The Just Shall Live By Faith – Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:17, Galatians 2:20, 3:11-12, Hebrews 10:38
Once we have an appreciation for the scriptural understanding of man’s state outside of God – that state being one of spiritual death – one can begin to appreciate that to bring about a change requires not the dead to do anything in particular, for the dead can do nothing, but requires the giver of life to take action. The UPCI would have the general view of Jesus standing at the door and knocking at the sinner’s heart waiting for the sinner to open the door (a twisted view of Revelation 3:20). Instead, the picture of salvation is best portrayed by the dead Lazarus in the tomb for four days only to be raised and called out by Jesus. Lazarus would have stayed in his natural state of death had Jesus not intervened. In that state of death, Lazarus was powerless to do anything of his own accord. It was only when the call came to him that life came back into his dead body and he was then empowered to walk and be loosed, to eat and fellowship with his family and friends again.
Sinners are in a state of spiritual death and are powerless on their own to free themselves from their state of death. Paul makes clear that in this state, sinners are the enemies of God, they will not submit to the will of God and are incapable of doing so (see Romans 7, 8). Yet, the UPCI would teach that a sinner is not born again unless he repents, and is baptized in the name of Jesus for the remission of his sins and receives the Holy Spirit as evidenced by speaking in other tongues. So the spiritually dead – the one who the scripture teaches is incapable of submitting to the will of God and is in rebellion to God – must of his own accord submit to baptism and speak in tongues in order to be brought to a state of spiritual life and peace with God.
What is justification?
We know that the result of justification is our having peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. We have obtained access by faith into this grace, which brings about our rejoicing in the hope that we have of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-20). Note – the peace that we now have because of our justification stands in contrast to the previous state of our relationship with God as sinners – that being under his wrath, as discussed in the first several chapters of Romans. Therefore, it is imperative that we understand what it means to be justified.
First, the scripture makes clear that justification is something that is solely an act of God alone – it is something that God brings about and not something we do or contribute to in some way:
…So that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26).
And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness… (Romans 4:5).
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies (Romans 8:33).
What does to be justified mean?
Justification is a judicial or legal proclamation about a person’s relationship to God. Justification does not necessarily change the person but is a change in the person’s status. Louis Berkhof noted that justification is a judicial act of God, in which he declares, on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, that all the claims of the law are satisfied with respect to the sinner. It is unique in the application of the work of redemption in that it is a judicial act of God, a declaration respecting the sinner, and not an act or process of renewal, such as regeneration, conversion, and sanctification.
Thus, justification is a legal declaration by God concerning my status in respect to my relationship with him. It is not causing me to become righteous or holy in an ethical sense or necessarily changing my inner man but a declaration of my being new status in Christ – I have been declared to be righteous as I have been put into Christ.
Justification as meaning a legal or judicial declaration is shown in a number of passages as well as within the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 25:1 and Proverbs 17:15 demonstrate the legal nature of justification with its standing in contrast to condemnation. To condemn does not mean to make one a sinner – but it is a declaration of one’s state of wickedness. Thus, to justify does not necessarily make one just or righteous but it is a statement or declaration of their state of righteousness in the eyes of God.
How are we justified?
The passage stated above – Romans 5:1-2 – alludes to the fact that this occurs by grace accessed through faith.
The righteousness of God is access through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe (Romans 3:22). All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, further, we “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.” (Romans 3:23-25).
Justification is received because of God’s grace, which is an unmerited undeserved gift from God. How does one have access to this grace? It is “through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” Grace must be an unmerited gift from God. As Paul makes clear, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:6). If we inject works or our efforts into the idea of meriting God’s favor or bringing about our justification, it is no longer on the basis of grace. Grace and works or man’s effort are mutually exclusive when it comes to our justification and being at peace with God. We bring nothing to the equation other than faith and repentance.
Faith and Repentance
As a side note on faith and repentance, it should also be understood that faith and repentance can be described as opposite sides of the same coin. In our turning to God (faith) we are turning away from the world and our sins (repentance). Paul makes clear in Acts 10:21 that faith and repentance are inseparable. You cannot say that you have genuine faith without genuine repentance and vice versa. Repentance is a change of one’s mind – it is a recognition that one’s righteousness is as filthy rags and that his only hope is in God’s mercy. Out of this change of mind a person confesses his sin and turns away from those things and to God. The proof of a repentant heart is the action that flows out of his changed mind and attitude. To say that faith and repentance is now something that man brings to the table is also a misunderstanding of the scripture and giving credit where it does not belong – the spiritually dead man.
Scripture seems rather clear that both repentance and faith are gifts from God to man. In numerous passages, faith is seen as being a gift from God to man – that man’s ability to believe, his faith, is a direct result of God’s sovereign activity in opening man’s heart to have the ability to respond. Ephesians 2:8 states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” The “and that not of yourselves” is most likely modifying the idea of “faith” – that is that faith is not of ourselves but it is the gift of God. Philippians 1:29 shows that God has granted us two things for Christ’s sake – both faith and our call to suffer for him.
Multiple places in Acts demonstrates that God is the source of faith: Acts 13:48, 16:14 and 18:27.
Similarly, repentance is something that God has granted to people – Acts 5:31, 11:18 and 2 Timothy 2:24-26.
Back to Justification
In addition to instructing us that justification is an act that occurs as a result of grace through faith, Paul shows us that Jesus was put forward as a propitiation by his blood. To propitiate is to satisfy. In order for God to be both just and the justifier, this punishment for sin needed to be satisfied. His wrath needed to be mollified. This occurred with Jesus’ death upon the cross. The wrath of God for those who would believe was satisfied in that it was poured out upon Christ, the perfect sacrifice, the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world, so that those who believe could have the perfect life and righteousness of Christ imputed to them. This is known as the Great Exchange. Upon Christ was poured out the wrath and judgment that I deserved and I have been put in Christ so that his righteousness and perfect life is imputed to me and I can now be peace with God and rejoice for the hope that is within me.
Some other passages:
And you were dead in trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 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. Ephesians 2:1-9.
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:3-7
So what pattern should we be seeing here with respect to how we come to be at peace with God? We are at peace with God by our justification. Justification is an act by which God, through his sovereign prerogative, undertakes to declare the repentant believer to be just and righteous. Not a righteousness based on his own life obviously but the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer and his sins are removed. The wrath of God has been satisfied as it was poured out on Christ in our stead. God receives all the glory for there is nothing that we as rebellious sinners could have done in order to ever merit or earn God’s favor through our good works to satisfy the judgment and wrath that was upon us. It is sole based on the perfect and complete work of Christ on the cross. You and I bring nothing to the table but the faith and repentance that God has granted to us. Through that faith we have access to God’s grace. We bring nothing else. We do not bring money, we do not bring good deeds, we do not bring baptism or speaking in tongues or any other work to somehow merit or appropriate to ourselves the salvation that was purchased for us on the cross.
Paul continues his explanation on justification through faith with a couple of examples in chapter four of Romans, which we will look at next time.