By Ken Symes
The Bible teaches that salvation for the believer is past, present and future. In the Bible, salvation past is embodied in the doctrine of justification. Of the 29 uses of this term and its derivatives in Paul’s writings, 25 are used in two of his epistles: Romans and Galatians. Some suggest that Paul was dealing with the Judaistic controversy regarding the necessity of keeping the law in order to be judged justified.
Merrill C. Tenny, in his Pictoral Bible Dictionary defines Justification as “that judicial act of God, by which, on the basis of the meritorious work of Christ, imputed to the sinner and received by him through faith, He declares the sinner absolved from his sin, released from its penalty, and restored as righteous.”1
This definition deals with the legal aspect of justification but misses the other issue which is just as important. It is correct in that justification does mean to declare one righteous, pronounce him as innocent or treat one as righteous. However, it does not teach that it makes man righteous.
James Hastings, in his Dictionary of the Bible states that in the Bible the word justification “describes a personal relationship rather than an ethical quality of Character.”2
Forgiven and Forever
Paul, in his presentation of the doctrine of justification teaches that justification both legally declares our sins forgiven and enables us to re-establish a right relationship with God. An excellent example of this is in the first occurrence of this concept found in Genesis 3:1-21. When Adam and Eve sinned, their relationship with God was immediately broken. Recognizing their nakedness, they made garments of fig leaves, Genesis 3:7.
The principle of justification was established when God killed innocent animals and made for Adam and Eve coats of skins thus covering their sin (dealing with the legal issue) and enabling them to re-establish their relationship with Him. This concept is reinforced in Genesis 4:1-7, which makes clear that they were, from that point on, to offer a blood offering for their sins. It is important to note that the doctrine of justification as we find it taught by Paul, finds its roots in the Old Testament. This is the purpose of all the feasts and sacrifices of the Mosaic system. They were intended by God, not to be an end in themselves, but, to point the offerer to the one sacrifice that God Himself would one day provide. God’s plan in the Old Testament economy was that people were to be saved by looking forward to the Divine sacrifice ultimately offered at Calvary. Today we have the perspective of looking back to the sacrifice already offered. So, in this sense, it is a very Jewish doctrine.
Law is opposed to Grace
Paul begins in verse 21 by making clear that righteousness is not gained through the law. “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets.” In the original text the definite article is not there showing this to be an abstract principle of law rather than a reference to the specific law of Moses. Thus, the phrase “apart from law” establishes the absolute separation of Divine righteousness from any law keeping. This is in accord with the Old Testament economy as salvation, in God’s economy, was never gained through the keeping of the law. In Leviticus the Hebrew word translated “atonement” is “kaphar” and is used over forty times and means “to cover”. It is used twice in Leviticus 17:11 which reads: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement (a covering) for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement (covering) for the soul.”
The term “atonement” appears only once in the New Testament and, interestingly enough, its use by Paul is found in Romans 5:11. The Greek word used is “katallage” which literally means “exchange”. We define this as the “vicarious” atonement which means one life exchanged for another. Perhaps a better term would be the “exchange of life” principle. In gospel terms, it is the life of the sinner exchanged for the perfect life of the God-man (Christ).
This is justification. God’s righteousness is satisfied without the law through the shed blood of His Son, the Passover Lamb, the Lamb of God, Jesus, the Messiah (Christ). Justification teaches us that salvation is free. Paul states: “being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:24).
The word “redemption” literally means “ransom fully paid.” It also teaches us that salvation is by and through the unmerited favor of God. It is a gift of God’s grace and there is nothing that we can do in and of ourselves to earn it. God said: “Ye shall be holy; for I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:44-45). This statement is repeated by Peter in his first epistle chapter 1 verse 16. As we can do no more than live righteously, our righteous living cannot make up for the times when we do not.
Romans 3:24 teaches us that salvation is by and through the redemptive work of Jesus. To redeem is to buy back. God, through His Son, Jesus Christ, bought us back with the shedding of His precious blood. Verse 25 shows us that this redemption is received through faith. He stated: “through faith in his blood.” This is simply a reinforcement of John 3:16. Salvation is based upon the shed blood of God’s Son. The Bible is clear on this issue as Moses wrote in Leviticus 17:11 and as Paul wrote: “and without shedding of blood there is no remission” in Hebrews 9:22. God can still be just and holy and justify the unbeliever when the unbeliever believes on the finished work of God’s Son, the Lord Jesus.
Verse 25 also teaches that that salvation is retrospective in its effect “declaring his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.” In the Old Testament God overlooked sin through forbearance. In Acts 17:30 we read: “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men to repent.” Again, in the Old Testament economy they were to look forward to Calvary (the purpose of the sacrifices) as we today have the privilege to look back to the finished work.
In verse 26 we have a statement of the victory of the Gospel. “To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” This testifies to God’s righteousness in that He is just and yet the justifier of the sinner who is incapable of doing anything to make himself righteous in God’s sight.
In Romans chapter 5 Paul gives us the seven results of justification. In verse 1 we are told that it brings peace. “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” We have the assurance of our eternal salvation. It was Jesus who stated: “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me, and him that cometh to me shall in no wise be cast out.” (John 6:37). He also said: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my father’s hand.” (John 10:27-29).
Verse 2 gives us two more benefits of justification. We are assured that “we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand.” This is the reason that Paul was able to encourage us in Hebrews 4:16. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of Grace, that we may obtain mercy, and grace to help in time of need.” The verse goes on to assure us that we may “rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” There is a day coming when we will be forever with Him. That is our hope in which God is glorified.
Verses 3 to 5a give us the fourth benefit of justification. We may glory in tribulations. Why is this a benefit? Because “tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience and experience hope: and hope maketh not ashamed.” Some years ago, after leading a Jewish man to the Lord, he said to me that the Christian life was difficult. I told him that it becomes easier in time. Over a period of several months he often asked: “Ken, when does this get easier?” I told him that each time he experienced answered prayer, or any other act of God’s grace in his life, those experiences made it easier for him to trust the Lord for the next test of his faith. After several months we met again. He was very excited. I asked him what was happening. He said. “You were right. It does get easier. I love this walk with my Lord!”
Verse 5 gives us an awesome truth as it speaks of the love of God shed abroad in our hearts. This is God’s great love poured from His great heart through our heart. The indwelling love of God in us is confirmation that we are saved. Is it not true that the very essence of salvation is unconditional love?
Verse 5 also informs us that our empowerment is from the indwelling Holy Spirit. Consider the final words of our Lord found in Acts 1:8. “But ye shall receive power, after the Holy Ghost is come upon you.” The moment one is saved he receives the gift of the Holy Spirit who empowers us to accomplish anything the Lord would have us to do. Justification assures the empowerment to successfully live the Christian life. What a benefit!
Verse 11 gives us the seventh great benefit of justification. “We also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The believer not only enjoys the blessing of God, but the believer positionally is actually in God. Salvation through Christ brings us into a joyous relationship with the Father.
David wrote in Psalm 16:11 “Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of Joy, at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” In God there is fullness of joy. Only those who are justified through faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ can be in fellowship with God, a fellowship that brings fullness of joy. Justification makes all of this possible. Have you been justified?
1. Pictoral Bible Dictionary, Merrill C. Tenny, 1963 Zondervan, p.460
2. Dictionary of the Bible, James Hastings, 1963 Charles Scribner’s Sons, p. 544