Justification Pt. 2

We are continuing our series of the biblical doctrine of justification..... 

 

Grace, Redemption and Propitiation

            Although Romans 3:23 tells of the sinfulness of man, thankfully Paul does not end his letter there. As this verse declares the sinful condition of man, the following verses share how God has chose to justify man, “23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.”[1] To understand justification one must understand, grace, redemption and propitiation.

            Grace can be defined as “unmerited favor,” meaning that the recipient does not deserve it and cannot earn it.”[2] As believers are justified by grace, and begin to learn more about their faith, it becomes even clearer that observance of the law cannot lead to justification. Because grace is unmerited, it means that no one can ever do enough to earn God’s favor. In fact, the idea of earning the favor of God can be defined as self-righteousness and, “The best brand of self-righteousness will not stand before God. We must wear the righteousness which God has ordained and which is brought in by His Son.”[3] The reason that self-righteousness will not stand before God is because self-righteousness is simply another form of idolatry. The person who places his or her good works before God as an attempt to earn the favor of God has dismissed God’s plan and placed their plan for righteousness above his, which is in fact unrighteousness. Paul has strong words for people who choose this path in Romans 1. He says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”[4] People, who attempt to reach God on their own, have denied the word of God and, suppressed the truth.

            Redemption is another theological concept that Paul explores in Romans. The meaning of redemption is to buy back. It is a theme that runs through the book of Romans. Romans 5:10 expresses the idea of redemption, “…while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son…”[5] Through sinfulness, mankind has not only been separated from God, but have been made his enemies. Not only does God buy back sinful men, he actually goes a step further and God reconciles his enemies to himself. We even see in culture that to buy something a price has to be paid. God did not simply say that all were reconciled, he paid a price for it to happen, he bought back wayward sinners through the blood of his son, Jesus. As Romans 5 continues, “For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ”[6] Paul is clearly saying that Adam’s rebellion caused the break in relationship with God.  Since it is clear that sin entered creation due to the fall of Adam, an action was required to redeem the ungodliness of mankind, because the result of that was to be placed under the wrath of God.[7] How is the wrath of God appeased?

            Propitiation is the term theologians use to define the appeasing of God’s wrath. Matthew Henry says it well when he says, “Christ is the propitiation.”[8] God appeases his wrath when the Jesus died on the cross. Romans 3:25 says that our propitiation was by Christ’s blood. Without the sacrifice that Jesus made willingly, there would have been no possibility for the wrath of God to be satisfied. Unfortunately, in modern Christianity, the wrath of God is something that is no longer talked about, so the truth that the wrath of a Holy God must be appeased is not taught to church goers. Unfortunately, that creates a poor understanding of the need for grace, redemption and propitiation. Since justification is the forgiveness of our sins at the moment of salvation, in order for us to truly understand the need for salvation, we have to truly understand how deeply our sin has offended God.

            Looking back at Romans 3:23, Paul chooses the words to identify that our sinfulness has made us incapable of achieving the glory of God.[9] John Calvin explains this well when he says, “that all are deprived of the glory of God because they are sinners. It is then certain, there is no righteousness where there is sin, until Christ removes the curse.”[10] Mankind is incapable of righteousness because of the stain of sin, and in order for any righteousness to be put on humanity; Jesus has to remove the curse. Jesus was the only person who could satisfy the wrath of God through righteousness, because he is God.[11] All of the rituals of sacrifice in the old covenant were incomplete, because they were a shadow of Jesus, who would fulfill the blood required by Mosaic Law and be the ultimate sacrifice for sin.[12]

            Without justification of sin, we are subject to the penalty for our sin. Romans 6:20-23 speaks very clearly to the result of man’s sinfulness, “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. …23 For the wages of sin is death…[13] The Bible is very clear that without justification man will face the penalty of sin, which is death, which the sinner has truly earned through his sin.[14] Since it is evident that justification is the only way to stand righteous before God, this begs the question, how is one justified?

How is a person justified?

            Sin puts people under the wrath of God, condemns them, and ultimately leads to death. No one is capable of obtaining righteousness in their own merit, because that leads to self-righteousness, which is just more sin. In order to experience justification, one muse experience grace, redemption and propitiation, which of course one cannot give to oneself. That half of the story is absolutely depressing, but is absolutely necessary for one to have a full and complete understanding of justification.

            This is the part of the Gospel that becomes so hard for people to grasp. The best way to understand how a person is justified is to see what Scripture says. In Romans 3:21-31 Paul gives the answer seven times –

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. [15] (emphasis added)

 

            A person is justified through faith. This is the central message of Evangelical Christianity. Justification is what makes a person righteous before God, “Justification is by faith alone. That was the cardinal principle enunciated by Martin Luther in the sixteenth century and has become the central foundation upon which all Protestant theology is established.”[16] This is the very idea that began the Reformation, and separated Biblical Christianity from the established Catholic Church in the 16th century. Martin Luther is not the only reformer to champion the doctrine of justification by faith alone. John Calvin, also a theologian in the Reformation era says this, “Then the righteousness of God shines in us, whenever he justifies us by faith in Christ; for in vain were Christ given us for righteousness, unless there was the fruition of him by faith.”[17]

            The unmerited favor of God, or grace, is only unmerited if we cannot do anything to obtain it. Once grace becomes something to be worked for, sweated over and earned, it ceases to be grace. It becomes the payment for our actions. Romans 6 is clear, the only wages that mankind earns are those that come from sin and lead to death. The glorious second part of Romans 6:23 tells us that, “The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [18] For something to be a gift, it cannot be earned, but has to be given freely.

            It is not enough to simply have faith, to be justified a person must have faith in Christ. The idea of faith in Christ alone leading to justification is also a historical church belief. Sproul explains it well –

Perhaps a more accurate way to state the doctrine of justification by faith alone is to say: justification is by Christ alone. It is his righteousness that justifies us. It is his merit that provides a place for us in the kingdom of God. Faith links us to him, so that we participate in his righteousness in the sight of God. This righteousness is given to every person that trusts in Christ.[19]

 

            The righteousness of Christ is what brings justification. This is a theme throughout the book of Romans. Romans 4 uses Abraham as an example. Abraham was not considered righteous because of his works; he was righteous because he believed God.[20]  Romans 5 says, “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”[21] Sin and death came through the work of Adam, but righteousness came through the work of Christ. Justification is blatantly by faith, as we saw 7 times in Romans 3:21-31, but the faith must be placed in Jesus who gave his righteousness to all who believe. The theme continues in Romans 10, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified.”[22] Paul makes it very clear that the object of saving faith must be Jesus.[23]

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 3:23–25.

[2] Doug Redford, The New Testament Church: Acts-Revelation, vol. 2, Standard Reference Library: New Testament (Cincinnati, OH: Standard Pub., 2007), 124.

[3] Keith Brooks, Summarized Bible: Complete Summary of the New Testament (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009), 44.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 1:18.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 5:10.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 5:15.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 1:18.

[8] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 2201.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 3:23.

[10] John Calvin and John Owen, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 140.

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 9:5.

[12] H. D. M. Spence-Jones, ed., The Pulpit Commentary: Romans, The Pulpit Commentary (London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909), 84.

[13] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 6:20–23.

[14] Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), Ro 6:23.

[15] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 3:21–31.

[16] R. C. Sproul, The Gospel of God: An Exposition of Romans (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1994), 73.

[17] John Calvin and John Owen, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 146.

[18] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 6:23.

[19] R. C. Sproul, The Gospel of God: An Exposition of Romans (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 1994), 74.

[20] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 4:1–4.

[21] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 5:17.

[22] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 10:9–10.

[23] David S. Dockery, “The Pauline Letters,” in Holman Concise Bible Commentary, ed. David S. Dockery (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 546.