Close Menu X

The Doctrine of Justification

Luther called justification, "the article of a standing or falling church."

Grudem writes, "If we are to safeguard the truth of the gospel for future generations, we must understand the truth of justification . justification is the dividing line between the biblical gospel of salvation by faith alone and all false gospels of salvation based on good works."

Packer says, "The knowledge of one's justification is the basis of all true religion." So what is it?


1. A co-operative process of works by both God and sinner making the sinner righteous, involving an inner spiritual renewal and penance for sins, with baptism as a primary means or channel of grace. - Roman Catholicism
2. "God's act of remitting the sins of, and reckoning righteousness to, ungodly sinners freely, by his grace, through faith in Christ, on the ground, not of their own works, but of the representative righteousness and redemptive, propitiatory, substitutionary blood-shedding of Jesus Christ on their behalf." - Packer

Two Parts to What It Is

A right legal standing before God.

A legal and judicial term, justification refers to the verdict. If charges have been brought against you in a court of law, the cases are made and then the resulting verdict is either guilty or not guilty. To be justified is the opposite of being condemned. You are cleared of all charges! God now looks at you as though you had never broken the law.

· Romans 4:5-8 "And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin."

· Acts 13:38-39 "Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses."

An imputation of righteousness.

More than just being left with a clean slate (neither good nor bad), being justified means that we have righteousness imputed to us. That is, not that God infuses goodness into us to somehow make us better (not an internal spiritual renewal), but that he has credited righteousness to our account. Not only does God see you as having never broken the law, but he sees you as having kept the law in its entirety.

· Romans 4:5-8 (above); Romans 5:18-19 "So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous."

· Philippians 3:8-9 ". for whom [Christ] I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith."

One of the toughest things to understand is how this is just. How could a just judge look at those who are guilty and say "Not guilty"? How could one who stands condemned rightly be declared "Justified"?

Two parts to how it comes

Our faith is the means of our justification.

Faith - and faith alone! - is the only means by which one may be justified. As we have seen in our previous studies, a sinner is completely incapable of doing anything to contribute to his own salvation. The same is true of faith - it is a gift of God, a result of invincible grace, not a work of our own. This gift of faith is the channel of God's work of justifying sinners. Our justification, though it comes to us through faith is not based on our faith. Our faith must be in something true for it to be effective.

· Romans 3:28 "For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law." See also Rom. 3:20; Gal. 2:16.

· Ephesians 2:8-9 "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."

Christ's work is the grounds of our justification.

It is in Christ's work that we must place our faith. Through faith we are united with Christ - we are one with him in his death and in his resurrection. Since Christ did not break the law, we are innocent of breaking the law. Since Christ fulfilled the law perfectly, we have fulfilled the law perfectly. We are one with him in faith and his righteousness has been credited to our account - his righteousness has become ours (see Romans 5:12-21)! Along with this righteousness, come the privileges of being counted as a son and an heir of God (see all of Galatians 4)!

· Romans 5:1-2 - Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. See also Romans 6:3-11.

What Effect Should Justification Have On Our Lives?

· Gratitude - Not a day should go by when we do not thank God for Christ who takes on our sin and gives us his righteousness.

· Peace and Assurance - See Romans 5:1. We have peace with God, and none can bring a charge against us (Romans 8:33-34)! God's work in us who have been justified will be completed in our glorification (Romans 8:28-30). As Roger Fellows writes, "What greater turmoil than guilt and the fear of being at enmity with God? What greater peace than knowing his wrath is turned aside and our sins are forgiven?"

· Joy - Also in Romans 5 Paul says that we can have joy in the hope of the glory of God, even in the midst of our current trials. He says this because of the conclusions he draws in Romans 8. We are more than conquerors and nothing can ever separate us from the love of God.


"God's exact justice and His rich grace are alike rendered glorious in the justification of sinners." - 1689.

· Romans 3:21-26 "But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it-- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 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. 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."