Justified By Grace Through Faith And Evidenced By…

 

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In this chapter, we will examine the relationships of grace, faith, actions, character, merit, discipleship, obedience and holy living to justification by God. Also, we will look at what relationships sanctification and regeneration have to justification.

 

Only possible because of Jesus’ death

 

Romans 3:24-26 shows our justification – being legally pronounced acquitted and righteous by God the Supreme Ruler and Judge – was only possible because of Jesus’ death: “being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth to be a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” The above verses show our justification is a combination of:

 

·         God’s totally free grace towards completely undeserving sinners.

·         God acting in perfect justice by punishing Jesus Christ with the terrible punishments we deserved.

 

Romans 5:9 also shows Jesus’ death has justified us before God. Do not think justification means God merely excuses our sin out of mercy. As Hebrews 9:22 demonstrates, the forgiveness aspect of justification is only possible by the death of an (implied) innocent substitute: “…without shedding of blood there is no remission.”

 

Justification is by grace alone

 

Romans 1:18-3:20 reveals no human is capable of becoming good enough for God to declare him/her as righteous.

Romans 3:23-24 and Titus 3:7 demonstrate humans can only be declared righteous (justified) by God through His totally unmerited grace. None of us deserve such wonderful grace. But as John 3:16 shows, He expressed such awesome grace towards us because of His love for us: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” It is only pride and self-righteousness that makes us think we can do something to deserve God’s grace.

 

Justification – a completed action

 

In Romans 6:7, Paul explains that believers are justified as a completed act: “For he who has died has been freed from sin.” In Greek, the word “freed” above is a form of the word “dikaioo” – the same word used in Acts 13:39 (twice), Romans 3:20, 3:24, 3:28, 3:30, 5:1, 5:9, 8:30, Galatians 2:16, 2:17, 3:8 and 3:24. All these verses are in contexts related to being justified by faith through God’s grace.

Romans 6:7 declares that because believers have died with Christ when He died on the Cross, this results in them being justified from sin. Being justified from sin means freed from the guilt and penalty owing because of our sin. Sin was our previous master. A slave who died was no longer under the rule of his master. So by dying with Christ, we as believers are freed from the guilt and eternal condemnation our old master brought to us.

In Greek, the word “freed” is in the perfect tense and passive voice. The perfect tense refers mostly to a completed act with continuing effects or a present state resulting from a past action.[1] The passive voice means someone else – God – did this action to believers. So this verse teaches God has justified believers as a completed past action which has continuing effects in their lives after then. Or the verse means they are in a present state of justification which is a result of a past action of God justifying them.

In Romans 3:24, 3:26, 3:28 and 4:5, Paul uses the present tense of forms of the Greek word “dikaioo” in relation to believers being justified by God. In Greek, the present tense usually refers to ongoing action. Tenses in Greek refer more to the nature of the action than to time.

By using the present tense of the word “justified” in the above four verses, Paul is saying believers have an ongoing legal standing of being justified or declared righteous by Him. Paul is not using the present tense in these four verses in the sense of believers being justified as some type of progressive process which is incomplete at present. Romans 6:7 refers to believers being justified as a completed action with continuing effects. So Paul would not contradict himself by saying in Romans Chapters 3 and 4 that being justified by God is only an incomplete action. [2]

Justification and sanctification

 

Justification is always accompanied at the same moment of conversion by initial sanctification. Initial sanctification refers to being separated from the rule of sin, Satan and the world and being dedicated to God and Jesus Christ for His use, purposes and glory. Under the New Covenant, initial sanctification also refers to being purified or cleansed by the incoming of the Presence of the Holy Spirit into believers at conversion (see 1 Peter 1:2 and 2 Thessalonians 2:13).

1 Corinthians 6:11 states: “…But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” Paul reveals here that God had already previously justified and sanctified all the Corinthian believers. In Greek, the “you were sanctified” and “you were justified” are both plural. This plural means Paul was referring to all the Corinthian believers when he wrote these words.

In the original Greek, the expressions “you were sanctified” and “you were justified” are in the passive voice. In the context of 1 Corinthians 6:11, the passive voice indicates these two actions were done by another, in this case God.

In 1 Corinthians 1:30, Paul said that Jesus Christ had been imparted to all the Corinthian believers as their righteousness – this including legal justification – and sanctification: “But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God – and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” In Greek, the word “you” here is plural which means Paul is writing these things to all the Corinthian believers.

In 1 Corinthians 1:2, Paul said he was writing to all the Corinthian Christians: “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.”

In Greek, the expression “those who are sanctified” above is in the perfect tense and passive voice. The perfect tense here means they were sanctified as a completed action and this has continuing effects or results or they are in a state of sanctification which was a result of a previous action of God. The passive voice signifies another – in this case God – had done this to them. These believers included those whom Paul said were later fighting among themselves (see 1 Corinthians 1:10) and had fallen back into living relatively carnal lives (see 1 Corinthians 3:1-4).

 

Not justified by regeneration, initial sanctification or daily holy living

 

We are not justified on the basis of being regenerated or born again. Also we are not justified on the basis of our initial sanctification by the Holy Spirit at conversion or the post-conversion outworkings of sanctification in our daily lives. If our justification was based on regeneration and/or our initial sanctification and/or the post-conversion outworkings of sanctification, and was not a change in status or standing before God the Supreme Ruler and Judge, then all of our sins before conversion would remain unforgiven. Regeneration, initial sanctification and growing in holiness after conversion do not provide forgiveness of our sins nor remove the guilt of our not loving God and other people perfectly.

Also, every time we committed the smallest sin after conversion, we would immediately fall back under a sentence of eternal condemnation by God the Supreme Ruler and Judge. Because regeneration, initial sanctification and growing in holiness after conversion do not provide forgiveness of sin, the slightest sin would condemn us.

Romans 1:32 and 6:23 reveal any sin carries the penalty of physical and spiritual death with it. Because even the smallest sin carries the penalty of spiritual death with it, this means every time for example, we told a lie, were envious or disobeyed a road rule of a God-ordained human government, the Holy Spirit would immediately leave. As a result, we would return to a state of being cut off spiritually from God and being a child of Satan again.

Romans 14:23 says anything not based on faith is sin. Therefore if our justification was based purely on regeneration, initial sanctification and the post-conversion outworkings of sanctification in us, then every time we did not trust or depend on God in the smallest way, Christ and His Holy Spirit would immediately leave us.

Verses such as Leviticus 4:13-35, 5:14-19 and Numbers 15:22-29 show unintentional sin makes us guilty also. So even if we unintentionally spoke evil of someone else, we would immediately return to a state of being cut off from God.

Also, sin is defined as not loving God and others (see Matthew 22:37-40 and 1 John 2:9-11). So every time we did not love God and other people perfectly, the Holy Spirit would leave us. This would return us to a state of being totally cut off from God.

Therefore if justification was based on regeneration, initial sanctification and growing in holiness after conversion, believers would be switching from being pronounced by God as being justified to being eternally condemned and vice-versa continually throughout each day.

 

Not justified by our daily obedient actions or good character

 

It is crucial to understand that God declaring us to be perfectly right in Jesus Christ has nothing to do with our daily obedience to God’s commands and any goodness in our character. This is because if our being declared justified by God is based just on our practical state of how good we are in our daily living or character:

 

·         we could never be declared perfectly righteous during our lifetimes. Our only partially right character and our frequent right actions would not be enough to prevent God the Perfect Judge from declaring us to be “guilty of sin and unrighteousness” and therefore “condemned to eternal punishment.” James 3:10 and Galatians 2:10 show that only just one known or unintentional disobedience to the Mosaic Law results in God having to declare us “Guilty” and “Cursed”.

·         we could never have any of our pre-conversion sins forgiven by God. Before being converted, we sinned frequently. Also our continual rejection of Jesus as Lord and Saviour prior to our conversion was enough to condemn us every single moment, as John 3:18 shows. All such pre-conversion sins must be forgiven for us to live eternally with the Lord.

 

Also note as stated earlier in Chapter           “Justification”, just having forgiveness of our sins alone is not enough to ensure we will spend eternity with the Lord. Forgiveness only removes our minuses. Only those who are forgiven and also declared perfectly righteous through Jesus Christ can enter heaven. Because no believer in Christ is sinless in their earthly lives (see James 3:2, 1 John 1:8 and Philippians 3:12), they cannot enter heaven on the basis of their God-empowered good works or godly character as believers. This is why they need to be declared righteous by God’s grace.

 

Not justified by discipleship

 

We are not justified as a result of living as a disciple of Jesus Christ after conversion. If we could be justified by living as Jesus’ disciple, this would mean we could earn or merit our justification, something Romans 3:27-4:4 opposes. But note a sincere living faith which receives justification through God’s grace, will produce the fruit of discipleship, obedience to God’s commands and holy living after conversion (see John 8:31-35, Titus 3:7-8, James 2:19-26 and 2 Peter 1:1-11).

Justifying faith does not include discipleship, obedience to God’s commands and holy living but always results in these in real though imperfect ways.

Faith that receives justification does so in a passive sense. But someone who has received justification by faith will begin to have an active faith in God which aims to obey Him (see Romans 6:17, James 2:14-26 and 1 Peter 2:7).

 

By faith alone

 

Our justification by God is achieved by faith alone. It is a trusting reception of what Jesus Christ has achieved for us through His death (see Romans 5:1).

Even though good works, practical righteousness and practical holiness are commanded by God, we are not justified by these. Romans 3:20 says: “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight...” Romans 4:5 declares: “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.”

Jesus Christ as both God and man willingly gave His life for us (see John 10:17-18 and Philippians 2:8). No one could have killed Him unless He agreed to it (see John 10:18). God the Supreme Ruler and Judge approved of Jesus’ death being an adequate substitute for the punishment deserved by every sinful person. This is why God has the right according to His own justice to choose on what condition He will justify sinful humans on the basis of Jesus’ death.

The condition God has chosen is trusting faith in the Lord Jesus. God has chosen to justify us by faith in Christ because faith is the opposite of depending or trusting in ourselves. Because grace is totally undeserved or unearned, faith is perfectly suited to receiving it.

If God had chosen to justify us by, for example, our love or kindness, this would have encouraged us to stay in a state of sinful self-reliance instead of us beginning to have dependant faith in Him. Ephesians 2:8-9 shows God does not want us to be able to boast about ourselves: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

God created Adam and Eve to totally depend on Him. If He declared other humans righteous without them having trusting faith in Him, this would have given His divine sanction for every member of the human race to remain continuously in Adam and Eve’s great sin of self-trust and self-reliance.

 

Involves believing God’s promises, trust in and surrender to a Person

 

Romans 4:18-24 reveals one aspect of the type of faith which receives justification by God’s unmerited grace is believing God’s promises in relation to salvation through Jesus Christ. Romans 4:20-24 records Paul’s words about Abraham having faith in God’s promise and being accounted by Him as righteous as a result.

Romans 10:9-10 also shows part of the faith that receives justification includes believing in Biblical truths about Jesus Christ and what He has done through His death: “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes to righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made to salvation.”

But note justifying faith also includes believing in the Person of Jesus, not just in truths about Him. Romans 3:26, Galatians 2:16 and Philippians 3:9 show this. Romans 3:26 says: “to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

Those who only believe in the promises or truths of salvation through Jesus Christ, but not in the Person of God the Father and Jesus Christ will not be declared righteous by Him. The type of faith that receives justification:

 

·         believes the promises of God about His grace through Jesus Christ and His death.

·         trusts in Jesus Christ and not in oneself and one’s own goodness or right acts. This is the trust aspect. Luke 18:4 shows one element of justifying faith is sincerely admitting our unworthiness or lack of merit for being justified by Him.

·         entrusts or commits itself into Jesus Christ’s care and to His Lordship. This is the surrender aspect of faith.

 

True justifying saving faith includes all the above three aspects. A faith which does not include these elements is dead and hypocritical and actually rejects God’s grace through Jesus Christ. Faith reaches out in thankfulness to accept humbly the undeserved grace God is offering us in Christ.

 

Our faith does not merit justification

 

Our faith is not a good work by which we merit or earn being forgiven and declared righteous by God. Instead without any form of self-righteousness, our faith receives this totally free declaration by God of perfect righteousness and forgiveness of all our sins. Faith humbly receives and does not boast of its own efforts or merits. God does not justify those who boast of their own efforts or merits. Luke 18:9-14 relates to this. [3]

After God the Holy Spirit has ministered to our heart prior to conversion, we must be willing to accept the God-given faith and power to repent of sin that He is willing to give us by unmerited grace through Christ. If we do not, we will be punished eternally in hell.

Romans 3:24 shows we are justified totally freely by God’s grace: “being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” The word “freely” here in the original Greek is “dorean” which means “as a gift, without payment”. [4] This same word is translated as “without a cause” in John 15:25. This word reveals our faith does not merit salvation. But this does not mean we cannot choose to accept or reject God-given faith in the Lord Christ (see Acts 19:9).

Faith is the condition, but not the price of our being justified by God. Faith is the God-appointed means by which we are justified and is not a good work by which we merit justification. Many modern-day legalists try to turn faith into a good work and meriting formula.

Technically speaking, the expression “our faith in Christ justifies us” is not as correct as “it is Christ who justifies us through our faith”. The main emphasis must be placed on what the Lord Jesus has done, is doing and will do and only secondary emphasis on our reception by faith.

If faith itself earned or merited justification, some believers would be more justified than others. Those with greater faith would supposedly be more justified than those with lesser faith. The truth is, however, all those with sincere faith in Jesus Christ are justified. No believer has perfect faith but all believers are justified perfectly.

 

James 2:14-26

 

James 2:14-26 says: “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You will believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”

Legalists argue James 2:14-26 teaches believers are justified by faith plus works. But this is a poor interpretation of these verses. James is here referring not to being declared right by God through faith plus works. Instead, James is writing about outwardly manifesting in our works or actions the normal results of God declaring us to be righteous through faith.

James 2:14-26 does not contradict Paul’s teaching in the Book of Romans and Galatians that we are justified in the sense of being forgiven and declared righteous in Christ by faith alone. Proof of this can be seen when we compare Paul’s account in Romans 4:1-4 and 13-24 of Abraham being justified by faith alone to James’ statement in James 2:24, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.”

In Romans 4:1-4 and 13:24, Paul is referring to the time recorded in Genesis 15:6 when Abraham believed God and His promise and as a result God declared him to be right in His sight. Abraham was justified by faith alone by God the Supreme Ruler and Judge.

James mentions the same event in James 2:23. But note in James 2:21-22 and 24, James speaks of Abraham being justified by works at a time many years after the event recorded in Genesis 15:6 when Abraham was declared right by God. Genesis 15:6 records an event which occurred many years before Isaac’s birth. The event mentioned in James 2:21-22 of Abraham being willing to sacrifice Isaac in obedience to God, occurred years after Isaac’s birth (see Genesis 22:1-18).

Note in James 2:23, James reveals Abraham’s obedient surrendering of Isaac to God was an outward fulfillment of the righteousness God had credited to Abraham years before in Genesis 15:6. James 2:23 basically says Genesis 15:6 was fulfilled in the eyes of others – Isaac and possibly watching angels – in Abraham’s actions recorded in Genesis 22:1-18. Referring to the events of Genesis 22:1-8, James 2:23 says, “And the Scripture was fulfilled…” and then quotes Genesis 15:6.

Some may even argue James 2:23 refers to God’s Genesis 15:6 declaration of Abraham to be righteous being partially outwardly fulfilled later in God’s eyes in the events recorded in Genesis 22:1-18.

In James 2:23, James is speaking of accounted righteousness or being declared right by God. He does not use the Greek word “dikaioo” meaning justified in James 2:23, but instead uses the Greek words “logizomai” meaning “accounted” or “imputed” and “dikaiosune” meaning “righteousness”.

Observe in James 2:24, James uses the Greek word “dikaioo” meaning justified when teaching Abraham was justified by works. But note James uses “dikaioo” here not in the sense Paul used it in Romans 3:26, 3:28 and 5:1 when referring to being declared right by God through faith alone.

James uses “dikaioo” more in the sense this Greek word is used in Matthew 11:19, Luke 7:35, and Romans 3:4. Vine says “dikaioo” is used in these latter verses to mean “to show to be right or righteous”. [5]

In other words, James was saying Abraham’s works of obedience and surrender recorded in Genesis 22:1-18 showed outwardly the evidences of God declaring Abraham to be right by faith many years before in Genesis 15:6. Note Genesis 15:6 uses the expression “believed in the Lord” and Genesis 22:18 uses “obeyed My voice”. True faith in the Lord produces the fruit of works of obedience. Works of obedience are not a part of faith, but are a result of faith.

James 2:24 also reveals that Abraham was shown to be justified by the outward manifestation of his faith. Abraham’s faith was outwardly expressed to Isaac and possibly watching angels.

James 2:18 says: “But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” In Greek, the second usage of the word “show” in the above verse is a form of the word “deiknumi” which in this context means “show by way of proving” [6] or “demonstrate, prove”. [7] In other words, we demonstrate or show we have faith by our good works done by the Holy Spirit’s power. These good actions are proof or evidence we have justifying faith.

James’ usage of the word “show” in James 2:18 fits exactly with his usage of the expression “is justified” in James 2:24. This is because as stated before in James 2:24, James uses the phrase “is justified” to mean “to show to be righteous or justified.” So James is teaching in James 2:14-26 that good works are proof or evidence someone is justified and has justifying faith. James 2:14-26 does not teach that humans are declared righteous by God on the condition of having both faith and good works.

Also, note the expression “is justified” in James 2:24 is in the passive voice in Greek. The passive voice signifies the action is done to believers by another – in this case God. In other words, it is God Who justifies believers outwardly through their works. God shows others that believers are right in His sight through believers’ God-empowered good actions.

A similar example to James 2:14-26 is found in Hebrews 11:4. Hebrews 11:4 teaches that Abel’s righteous actions or works witnessed or showed that he was righteous by faith: “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, Cain testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.”

In James 2:25, James says the prostitute Rahab was justified by works: “Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?” This verse cannot possibly mean she was declared righteous by God for just one good deed. Her wicked life as a prostitute was enough to eternally condemn her. Even just one act of prostitution was sufficient for God to send her to hell. The Scriptures never teach wicked people can be declared right by God by merely doing one good thing.

James 2:25 teaches that Rahab showed outwardly, by her act of receiving the Israelite messengers and sending them off safely, her recently found faith in God which had resulted in Him declaring her to be righteous. James uses the Greek word “dikaioo” in James 2:25 to refer to showing outwardly to be righteous, not to declaring to be righteous. Hebrews 11:31 records Rahab’s faith: “By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe…”

Joshua 6:25 records Rahab was accepted as a part of the nation of Israel. The godly Joshua would not have allowed this to occur if Rahab had not turned from her sexual sins. Justifying faith also results in turning from sin. Leviticus 20:10 teaches that God commanded that any adulterer among them be put to death. If Rahab did not have a living faith, she would not have turned from her sexual sins after conversion and would have been punished with death.

One alternative is James 2:14-26 teaches that through the grace-empowered good works of believers, God shows to Himself, other humans and angels the outward fruit of Him declaring or accounting them righteous previously. Whether other humans respond by regarding the person as justified before God is irrelevant. The key is God has done it. He has done it purely by His grace and without any meriting by humans.

Other humans may personally observe the good works being done. In Abraham’s case, Isaac observed Abraham’s actions. In Rahab’s case, the spies observed her good works. Or others may read or hear about these actions at later times.

Hebrews 12:1 refers to a great cloud of witnesses observing believers’ doings. This may refer to angels and believers watching from heaven.

Another possible interpretation of James 2:14-26 is James uses the expression “justified by works” in the sense of at the Final Judgement, God will reveal how the post-conversion works of believers showed outwardly the results of Him declaring them to be righteous earlier by grace through faith. This would be similar to how in Matthew 12:36-37, Christ refers to people being justified at the Final Judgement by their words in their lives: “But I say to you that for every idle word men speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgement. For by your words you will be justified, and you will be condemned.”

Or possibly the truth is a combination of these two alternatives.

As Vine says, “Justification is primarily and gratuitously by faith, subsequently and evidently by works.” [8] “Gratuitously” here refers to God’s grace.

In the context of James 2:14-26, James refers to faith more in the sense of believing in truths about God, as his use of the word “believing” in James 2:19 shows. But in many other usages in the New Testament, the words “believe” and “faith” are used in a broader sense which includes surrendering to God as Lord.

 

Justification by faith is one root of obedience

 

Our justification by God’s grace through faith should be one foundation of our every action. We can take steps of obedience to God’s commands knowing He will approve them only because:

 

·         we have a right standing in Christ before God the Highest Ruler and Judge.

·         the Holy Spirit was imparted to us when we were regenerated at the same time we were first justified in Christ. The Holy Spirit gives us all the power we need to obey God’s commands.

 

Three marvellous proofs of our justification

 

The written Word reveals there are three main things which prove we as sincere believers are justified by God. These are the written Word itself, Jesus’ resurrection and our daily living. The promises of the Word of God and the fact of Jesus’ resurrection are objective infallible proofs of our justification. Our post-conversion changed daily living is a subjective fallible proof of our justification.

There are many verses in the Word of God which promise justification to believers. Romans 5:1 is one example: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 4:25 refers to Jesus’ resurrection being proof of our justification: “Who…was raised because of our justification.”

Our changed daily living compared with our pre-conversion lifestyle is an outward sign we have been justified. Justification does not make us permanently sinless in this life, but it does produce major changes in us. 1 John 3:7 shows that an outward sign or evidence of our being righteous through Christ is a genuine practicing of right daily living: “Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.”

Verses such as 1 John 2:4, 3:6-9, 3:14-15, 5:18 and 3 John 11 show us the danger of having a false assurance of salvation. These verses are not referring to some imagined state of permanent sinless perfection in this life. This is because in 1 John 1:8, John says all believers will have sin. But these verses taken in context with 1 John 1:8 do reveal a saved justified person will have a changed life in an imperfect sense.

 

Justification and sin

 

All justified believers will sin (see James 3:2). If we define sin in the broadest sense of whatever way we do not conform to Jesus’ holy character, we must say we as believers will have hidden sin in our lives every day. Therefore, our justification is not given on the basis of sinlessness.

But many justified believers wrongly ignore all the warnings in the New Testament about them treating sin lightly or then not turning from known sin. Galatians 2:17 reveals God justifies sinners not because of how right they live but this justification is not given by Him as an excuse for a careless attitude to sin: “But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not!”

 

Our justification operates eternally if

 

Our justification by God remains operative forever only as long as we continue in trusting faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Hebrews 3:12-14 says: “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from then living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.”

 

God’s love is unchanged

 

God loves condemned sinners just as much as His justified children. Justification does not change God’s love but does change His attitude to us in His role as Supreme Ruler and Judge.

Justification is a result of God’s love. If He did not love us when we were condemned sinners, He would never have made a way to declare us right before Himself the Supreme Ruler (see Romans 5:8-9).

 

Luther on faith and good works

 

Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer never changed from insisting a person is justified by faith and not good works. But many modern Christians are unaware Luther also emphasised if a person does not manifest the fruit of good works in his life following his so-called “conversion”, he does not really have justifying and saving faith. Luther wrote: “If (good) works and love do not blossom forth, it is not genuine faith, the gospel has not yet gained a foothold, and Christ is not yet rightly known.” [9]

In the preface to his popular commentary on the Book of Romans, Luther wrote: “Faith, however, is something that God effects in us…O, when it comes to faith, what a living, creative, active, powerful thing it is. It cannot do other than good at all times.  It never waits to ask whether there is some good work to do, rather, before the question is raised, it has done the deed, and keeps on doing it. A man not active in this way is a man without faith. He is groping about for faith and searching for good works, but knows neither what faith is nor what good works are. Nevertheless, he keeps on talking nonsense about faith and good works…It is impossible, indeed, to separate works from faith, just as it is impossible to separate heat and light from fire.” [10]

Luther also said:

“Now observe, we have given these answers, that the Scriptures have such passages concerning works, on account of such dreamers and self-invented faith; not that man should become good by works, but that man should thereby prove and see the difference between false and true faith. For wherever faith is right it does good. If it does no good, it is then certainly a dream and a false idea of faith. So, just as the fruit on the tree does not make the tree good, but nevertheless outwardly proves and testifies that the tree is good, as Christ says, ‘By their fruits ye shall know them.' Thus we should also learn to know faith by its fruits…

You should explain all passages of Scripture referring to works, that God thereby desires to let the goodness received in faith express and prove itself, and become a benefit to others, so that false faith may become known and rooted out of the heart. God gives no one His grace that it may remain inactive and accomplish nothing good, but in order that it may bear interest, and by being publicly known and proved externally, draw every one to God, as Christ says: ‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven’ (Matthew 5:16)…

Then abide by the truth, that man is internally, in spirit before God, justified by faith alone without works, but externally and publicly before men and himself, he is justified by works, that he is at heart an honest believer and pious. The one you may call a public or outward justification, the other an inner justification, yet in the sense that the public or external justification is only the fruit, the result and proof of the justification in the heart, that a man does not become just thereby before God, but must previously be just before Him. So you may call the fruit of the tree the public or outward good of the tree, which is only the result and proof of its inner and natural goodness. This is what James means when he says in his Epistle: ‘Faith without works is dead’ (2:26). That is, as the works do not follow, it is a sure sign that there is no faith there; but only an empty thought and dream, which they falsely call faith…” [11]

 

Calvin on justification, faith, integrity and good works

 

One of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation of the 1500’s, John Calvin wrote:

“We deny that good works have any share in justification, but we claim full authority for them in the lives of the righteous… where zeal for integrity and holiness is not vigor, there neither is the Spirit of Christ nor Christ Himself; and wherever Christ is not, there is no righteousness, nay, there is no faith; for faith cannot apprehend Christ for righteousness without the Spirit of sanctification.” [12]

 

Summarising comment

 

We are justified by God on the basis of Jesus’ death. We receive this justification in Christ through faith and express or evidence it imperfectly in our life through works of faith, abandoning sin, obedience and holy living.

 

Bible Study Questions

 

1.       What is the relationship between Jesus’ death and our justification by God’s grace?

2.       What does Romans 6:7 teach about justification?

3.       Explain the significance of the present tense of the word “justified” in Romans 3:24, 3:26, 3:28 and 4:5.

4.       What are the differences between justification and initial sanctification?

5.       Does our initial sanctification occur before or after or at the same time we are first justified by God’s grace?

6.       Why is it wrong to teach we are justified on the basis of our being regenerated and/or initial sanctification and/or our daily holy living?

7.       Explain why it is unbiblical to say we are justified on the basis of our daily obedient actions or good character.

8.       Is living as Jesus’ disciple a condition of being justified or a fruit or result of this justification?

9.       Explain what are the features of the type of faith which receives justification by God’s grace.

10.   Discuss whether faith is the unmeriting condition of justification or is a good work by which we merit justification or the price of justification.

11.   What does James 2:14-24 teach about justification, faith and good works?

12.   What are the two objective and one subjective proofs of our justification by God’s grace? Which verses support your answer.

13.   Does God love those people who are not justified by His grace?


 

[1] In his “It’s still Greek to me”, Professor David Black says that two of the main uses of the perfect tense in Greek are a completed action or a present state resulting from a past action (page 108). In their “A Greek Grammar of the New Testament” Curtis Vaughan and Virtus Gideon agree with Black (pages 149-150). In his “Intermediate New Testament Greek”, Richard Young argues that the perfect tense refers to a state of affairs and not a completed action (pages 106-107 and 126-129). But even if the perfect tense refers to just a state of affairs or to only a completed action or to a present state resulting from a past action and not to a completed action with continuing effects, this only slightly changes what I am saying in the above section and footnote 2.

[2] In the New Testament, Paul, Peter and John use the present and perfect tenses in relation to other key aspects of God’s gracious work in believers’ lives. In Colossians 3:10, Paul uses the present tense of “is renewed” when referring to believers being renewed according to God’s image. In 2 Corinthians 4:16, he uses the present tense of “is being renewed” in relation to believers’ inner man. In 2 Corinthians 3:18, Paul employs the use of the present tense of the phrase “are being transformed” in reference to believers. In Colossians 2:7, he uses the present tense of “built up” in relation to believers being built up in Christ. In these four verses, Paul uses the present tense to refer to incomplete ongoing processes or progessive actions. Note there are no verses in the New Testament which use the perfect tense in relation to believers being renewed in God’s image, being transformed and being built up in Christ. This is because none of these actions are completed in this earthly life.

Paul’s usages of the present tense of the relevant Greek word for being justified in Romans 3:24, 3:26, 3:28 and 4:5 are similar to the New Testament authors’ usage of the present tense in relation to believers having the Holy Spirit in them, having Christ in them and having eternal life. In Romans 8:9 (latter part), 8:11 (latter part), 1 Corinthians 3:16, 1 Thessalonians 4:8 and 1 Peter 4:14, Paul and Peter use the present tense in relation to believers having the Holy Spirit in a continuous ongoing sense. But note in 1 John 3:24 and 4:13, John uses the perfect tense to show believers have received the Holy Spirit as a completed action or they are in the state of having received the Holy Spirit. In Romans 8:9, 8:11 and other verses mentioned in the two sentences above, Paul and Peter were not using the present tense to say the Holy Spirit is received by believers in some type of progressive process.

In Romans 16:7, Paul uses the perfect tense of “were” when referring to having come into union with Christ. In Colossians 2:7, he uses the perfect tense of “rooted” relative to having been rooted in Christ. Believers came into union with Christ and were rooted in Him as completed actions at conversion and are in a state of being in union with and rooted in Him. Also Galatians 2:20 uses the present tense of “lives” in reference to Christ living in believers in a continuous ongoing sense. But note the present tense of “lives” in Galatians 2:20 does not teach we receive Christ as some type of incomplete progressive process over time.

In 1 John 5:24 (latter part) and 1 John 3:14, John uses the perfect tense of “has passed” and “have passed” in relation to believers receiving eternal life. These verses show believers have already received as a completed action or are in a state of having received eternal life. But John uses the present tense of the word “has” in the phrase “has everlasting life” in John 6:47 and the words “you have” in the phrase “have eternal life” in 1 John 5:13 to show believers have eternal life as an ongoing continuous possession. John does not use these present tenses in the sense of receiving eternal life as an incomplete progressive process over time.

Note in 2 Corinthians 5:17, 1 Peter 1:23, 1 John 2:29, 3:9, 4:7, 5:1, 5:4 and 5:18, Paul, Peter and John refer to becoming a new creation in Christ or being born-again or born of God in the perfect tense. This means we are regenerated or born of God as a completed action with continuing effects or in the state of having been regenerated by God. There are no New Testament verses which use the present tense in relation to being regenerated or born-again or born of God. This is because this is a one-time completed event. Believers are never regenerated or born-again as a progressive process. Humans are only born once physically and once in a born-again sense.

[3] In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus said: “Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be abased, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

[4] Bauer, page 210.

[5] Vine, page 339.

[6] Ibid, page 569.

[7] Perschbacher, page 87.

[8] Vine, page 339.

[9] Dillenberger, page 18.

[10] Ibid, page 23-24.

[11] Martin Luther, “Justification by Faith”, in “Classic Sermons on Faith and Doubt”, edited by Warren W. Wiersbe, Kregel, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1985, pages 78-83.

[12] John C. Olin (Editor), “A Reformation Debate”, Baker, Grand Rapids, 1966, page 68.


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