Study in Galatians. Presentation 05. Justification By Faith Chap 2v15-19. Presentation 05. Introduction.
Justification By Faith
Calvin called it the “the main hinge upon which religion turns”. Luther described it as “the chief article from which all other doctrines flow.The Westminster Confession of Faith apportions a complete chapter to it. I am referring to the doctrine of justification. This doctrine lies at the very heart of Christian experience and is the one doctrine which Paul had to contend for more than any other. “It is of such pivotal importance,”says Luther, “that when this article of faith has fallen, then everything has fallen.” It was this central doctrine that was under attack in the churches in Galatia and because of its central importance we look at it exclusively in our study.
In scripture the words for ‘justify’ and ‘justification’ convey the idea of being considered righteous or being in a right relationship. It means to be rightly related to God and to his law. Justification and righteousness are legal terms –
the language of the law court. The concern of the court
is to establish how the person at the bar is related to the law. When a law-court makes a pronouncement in the
case of Regina v Smith, [the accused], it declares how
he stands in relation to the law. So too, in the Bible to justify does not mean to change a person’s character
it has to do with what the law declares him to be and
how the law intends to treat him. To be ‘justified’ is
to be treated as being perfectly righteous.
‘Justification’ is the opposite of ‘condemnation’ in scripture. In Deut. 25v1 we read that the judges were to ‘acquit [justify] the innocent and condemn the guilty’. Clearly to ‘condemn’ does not mean to ‘make’ them guilty but rather to ‘declare’ them to be guilty. In exactly the same way to ‘justify’ cannot mean to make a man innocent but to ‘declare’ a man to be innocent. Justification is the act whereby God remits the sins of guilty men and women thus accounting them/treating them as righteous.
But has the Bible, by placing all of humanity under the microscope, not concluded that “there is none righteous no not one” [Rom. 3v10]. Human guilt refuses to go away, to simply vanish with the passing of time despite the fact that some people believe this in fact is the case:
“We have a strange illusion that mere time cancels sin. I have heard others and I have heard myself recounting cruelties and falsehoods committed in boyhood as if they were no concern of the present speaker and even with laughter. But mere time does nothing either to the fact or the guilt of sin.” C.S.LEWIS
What is the justification of which Paul speaks? It is much more than forgiveness. Our need before God can only be met if righteousness, full and entire holiness of character, is credited to us. It is not simply that our abysmal failure in life’s moral examination is overlooked - we are declared
[through justification] to have passed with
100%. That is the amazing claim of this
doctrine. As a youngster I was taught
justification meant God treating me,
‘just-as-if-I’d never sinned’.But helpful though
that might have been at the time, it does not
do justice to the richness of the term or stress
that it is the ungodly who are justified by God
and credited with a perfect righteousness.
Nor must we confuse justification with holiness of life. Christians differ in the extent to which we allow God’s Spirit to make us like Christ. While it is possible to be more or less Christ-like, it is not possible for one Christian to be more justified than another.
Think about it neither the apostle Paul nor, Martin Luther nor, John Wesley nor, Robert Murray McCheyneare more justified than the weakest Christian! There are no degrees of justification. It does not operate on some kind of a sliding scale. And that is because it is exclusively the gracious work of God. Rom.3v24.
Justification is not a reward for our own righteous efforts. Nor are we called upon to co-operate with God to make any moral contribution to our justification. So powerful was Paul’s emphasis on this point that some asked, “If God justifies us as we are and without any contribution on our part, what is the point of holiness?” Now there is a very real sense in which this question remains a test of whether an authentic gospel message has been preached. Does it make people say: “You are offering grace which is so free that it does not appear to make any difference how we live”.Of course they are wrong to conclude that but is a natural response when the gift of salvation by grace alone is freely offered.
The wonder of God’s grace in justification lies in this, that it is contrary to nature. Ungodly men and women are not naturally justified and acquitted. Yet it is surely unthinkable that justification should be contrary to God’s nature. The question which therefore haunts the man who begins to study this doctrine is ‘how can God remain just and at the same time justify the ungodly’.
The only basis of our justification which the N.T. recognises is the work of Christ. Love alone can never justify. The judge in the court cannot justify his guilty child in the dock on the ground that he loves him. Something more must be done. It is for this reason we read in the N.T. that we are justified by Christ’s blood. Rom.5v9.
How Does The Doctrine Work?
The law is not an arbitrary series of demands which God could have relaxed. God could not ignore man’s law breaking. To be a sinner means to be a person
with a past. The copy book is marked and stained.
We cannot simply begin again for the sin of
yesterday remains in our account.
God cannot overlook our sin. What has he done? He has judged and punished it upon the cross and thereby shown his eternal and holy antagonism towards it. God is not lowering his standards as far as the sinner is concerned. Jesus has borne the guilt and penalty of the sinner upon the cross. God therefore receives the sinner on the grounds of the perfect righteousness of Christ, which has been credited to him.
When God justifies sinners he is not wearing a blindfold - his justice is not blind - and declaring bad people to be good, or saying that they are not sinners at all; he is pronouncing them ‘legally righteous’, free from any liability to the broken law, because he himself, through his Son’s death, has borne the penalty of their law-breaking.
How does Christ’s righteousness become ours? CfGal. 2v16. “we are justified by faith”. Paul’s opponents taught that we receive justification by obedience to the law. But to suggest such a thing displays their ignorance of the scriptures. In Ch. 3 Paul will in some detail cite the example of Abraham as a man who was ‘justified by faith’.
Indeed, the law was introduced some 430 years after Abraham had received God’s promise and had himself been justified by faith. Paul tells us [3v19] that the law was added and given in order to make men see how necessary a dependence upon the doctrine of justification by faith really was.
How can the law bring justification when it was given
to reveal our condemnation? Paul’s opponents not only misunderstood faith [on which they do not rely] but
they even misunderstood law on which they did rely!
We must not think that we are justified because of
faith. Faith is never more the channel by which we receive the grace of justification.
Bishop Ryle writes of faith:
“It gives nothing, contributes nothing, pays nothing, ... It only receives, takes, accepts, grasps and embraces the glorious gift of justification which Christ bestows.”
Faith’s only function is to receive what grace freely offers. Faith is ‘dependence upon another’ and not upon oneself. It therefore locks in upon the principle of grace. Paul’s opponents were advocating man’s dependence upon himself and thereby locking in upon the principle of works. In this way they
removed justification from the sphere of divine activity - something God does - and installed it into the sphere of human activity - something man does.
Paul’s opponents were saying that his doctrine of justification was really a free licence to go on sinning in disguise. After all, if a man is justified by God’s grace and not by his own striving, what is to prevent him from treating life as a perpetual sin binge? Justification becomes a legal fiction, a giant hoax, a phoney transaction leaving a person unrenewed and unchanged. cfRom.6v1. But justification is not the only facet of salvation to which Paul’s teaching pointed. Indeed, he does not separate the justifying work of the Son from the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Both are facets of the same salvation. And it is for this reason that good works follow justification and new birth as their necessary evidence.
Both Justification, which deals with a man’s status, and regeneration and sanctification, which deal with a mans state and behaviour, are inseparable. Indeed, Paul is pointing in this direction in the language he uses in 2.17 ‘justified in Christ” where we have a reminder of the Christian’s union with Christ [cfalso 2v20].
Far from encouraging him to sin, the justified man, by virtue of his union with Christ [a branch in the vine] on whose life he draws, has been equipped and will want to do those good works which please his Father in heaven..
This doctrine, rightly understood, produces a biblical humility, or to use Paul’s words in Rom. 3v27… It ‘silences boasting’. For unless all human works, merits, co-operation and contributions are ruthlessly excluded so that Christ’s death is viewed as the only ground of our justification, boasting cannot be excluded.
Cramnerthe English reformer described justification in these terms:
“this doctrine advances and sets forth the true glory of Christ and beats down the vain glory of man.”
Justification is the basis of the Christian’s peace, security and joy. [Rom. 5.1-21]. Justification brings forward into the present the verdict that belongs to the last judgement. That is why the church is a ‘community of hope’ looking with humble confidence into the future. We can sing with perfect assurance, “No condemnation now I dread.”
How insecure we would be if our justification rested upon our merit, our law-keeping. We would be going around constantly off balance asking, ‘has my relationship
with God changed, does he still accept me?’ Our acceptance and assurance is not based on our performance but on Christ’s. The justified man knows that none of his failures can ever change the divine verdict which is guaranteed and settled in heaven.