Christ; we are justified freely by grace, and therefore by faith alone—became this alone is consistent with its being by grace (Rom. 3:24, 4:16)
  • Abraham obtained the blessing of justification by faith alone, and he was designed as a pattern of the way in which all others, in succeeding ages, were to be justified. (Gal. 3:6-9)

To be clear –

  • We are not justified on the condition of faith
  • Faith is not something that merits us justification

Faith is the instrument by which we receive Christ and His righteousness – and are therefore justified.

This faith that justifies is a living and active principle,

  • It which works by love
  • It purifies the heart
  • It excites to universal obedience.
  • It is accompanied with every Christian grace, and productive of good works.

"Works," says Luther, "are not taken into consideration when the question respects justification. But true faith will no more fail to produce them, than the sun can cease to give light."

Conclusion & Uses

We should understand the interconnectedness of all these doctrines we have been studying.

  • The Holy Scriptures
  • The Study of God and the Holy Trinity
  • The Eternal Decrees
  • Creation and Providence
  • The Fall of Man, Sin, and the Punishment
  • The Covenant
  • Christ as Mediator
  • Effectual Calling (Regeneration/ Conversion)
  • Justification

Each one of these builds one upon the other.

The Christian life is more than just professing belief.

It must be followed with a change in one’s life.

It must be followed with a desire to be obedient even when you might desire to follow your own will.

It is a wholesale change.

These studies should raise up within us a deep gratitude and love for God.

These studies should raise up within us a devotion and dedication to Christ.

We should spend more time seeking to root out those areas of arrogance and aversion to obedience and strive to replace those with humility and devotion.

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