What is Justification?
August 21, 2022, 8:00 AM

What is justification?

The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)

“Justification is the very hinge and pillar of Christianity. An error about justification is dangerous, like a defect in a foundation. Justification by Christ is a spring of the water of life. To have the poison of corrupt doctrine cast into this spring is damnable” (Thomas Watson, 17th Century English Puritan, Pastor, and Theologian).

There is no peace without God’s pardon; these are strong words if true. They are revealed truth. No one will find true peace unless God pardons his sin. Peace is not simply the absence of conflict. Peace is having a right relationship with God that is only given by God. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

Justification is an act of God’s free grace wherein He pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us and received by faith alone (The Westminster Shorter Catechism Question and Answer #33).

Pardon, righteousness, and imputation are at the heart of what God has revealed concerning justification, being at peace with Him.

First, when God justifies a man or woman, He instantaneously pardons their sins. All mankind is guilty before God. God is the supreme judge, and sin is an offence against Him. Sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). The Apostle John wrote about every one of us. He wrote, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). We are all guilty. We will all face God’s judgment, from which there is no escape.

I’m sure that you’re familiar with the biblical narrative of King David’s life, especially his great sins. David committed adultery and murder. He fully expected to receive God’s justice which would’ve been death. But, by God’s grace, he received God’s mercy, his only hope. David recorded his prayer in Psalm 51 in which he appealed to God’s mercy.

You may not be a murderer or an adulterer, but you are a sinner. You and I have no basis upon which to cry to God for fairness. Not only are we guilty before God, but we’re all born dead in sin. Like David, our lives rest solely upon the grace of God even to be able to see our sin. God who is rich in mercy must act for us.

The next word under review is “righteousness”. The meaning of righteous is to do what is right, to do what God requires. The Apostle Paul quoted the Old Testament in his letter to the Christians in Rome and said that no one is righteous (Romans 3:10). This means that no one does what is right. No one does what God requires. We can only look at actions, but the Apostle is considering the heart. Paul declared that no man is motivated to do what God requires from his heart. In understanding this inclusive statement, it is necessary to see what God has said concerning the heart of “natural” man. We don’t need to move too far past the Garden of Eden to read God’s view of mankind. Genesis 6:5 says, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” In other words, natural man is incapable of being righteous before God. But justification is God’s act of free grace by which He pardons our sins and accepts us as righteous in His sight only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us.

This word “imputation” describes the means God uses to justify a sinner. As every professing Christian knows, justification is by faith alone! We also know that faith is believing the truth: knowing, acknowledging, and trusting in it. We also know that the truth is a person, Jesus Christ the only Son of God. God does not ignore the sins of the faithful. He covers those whom He justifies with the perfect righteousness of Christ. He has declared that He does this only by faith. Note that faith is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). Since the faith that we profess is God’s gift by which He declares us right with Him, we affirm that this great action of God is all grace. No man has any room for boasting. “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16a).