THE DOCTRINES OF SALVATION
I. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE DOCTRINE.
The prominence given to the doctrine of Repentance in the Scriptures can hardly be overestimated. John the Baptist began his public ministry, as did Jesus also, with the call to repentance upon his lips (Matt. 3:1, 2; 4:17).
When Jesus sent forth the twelve and the seventy messengers to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of heaven, He commanded them to preach repentance (Luke 24:47; Mark 6:12).
Foremost in the preaching of the apostles was the doctrine of repentance; Peter, (Acts 2:38); Paul, (Acts 20:21).
The burden of the heart of God, and His one command to all men everywhere, is that they should repent (2 Pet. 3:9; Acts 17:30).
Indeed, failure on the part of man to heed God's call to repentance means that he shall utterly perish (Luke 13:3).
Does the doctrine of repentance find such a prominent place in the preaching and teaching of today? Has the need for repentance diminished? Has God lessened or changed the terms of admission into His kingdom?
II. THE NATURE OF REPENTANCE.
There is a three-fold idea involved in true repentance:
1. AS TOUCHING THE INTELLECT.
Matt. 21:29--"He answered and said: I will not; but afterward he repented, and went". The word here used for "repent" means to change one's mind, thought, purpose, views regarding a matter; it is to have another mind about a thing. So we may speak of it as a revolution touching our attitude and views towards sin and righteousness. This change is well illustrated in the action of the Prodigal Son, and of the Publican in the well-known story of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 15 and 18). Thus, when Peter, on the day of Pentecost, called upon the Jews to repent (Acts 2:14-40), he virtually called upon them to change their minds and their views regarding Christ. They had considered Christ to be a mere man, a blasphemer, an impostor. The events of the few preceding days had proven to them that He was none other than the righteous Son of God, their Saviour and the Saviour of the world. The result of their repentance or change of mind would be that they would receive Jesus Christ as their long promised Messiah.
2. AS TOUCHING THE EMOTIONS.
2 Cor. 7:9--"Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance; for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing." The context (vv. 7-11) shows what a large part the feelings played in true Gospel repentance. See also Luke 10:13; cf. Gen. 6:6. The Greek word for repentance in this connection means "to be a care to one afterwards," to cause one great concern. The Hebrew equivalent is even stronger, and means to pant, to sigh, to moan. So the publican "beat upon his breast," indicating sorrow of heart. Just how much emotion is necessary to true repentance no one can definitely say. But that a certain amount of heart movement, even though it be not accompanied with a flood of tears, or even a single tear, accompanies all true repentance is evident from the use of this word. See also Psa. 38:18.
3. AS TOUCHING THE WILL AND DISPOSITION.
One of the Hebrew words for repent means "to turn." The prodigal said, "I will arise.... and he arose" (Luke 15:18, 20). He not only thought upon his ways, and felt sorry because of them, but he turned his steps in the direction of home. So that in a very real sense repentance is a crisis with a changed experience in view. Repentance is not only a heart broken for sin, but from sin also. We must forsake what we would have God remit. In the writings of Paul repentance is more of an experience than a single act. The part of the will and disposition in repentance is shown:
a) In the Confession of Sin to God.
Psa. 38:18--"For I will declare mine iniquity: I will be sorry for my sin." The publican beat upon his breast, and said, "God be merciful to me a sinner" (Luke 18:13). The prodigal said, "I have sinned against heaven" (Luke 15:21).
There must be confession to man also in so far as man has been wronged in and by our sin (Matt. 5:23, 24; James 5:16).
b) In the Forsaking of Sin.
Isa. 55:7--"Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord." Prov. 28:13; Matt. 3:8, 10.
c) In Turning Unto God.
It is not enough to turn away from sin; we must turn unto God; 1 Thess. 1:9; Acts 26:18.
III. HOW REPENTANCE IS PRODUCED.
1. IT IS A DIVINE GIFT.
Acts 11:18--"Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life." 2 Tim. 2:25--"If God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth." Acts 5:30, 31. Repentance is not something which one can originate within himself, or can pump up within himself as one would pump water out of a well. It is a divine gift. How then is man responsible for not having it? We are called upon to repent in order that we may feel our own inability to do so, and consequently be thrown upon God and petition Him to perform this work of grace in our hearts.
2. YET THIS DIVINE GIFT IS BROUGHT ABOUT THROUGH THE USE OF MEANS.
Acts 2:37, 38, 41. The very Gospel which calls for repentance produces it. How well this is illustrated in the experience of the people of Nineveh (Jonah 3:5-10)! When they heard the preaching of the word of God by Jonah they believed the message and turned unto God. Not any message, but the Gospel is the instrument that God uses to bring about this desired end. Furthermore, this message must be preached in the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 1:5-10).
Rom. 2:4--"Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long-suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?" Also 2 Pet. 3:9. Prosperity too often leads away from God, but it is the divine intention that it should lead to God. Revivals come mostly in times of panic.
Rev. 3:19; Heb. 12:6, 10, 11. The chastisements of God are sometimes for the purpose of bringing His wandering children back to repentance.
2 Tim. 2:24, 25. God oftentimes uses the loving, Christian reproof of a brother to be the means of bringing us back to God.
IV. THE RESULTS OF REPENTANCE.
1. ALL HEAVEN IS MADE GLAD.
Luke 15:7, 10. Joy in heaven, and in the presence of the angels of God. Makes glad the heart of God, and sets the bells of heaven ringing. Who are those "in the presence of the angels of God"? Do the departed loved ones know anything about it?
2. IT BRINGS PARDON AND FORGIVENESS OF SIN.
Isa. 55:7; Acts 3:19. Outside of repentance the prophets and apostles know of no way of securing pardon. No sacrifices, nor religious ceremonies can secure it. Not that repentance merits forgiveness, but it is a condition of it. Repentance qualifies a man for a pardon, but it does not entitle him to it.
3. THE HOLY SPIRIT IS POURED OUT UPON THE PENITENT.
Acts 2:38--"Repent... and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." Impenitence keeps back the full incoming of the Spirit into the heart.
I. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE DOCTRINE.
Faith is fundamental in Christian creed and conduct. It was the one thing which above all others Christ recognized as the paramount virtue. The Syrophoenician woman (Matt. 15) had perseverance; the centurion (Matt. 8), humility; the blind man (Mark 10), earnestness. But what Christ saw and rewarded in each of these cases was faith. Faith is the foundation of Peter's spiritual temple (2 Pet. 1:5-7); and first in Paul's trinity of graces (1 Cor. 13:13). In faith all the other graces find their source.
II. THE DEFINITION OF FAITH.
Faith is used in the Scriptures in a general and in a particular sense.
1. ITS GENERAL MEANING:
Psa. 9:10--"And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee." Rom. 10:17--"So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." Faith is not believing a thing without evidence; on the contrary faith rests upon the best of evidence, namely, the Word of God. An act of faith denotes a manifestation of the intelligence: "How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?" Faith is no blind act of the soul; it is not a leap in the dark. Such a thing as believing with the heart without the head is out of the question. A man may believe with his head without believing with his heart; but he cannot believe with his heart without believing with his head too. The heart, in the Scriptures, means the whole man--intellect, sensibilities, and will. "As a man thinketh in his heart." "Why reason ye these things in your hearts?"
Mark 12:32--"And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth." So was it with the faith which Christ demanded in His miracles: "Believe ye that I am able to do this?" "Yea, Lord." There must not only be the knowledge that Jesus is able to save, and that He is the Saviour of the world; there must be also an assent of the heart to all these claims. Those who, receiving Christ to be all that He claimed to be, believed in Him, became thereby sons of God (John 1:12).
John 1:12; 2:24. There must be an appropriation of the things which we know and assent to concerning the Christ and His work. Intelligent perception is not faith. A man may know Christ as divine, and yet aside from that reject him as Saviour. Knowledge affirms the reality of these things but neither accepts nor rejects them. Nor is assent faith. There is an assent of the mind which does not convey a surrender of the heart and affections.
Faith is the consent of the will to the assent of the understanding. Faith always has in it the idea of action--movement towards its object. It is the soul leaping forth to embrace and appropriate the Christ in whom it believes. It first says: "My Lord and my God," and then falls down and worships.
A distinction between believing about Christ and on Christ is made in John 8:30, 31, R. V.--"Many believed on him.... Jesus therefore said to those Jews that had believed him."
2. THE MEANING OF FAITH IN PARTICULAR:
a) When Used in Connection with the Name of God.
Heb. 11:6--"But without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." Also Acts 27:22-25; Rom. 4:19-21 with Gen. 15:4-6. There can be no dealings with the invisible God unless there is absolute faith in His existence. We must believe in His reality, even though He is unseen. But we must believe even more than the fact of His existence; namely, that He is a rewarder, that He will assuredly honor with definite blessing those who approach unto Him in prayer. Importunity will, of course, be needed (Luke 11:5-10).
There must be confidence in the Word of God also. Faith believes all that God says as being absolutely true, even though circumstances seem to be against its fulfillment.
b) When Used in Connection with the Person and Work of Christ.
Recall the three elements in faith, and apply them here.
First, there must be a knowledge of the claims of Christ as to His person and mission in the world: As to His person--that He is deity, John 9:35-38; 10:30; Phil. 2:6-ll. As to His work--Matt. 20:28; 26:26-28; Luke 24:27, 44.
Second, there must be an assent to all these claims, John 16:30; 20:28; Matt. 16:16; John 6:68, 69.
Third, there must be a personal appropriation of Christ as being all that He claims to be, John 1:12, 8:21, 24; 5:24. There must be surrender to a person, and not mere faith in a creed. Faith in a doctrine must lead to faith in a person, and that person Jesus Christ, if salvation is to be the result of such belief. So Martha was led to substitute faith in a doctrine for faith in a person (John 11:25).
It is such faith--consisting of knowledge, assent, and appropriation --that saves. This is believing with the heart (Rom. 10:9,10).
c) When Used in Connection with Prayer.
Three passages may be used to set forth this relationship: 1 John 5:14, 15; James 1:5-7, Mark 11:24. There must be no hesitation which balances between belief and unbelief, and inclines toward the latter--tossed one moment upon the shore of faith and hope, the next tossed back again into the abyss of unbelief. To "doubt" means to reason whether or no the thing concerning which you are making request can be done (Acts 10:20; Rom. 4:20). Such a man only conjectures; he does not really believe. Real faith thanks God for the thing asked for, if that thing is in accord with the will of God, even before it receives it (Mark 11:24). Note the slight: "that man."
We must recognize the fact that knowledge, assent, and appropriation exist here also. We must understand the promises on which we base our prayer; we must believe that they are worth their full face value; and then step out upon them, thereby giving substance to that which, at the moment may be unseen, and, perchance, nonexistent, so far as our knowledge and vision are concerned, but which to faith is a splendid reality.
d) When Used in Connection with the Word and Promise of God.
First, we should know whether the particular promise in question is intended for us in particular. There is a difference in a promise being written for us and to us. There are dispensational aspects to many of the promises in the Bible, therefore we must rightly divide, apportion, and appropriate the Word of God (cf. I Cor. 10:32).
Second, when once we are persuaded that a promise is for us, we must believe that God means all He says in that promise; we must assent to all its truth; we must not diminish nor discount it. God will not, cannot lie (Titus 1:2).
Third, we must appropriate and act upon the promises. Herein lies the difference between belief and faith. Belief is mental; faith adds the volitional; we may have belief without the will, but not faith. Belief is a realm of thought; faith is a sphere of action. Belief lives in the study; faith comes out into the market-places and the streets. Faith substantiates belief--gives substance, life, reality, and activity to it (Heb. 11:1). Faith puts belief into active service, and connects possibilities with actualities. Faith is acting upon what you believe; it is appropriation. Faith counts every promise valid, and gilt-edged (Heb. 11:11); no trial can shake it (11:35); it is so absolute that it survives the loss of its own pledge even (11:17). For illustration, see I Kings 18:41-43.
3. THE RELATION OF FAITH TO WORKS.
There is no merit in faith alone. It is not mere faith that saves, but faith in Christ. Faith in any other saviour but Christ will not save. Faith in any other gospel than that of the New Testament will not save (Gal. 1:8, 9).
There is no contradiction between Paul and James touching the matter of faith and works (cf. James 2:14-26; Rom. 4:1-12). Paul is looking at the matter from the Godward side, and asserts that we are justified, in the sight of God, meritoriously, without absolutely any works on our part. James considers the matter from the manward side, and asserts that we are justified, in the sight of man, evidentially, by works, and not by faith alone (2:24). In James it is not the ground of justification, as in Paul, but the demonstration. See under Justification, II. 4, p. 159.
III. THE SOURCE OF FAITH.
There are two sides to this phase of the subject--a divine and a human side.
1. IT IS THE WORK OF THE TRIUNE GOD.
God the Father: Rom. 12:3; I Cor. 12. This is true of faith both in its beginning (Phil. 1:29) and its development (1 Cor. 12). Faith, then, is a gift of His grace.
God the Son: Heb. 12:2--"Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith." (Illustration, Matt. 14:30, 31--Peter taking his eyes off Christ.) I Cor. 12; Luke 17:5.
God the Spirit: Gal. 5:22; I Cor. 12:9. The Holy Spirit is the executive of the Godhead.
Why then, if faith is the work of the Godhead, are we responsible for not having it? God wills to work faith in all His creatures, and will do so if they do not resist His Holy Spirit. We are responsible, therefore, not so much for the lack of faith, but for resisting the Spirit who will create faith in our hearts if we will permit Him to do so.
2. THERE IS ALSO A HUMAN SIDE TO FAITH.
Rom. 10:17--"So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (cf. the context, vv. 9-21.) Acts 4:4--"Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed." In this instance the spoken word, the Gospel, is referred to; in other cases the written Word, the Scriptures, are referred to as being instrumental in producing faith. See also Gal. 3:2-5. It was a looking unto the promises of God that brought such faith into the heart of Abraham (Rom. 4:19).
Prayer also is an instrument in the development of faith. Luke is called the human Gospel because it makes so much of prayer, especially in connection with faith: 22:32--"But I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not." 17:5--"And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith." See also Mark 9:24; Matt. 17:19-21.
Our faith grows by the use of the faith we already have. Luke 17:5, 6; Matt. 25:39.
IV. SOME RESULTS OF FAITH.
1. WE ARE SAVED BY FAITH.
We, of course, recall that the saving power of faith resides not in itself, but in the Almighty Saviour on whom it rests; so that, properly speaking, it is not so much faith, as it is faith in Christ that saves.
The whole of our salvation--past, present, and future, is dependent upon faith. Our acceptance of Christ (John 1:12); our justification (Rom. 5:1); our adoption (Gal. 3:26); our sanctification (Acts 26:18); our keeping (1 Pet. 1:5), indeed our whole salvation from start to finish is dependent upon faith.
2. REST, PEACE, ASSURANCE, JOY.
Isa. 26:3; Phil. 4:6; Rom. 5:1; Heb. 4:1-3; John 14:1; 1 Pet. 1:8. Fact, faith, feeling--this is God's order. Satan would reverse this order and put feeling before faith, and thus confuse the child of God. We should march in accord with God's order: Fact leads, Faith with its eye on Fact, following, and Feeling with the eye on Faith bringing up the rear. All goes well as long as this order is observed. But the moment Faith turns his back on Fact, and looks at Feeling, the procession wabbles. Steam is of main importance, not for sounding the whistle, but for moving the wheels; and if there is a lack of steam we shall not remedy it by attempting by our own effort to move the piston or blow the whistle, but by more water in the boiler, and more fire under it. Feed Faith with Facts, not with Feeling.--A. T. Pierson.
3. DO EXPLOITS THROUGH FAITH.
Heb. 11:32-34; Matt. 21:21; John 14:12. Note the wonderful things done by the men of faith as recorded in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. Read vv. 32-40. Jesus attributes a kind of omnipotence to faith. The disciple, by faith, will be able to do greater things than his Master. Here is a mighty Niagara of power for the believer. The great question for the Christian to answer is not "What can I do?" but "How much can I believe?" for "all things are possible to him that believeth."
C. REGENERATION, OR THE NEW BIRTH.
It is of the utmost importance that we have a clear understanding of this vital doctrine. By Regeneration we are admitted into the kingdom of God. There is no other way of becoming a Christian but by being born from above. This doctrine, then, is the door of entrance into Christian discipleship. He who does not enter here, does not enter at all.
I. THE NATURE OF REGENERATION.
Too often do we find other things substituted by man for God's appointed means of entrance into the kingdom of heaven. It will be well for us then to look, first of all, at some of these substitutes.
1. REGENERATION IS NOT BAPTISM.
It is claimed that John 3:5--"Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit," and Titus 3:5--"The washing of regeneration," teach that regeneration may occur in connection with baptism. These passages, however, are to be understood in a figurative sense, as meaning the cleansing power of the Word of God. See also Eph. 5:26--"With the washing of water by (or in) the word"; John 15:3--"Clean through the word." That the Word of God is an agent in regeneration is clear from James 1:18, and 1 Pet. 1:23.
If baptism and regeneration were identical, why should the Apostle Paul seem to make so little of that rite (1 Cor. 4:15, and compare with it 1 Cor. 1:14)? In the first passage Paul asserts that he had begotten them through the Gospel; and in 1:14 he declares that he baptized none of them save Crispus and Gaius. Could he thus speak of baptism if it had been the means through which they had been begotten again? Simon Magus was baptized (Acts 8), but was he saved? Cornelius (Acts 11) was saved even before he was baptized.
2. REFORMATION IS NOT REGENERATION.
Regeneration is not a natural forward step in man's development; it is a supernatural act of God; it is a spiritual crisis. It is not evolution, but involution--the communication of a new life. It is a revolution--a change of direction resulting from that life. Herein lies the danger in psychology, and in the statistics regarding the number of conversions during the period of adolescence. The danger lies in the tendency to make regeneration a natural phenomenon, an advanced step in the development of a human life, instead of regarding it as a crisis. Such a psychological view of regeneration denies man's sin, his need of Christ, the necessity of an atonement, and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.
3. REGENERATION IS A SPIRITUAL QUICKENING, A NEW BIRTH.
Regeneration is the impartation of a new and divine life; a new creation; the production of a new thing. It is Gen. 1:26 over again. It is not the old nature altered, reformed, or re-invigorated, but a new birth from above. This is the teaching of such passages as John 3:3-7; 5:21; Eph. 2:1, 10; 2 Cor. 5:17.
By nature man is dead in sin (Eph. 2:1); the new birth imparts to him new life--the life of God, so that henceforth he is as those that are alive from the dead; he has passed out of death into life (John 5:24).
4. IT IS THE IMPARTATION OF A NEW NATURE--GOD'S NATURE.
In regeneration we are made partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4). We have put on the new man, which after God is created in holiness and righteousness (Eph. 4:11; Col. 3:10). Christ now lives in the believer (Gal. 2:20). God's seed now abides in him (1 John 3:9). So that henceforth the believer is possessed of two natures (Gal. 5:17).
5. A NEW AND DIVINE IMPULSE IS GIVEN TO THE BELIEVER.
Thus regeneration is a crisis with a view to a process. A new governing power comes into the regenerate man's life by which he is enabled to become holy in experience: "Old things are passed away; behold all things are become new" (2 Cor. 5:17). See also Acts 16:14, and Ezek. 36:25-27, 1 John 3:6-9.
II. THE IMPERATIVE NECESSITY OF THE NEW BIRTH.
1. THE NECESSITY IS UNIVERSAL.
The need is as far reaching as sin and the human race: "Except a man (lit. anybody) be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3, cf. v. 5). No age, sex, position, condition exempts anyone from this necessity. Not to be born again is to be lost. There is no substitute for the new birth: "Neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature" (Gal. 6:15). The absolute necessity is clearly stated by our Lord: whatever is born of the flesh, must be born again of the Spirit (John 3:3-7).
2. THE SINFUL CONDITION OF MAN DEMANDS IT.
John 3:6--"That which is born of the flesh is flesh"--and it can never, by any human process, become anything else. "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good that are accustomed to do evil" (Jer. 13:23). "They that are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom. 8:8); in our "flesh dwelleth no good thing" (Rom. 7:18). The mind is darkened so that we cannot apprehend spiritual truth; we need a renewing of the mind (Rom. 12:2). The heart is deceitful, and does not welcome God; we need to be pure in heart to see God. There is no thought of God before the eyes of the natural man; we need a change in nature that we may be counted among those "who thought upon His name." No education or culture can bring about such a needed change. God alone can do it.
3. THE HOLINESS OF GOD DEMANDS IT.
If without holiness no man shall see the Lord (Heb. 12:14); and if holiness is not to be attained by any natural development or self-effort, then the regeneration of our nature is absolutely necessary. This change, which enables us to be holy, takes place when we are born again.
Man is conscious that he does not have this holiness by nature; he is conscious, too, that he must have it in order to appear before God (Ezra 9:15). The Scriptures corroborate this consciousness in man, and, still further, state the necessity of such a righteousness with which to appear before God. In the new birth alone is the beginning of such a life to be found. To live the life of God we must have the nature of God.
III. THE MEANS OF REGENERATION.
1. REGENERATION IS A DIVINE WORK.
We are "born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13). It was of His own will he begat us (Jas. 1:18): Our regeneration is a creative act on the part of God, not a reforming process on the part of man. It is not brought about by natural descent, for all we get from that is "flesh." It is not by natural choice, for the human will is impotent. Nor is it by self-effort, or any human generative principle. Nor is it by the blood of any ceremonial sacrifices. It is not by pedigree or natural generation. It is altogether and absolutely the work of God. Practically speaking, we have no more to do with our second birth, than we had to do with our first birth.
The Holy Spirit is the Divine Agent in our regeneration. For this reason it is called the "renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Tit. 3:5). We are "born of the Spirit" (John 3:5).
2. AND YET THERE IS A HUMAN SIDE TO THE WORK.
John 1:12 and 13 bring together these two thoughts--the divine and the human in regeneration: Those who received Him (i. e., Christ)....were born of God. The two great problems connected with regeneration are the efficiency of God and the activity of man.
a) Man Is Regenerated by Means of the Acceptance of the Message of the Gospel.
God begat us by "the word of truth" (James 1:18). We are "born again," says Peter (1 Ep. 1:23), "of incorruptible seed, by the word of God." We are "begotten through the gospel" (1 Cor. 4:15). These scriptures teach us that regeneration takes place in the heart of man when he reads or hears the Word of God, or the Gospel message, or both, and, because of the Spirit working in the Word as well as in the heart of man, the man opens his heart and receives that message as the Word of life to his soul. The truth is illuminated, as is also the mind, by the Spirit; the man yields to the truth, and is born again. Of course, even here, we must remember that it is the Lord who must open our hearts just as He opened the heart of Lydia (Acts 16:14). But the Word must be believed and received by man. 1 Pet. 1:25.
b) Man Is Regenerated by the Personal Acceptance of Jesus Christ.
This is the clear teaching of John 1:12, 13 and Gal. 3:26. We become "children of God by faith in Jesus Christ." When a man, believing in the claims of Jesus Christ receives Him to be all that He claimed to be--that man is born again.
Man therefore is not wholly passive at the time of his regeneration. He is passive only as to the change of his ruling disposition. With regard to the exercise of this disposition he is active. A dead man cannot assist in his own resurrection, it is true; but he may, and can, like Lazarus, obey Christ's command, and "Come forth!"
Psa. 90:16, 17 illustrates both the divine and human part: "Let thy work appear unto thy servants," and then "the work of our hands establish thou it." God's work appears first, then man's. So Phil. 2:12,13.
I. THE MEANING OF JUSTIFICATION.
It is a change in a man's relation or standing before God. It has to do with relations that have been disturbed by sin, and these relations are personal. It is a change from guilt and condemnation to acquittal and acceptance. Regeneration has to do with the change of the believer's nature; Justification, with the change of his standing before God. Regeneration is subjective; Justification is objective. The former has to do with man's state; the latter, with his standing.
2. ACCORDING TO THE LANGUAGE AND USAGE OF THE SCRIPTURES.
According to Deut. 25:1 it means to declare, or to cause to appear innocent or righteous; Rom. 4:2-8: to reckon righteous; Psa. 32:2: not to impute iniquity. One thing at least is clear from these verses, and that is, that to justify does not mean to make one righteous. Neither the Hebrew nor Greek words will bear such meaning. To justify means to set forth as righteous; to declare righteous in a legal sense; to put a person in a right relation. It does not deal, at least not directly, with character or conduct; it is a question of relationship. Of course both character and conduct will be conditioned and controlled by this relationship. No real righteousness on the part of the person justified is to be asserted, but that person is declared to be righteous and is treated as such. Strictly speaking then, Justification is the judicial act of God whereby those who put faith in Christ are declared righteous in His eyes, and free from guilt and punishment.
3. JUSTIFICATION CONSISTS OF TWO ELEMENTS.
a) The Forgiveness of Sin, and the Removal of Its Guilt and Punishment.
It is difficult for us to understand God's feeling towards sin. To us forgiveness seems easy, largely because we are indifferent towards sin. But to a holy God it is different. Even men sometimes find it hard to forgive when wronged. Nevertheless God gladly forgives.
Micah 7:18,19--"Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger forever, because he delighteth in mercy . . . . he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea." See also Psa. 130:4. What a wondrous forgiveness!
Forgiveness may be considered as the cessation of the moral anger and resentment of God against sin; or as a release from the guilt of sin which oppresses the conscience; or, again, as a remission of the punishment of sin, which is eternal death.
In Justification, then, all our sins are forgiven, and the guilt and punishment thereof removed (Acts 13:38, 39; Rom. 8:1). God sees the believer as without sin and guilt in Christ (Num. 23:21; Rom. 8:33, 34).
b) The Imputation of Christ's Righteousness, and Restoration to God's Favor.
The forgiven sinner is not like the discharged prisoner who has served out his term and is discharged from further punishment, but with no rights of citizenship. No, justification means much more than acquittal. The repentant sinner receives back in his pardon, the full rights of citizenship. The Society of Friends called themselves Friends, not because they were friends one to another but because, being justified, they counted themselves friends of God as was Abraham (2 Chron. 20:7, James 2:23). There is also the imputation of the righteousness of Jesus Christ to the sinner. His righteousness is "unto all and upon all them that believe" (Rom. 3:22). See Rom. 5:17-21; 1 Cor. 1:30. For illustration, see Philemon 18.
II. THE METHOD OF JUSTIFICATION.
1. NEGATIVELY: NOT BY WORKS OF THE LAW.
Rom. 3:20--"Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight; for by the law is the knowledge of sin." "Therefore" implies that a judicial trial has taken place and a judgment pronounced. At the bar of God no man can be counted righteous in His sight because of his obedience to law. The burden of the Epistle to the Romans is to set forth this great truth. As a means of establishing right relations with God the law is totally insufficient. There is no salvation by character. What men need is salvation from character.
The reason why the law cannot justify is here stated: "For by the law is the knowledge of sin." The law can open the sinner's eyes to his sin, but it cannot remove it. Indeed, it was never intended to remove it, but to intensify it. The law simply defines sin, and makes it sinful, yea, exceedingly sinful, but it does not emancipate from it. Gal. 3:10 gives us a further reason why justification cannot take place by obedience to the law. The law demands perfect and continual obedience: "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." No man can render a perfect and perpetual obedience, therefore justification by obedience to the law is impossible. The only thing the law can do is to stop the mouth of every man, and declare him guilty before God (Rom. 3:19, 20).
Gal. 2:16, and 3:10, Rom. 3:28, are very explicit in their denial of justification by law. It is a question of Moses or Christ, works or faith, law or promise, doing or believing, wages or a free gift.
2. POSITIVELY: BY GOD'S GRACE--THE ORIGIN OR SOURCE OF JUSTIFICATION.
Rom. 3:24--"Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." "Freely" denotes that it is granted without anything done on our part to merit or deserve it. From the contents of the epistle up to this point it must be clearly evident that if men, sinful and sinning, are to be justified at all, it must be "by his free grace."
3. BY THE BLOOD OF JESUS CHRIST--THE GROUND OF JUSTIFICATION.
Rom. 3:24--"Being justified . . . . through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." 5:9--"Much more then, being now justified by his blood." 2 Cor. 5:21 (R. V.)--"Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him." The bloodshedding of Christ is here connected with justification. It is impossible to get rid of this double idea from this passage. The sacrifices of the Old Testament were more than a meaningless butchery--"Without shedding of blood is no remission" of sin (Heb. 9:22). The great sacrifice of the New Testament, the death of Jesus Christ, was something more than the death of a martyr--men are "justified by his blood" (Rom. 5:9).
4. BY BELIEVING IN JESUS CHRIST--THE CONDITION OF JUSTIFICATION.
Gal. 2:16--"Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ," or as the Revised Version margin has it: "But only through faith in Jesus Christ." Rom. 3:26--"To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness; that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." "Him that believeth in Jesus" is contrasted with "as many as are of the works of the law" (Gal. 3:10). When Paul in Romans 4:5 says: "Now to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly," he gives the death-blow to Jewish righteousness. "His faith is counted for righteousness;" that pictures the man who, despairing of all dependence upon his works, casts himself unreservedly upon the mercy of God, as set forth in Jesus Christ, for his justification. Thus it come to pass that "all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses" (Acts 13:39). The best of men need to be saved by faith in Jesus Christ, and the worst need only that. As there is no difference in the need, neither is there in the method of its application. On this common ground all saved sinners meet, and will stand forever. The first step, then, in justification is to despair of works; the second, to believe on him that justifieth the ungodly.
We are not to slight good works, for they have their place, but they follow, not precede justification. The workingman is not the justified man, but the justified man is the workingman. Works are not meritorious, but they meet with their reward in the life of the justified. The tree shows its life by its fruits, but it was alive before the fruit or even the leaves appeared. (See under Faith, II. 3, p. 148, for further suggestions regarding the relation between faith and works.)
Summing up we may say that men are justified judicially by God. (Rom. 8:33); meritoriously by Christ, (Isa. 53:11); mediately by faith, (Rom. 5:1); evidentially by works, (James 2:14, 18-24).