The Mystery of Justification

by H. A. Wilson

Taken from Grace and Truth Magazine 1922


The meaning of "justification" must be understood in order to discuss the doctrine intelligently. The word "justify" is a word of judgment. It means to render a verdict. As it is used in the New Testament this word always means to give a favorable verdict. So to justify means to pronounce righteous. The picture is that of an old Roman court of justice. A man stands at the bar of judgment, accused of some crime. The evidence is in. The trial has been completed. The judge now pronounces his verdict. He says, "I find this man innocent." Practically he says, "This man has never committed this crime." So when God says that the Christian is justified He says in effect, "This man is not a sinner. He is righteous." Justification is the judicial act of God wherein He declares the sinner righteous.

However, we must remember that justification has two aspects. The Word of God clearly shows this to be the case. There is a justification before men, and there is a justification before God. In the case of Abraham. God led Paul to write.

"Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness." (Rom. 4:3).

But He led James to write.

"— Faith without works is dead. Was not Abraham, our father, justified by works, when he had offered Isaac, his son, upon the altar?" (Jas. 2:20-21).

Apparently these two passages are contradictory, but careful study shows that ' Paul is writing from God's standpoint, and James, no less inspired than Paul, is writing from man's standpoint. Men cannot see the faith in the heart and are not prepared to judge rightly if they could. They can judge only by the deeds of a man's life. So Abraham was declared righteous in God's sight by simple faith, but in the sight of men it took the outworking of that faith in the life to convince them of his righteousness. This is confirmed in Rom. 4:2, where we read,

"If Abraham were justified by works he hath wherof to glory, but not before God."

If he could not glory before God because of his works, then those works must have been occasion for glory in the sight of men. So let us remember, God's angle of judgment is very different from that of men. Works alone justify before men, but faith is the only thing which God considers.

Now the necessity of justification is apparent when we consider the holiness of God. Habakkuk 1:13 declares that God is "of purer eyes than to' behold evil and cannot look on iniquity." The full significance of this fact can be appreciated when we recognize that Jesus was forsaken by the Father upon the cross. The cry, "My God! My God' Why hast Thou forsaken ine?" was not the cry of delirium or. imagination. It was the cry of One who realized in all its horror the meaning of separation from God. This was because of sin, for though sinless and pure Himself, Jesus bare the sins of men. God cannot look upon sin, therefore He turned His back upon His Son when on the cross He assumed the guilt of hell-deserving sinners in order to save. them. Because God is so holy, no sinner can ever stand in His presence. And indeed if he could it would be most uncomfortable for him because God's holiness is so great that His very presence means judgment to the sinner. For one to enter into His presence and to enjoy fellowship with Him he must ht without sin. We cannot claim this naturally, for we have all sinned. The only possibility left then is that God shall declare that we are righteous, — that we are without sin.

You may ask, "On what ground can God declare men righteous whose lives have been wicked and sinful?" God's answer to this question is clear and unmistakable. Men are justified on the ground of Jesus' death and resurrection. Three passages from the Word declare this very plainly:

"Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." (Rom. 3:24).

"Much more then, being now justified by His blood ye shall be saved from wrath through Him." (Rom. 5:9).

"Who was delivered for our offences and was raised again for our justification." (Rom. 4:25).

From these and other passages it is evident that God declares men righteous simply on the ground that Jesus died for them and rose again.

But in order to avoid confusion we must recognize what God's Word teaches about the means of justification. That is, we need to know by what means the power of Jesus' death and resurrection is applied, to the end that the sinner may be declared righteous. We have already seen that

"Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness."

This shows us at once that justification is by the means of the faith of an individual. And this fact is stated in many other passages. Let us notice just one:

"Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (Rom. 5:1).

Not only is faith the means, — it is also the sole means of justification. Men can be justified before God in no other way than through faith. This is many times declared in the Bible and in words whose meaning cannot be misunderstood. One of the passages which states this is Gal. 2:16. Note how clear and positive this statement is:

"A man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified." (Gal. 2:16).

The means of justification, then, is faith. Simple faith m Jesus Christ, without good works of any kind.

"To him that worketh not but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." (Rom. 4:5).

This in itself is wonderful, but when we face the full extent of this truth our souls are literally staggered by its tremendous significance. God justifies the sinner from every sin of his whose life. No matter how vile and black the life may be; the worst sinner, on coming to Jesus in faith, is declared absolutely righteous. God declares that he is without sin. "To the unbeliever He says;

"Come now, let us reason together.... Though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." (Isa. 1:18).

And to the one who trusts Jesus for salvation He says:

"By Him, all that believe are justified from all things from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses. (Acts 13:39).

God justifies the sinner from every sin. He declares him perfectly righteous. Amazing grace I How can this be true?

Ah! Herein lies the mystery of justification. God declares these stupendous facts, but He nowhere attempts to explan-i them. A sinner hears the good news that a Saviour has died and risen again. Perhaps he has been unspeakably wicked. When the welcome offer of life through Jesus Christ comes to him, he looks up m simple faith and says, "Lord I do believe that Jesus died for me. I have been an abominable sinner, but I do trust Him to save me " Instantly God's verdict rings out! "This man is absolutely righteous! He is without a single sin!" Only a moment before He had said,

''All have sinned and come short of the glory of God." ( Rom. 3:23).

Now He declares that the same one whom He has just convicted of sin is righteous with the very righteousness of God. Men who read this verdict in the pages of the Word cry in amazement, "How can these things be?" The justified man himself may echo in wonderment, "How?" But to this question there is no answer. On this subject God IS silent. It is one of the mysteries of the Infinite. We do not need to understand it. and we could not even though God were to try to explain it to us He does not ask us to understand, only to believe. He has spoken, and it is enough He is the One who

"Calleth those things which be not, as though they were." (Rom. 4:17).

and His decree establishes their existence.