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Justification by faith alone

June 14, 2009


It is essential that we discern the Scripture definition of justification. Failure here will lead us into all sorts of error and ultimately to preaching what is essentially “another gospel” (Galatians 1:8)
We cannot emphasise enough that we grasp the basic Scriptural meaning of this word “justify”

There are two competing definitions, only one of which is Scriptural and to be received.
[i] Justification means to make righteous
[ii] Justification means to declare to be righteous
Both cannot be right. Scripture usage will determine the true meaning.

[i] Deuteronomy 25:1 If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment, that the judges may judge them; then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked.
Ask yourself the question: Is it the role of the judge or magistrate to actually make the defendant righteous or guilty or to merely declare him to be so?

[ii] Luke 7:29 And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John.
Again, ask yourself the question: Did the people actually make God righteous or did they declare Him to be so?

[iii] Matthew 11:19 The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children.
Again, ask yourself the question: Was wisdom previously unrighteous and now made to actually be righteous or is wisdom now seen to be righteous i.e. declared righteous?

We can see here how justification always means to declare one to be righteous.
If (in Deuteronomy 25:1) the defendant never committed the crime, he was not made righteous but always was and in court is declared to be so. Likewise, if the defendant did commit the crime, he was guilty from the beginning and in court declared to be so.
Likewise in Luke 7:29, the people could not make God to be righteous, but merely declared Him to be so.
In Matthew 11:19 wisdom cannot be anything but righteous – it is never wise to be sinful – and so is declared to be righteous.
The theological term for this is forensic. It describes a change in the legal standing i.e. as declared by a competent judge.
The matter of making a sinner righteous does not come within the definition of justification.

This justification must be sourced outside of the sinner.

Show from the following verses why the sinner cannot justify himself or contribute anything towards his justification:
[i] Job 14:4
[ii] Matthew 7:18
[iii] Romans 8:8
[iv] Jeremiah 13:23

The Bible sources justification in the following:
[i] Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: (Romans 3:24)
[ii] Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. (Romans 5:9)
[i] Justification is sourced in the grace of God through the shedding of Christ’s blood. Wherever the concept of grace appears, whatever follows must be either unearned or undeserved. Otherwise grace is no more grace (Romans 11:6)

See how the Greek word in Romans 3:24 translated freely is also translated by other words in some other verses:
[i] John 15:25
[ii] 2 Thessalonians 3:8

These verses show that justification cannot be earned but freely bestowed without any merit or contribution on our part. To say otherwise is to deny the word of God.

In Deuteronomy 25:1 quoted above, the sinner is to be condemned.
We read in Proverbs 17:15 that it is an abomination to the Lord to justify the wicked.
How can God justify the ungodly, without compromising His own standards?

[ii] God can only justify the ungodly because Christ shed His blood for them (Romans 5:9) and by taking their guilt upon Himself has satisfied all the claims of God’s law. This is the great truth of SUBSTITUTION. It is captured in the words of 2 Corinthians 5:21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. Christ took my sin and died for me…I take His righteousness and live in Him. At one and the same time and in the same act, both mercy and justice are entirely satisfied.

Christ’s righteousness is imputed to my account.
[i] See what Christ is called in Jeremiah 23:6
[ii] See what Christ is made unto us in 1 Corinthians 1:30
[iii] See how this affects my standing with God in Ephesians 1:6


Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: (Romans 5:1)
The channel is not the source. God does not justify us on the basis of our faith, but rather through the instrumentality of our faith.
We are justified by or through faith but not because of faith. Do not make a Christ out of your faith.

The faith that justifies must be true faith.
[i] It is a faith that is based on sufficient knowledge of the gospel (Romans 10:17)
[ii] Yet it is not the faith of devils who also believe (intellectually) and even tremble (James 2:19)
[iii] Unlike the faith of devils, the man who understands and believes the gospel rests upon what Christ has said and what Christ has done at the Calvary. No devil ever did this.
[iv] Justifying faith abandons hope in anything else other than Christ’s finished work on the Cross.

In Philippians 3:4-9 look for four things:
[i] What Paul said he once trusted in.
[ii] What Paul now (as far as his hope for eternity is concerned)counts those things as.
[iii] Where Paul finds his righteousness now.
[iv] How this righteousness is brought to him.

Christians believe that justification is not only be faith, but more specifically by faith ALONE
[i] How does Paul state this truth negatively in Romans 3:28/Galatians 2:16/Galatians 3:11
[ii] What did Paul specifically say that law could not do? (Acts 13:39)

While justification is a forensic act – taking place outside of ourselves – yet it necessarily affects the way we live our lives after we have been justified. How can we tell the justified ones? As Jesus said: Wherefore, by their fruits ye shall know them (Matthew 7:20).
Key passage to study here is James 2:10-26. Here we discover James teaching things which, at first glance, would appear to be contradicting Paul. However, we should not rush to any conclusions.

[i] From 2 Timothy 3:16 show how Paul and James cannot contradict each other.
[ii] From 2 Timothy 2:15 show what must we do to determine who James and Peter have in mind as they write.
PAUL is writing to show us how we can be justified before God i.e. without our works
JAMES is writing to show us how we can be justified before men i.e. by our works
To illustrate: Paul is talking about the fire in the grate (The source) while James is talking about the smoke coming out the chimney (The evidence) If we confuse these two matters, then we err, not knowing the Scriptures.

The evidence of a justified soul is a holy life style (James 2:14-26) This is stated directly.
All the other benefits of salvation, even if directly said to flow from justification, may also be evidence of a justified soul. They are stated, in this context, indirectly.
[i] All the evidences of the new birth (1 John 2:29/3:10/3:14/4:7/5:1/5:18)
[ii] The fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)
[iii] To be in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17)

If there is no change in your heart, then you do not have faith and therefore no justification. However do not torment yourself over whether or not you believed 5 years ago (or whatever) with the right kind of faith or whether it was enough faith etc., The issue is do you seek to live for Christ now? Or are at least desirous to do so. It is not your faith that is mighty to save, but the One in whom that faith is placed (Isaiah 63:1) This can save a lot of heartache.

(Incidentally. If anyone should take James 2 to prove that men are justified before God by works, they should not commence the reading at v14 as many do. You will notice that I referenced the appropriate verses by beginning at v10 which teaches that if a man breaks the law in one single point, then he is guilty of all. In other words, a man is a criminal or a sinner whether he breaks only one commandment or whether he breaks them all. The chain is only as strong as its weakest link. To take on the idea of justification through the law is to make yourself a debtor to keep the whole law (Galatians 5:3) and this is impossible because of our sinful nature, inherited from Adam through the Fall. )


[i] Justification is an act. You are either justified or you are not. You cannot be half justified and/or half condemned.
[ii] Justification is an act of God. It is not self justification but God’s justification. He is the Judge who makes the declaration. If God justifies us, then it must be a perfect justification. God cannot do anything imperfectly. Once justified, we are 100% justified.
[iii] Justification is forever. We can come from a state of condemnation to a state of justification (John 5:24) but if truly justified, then we can never return to a state of condemnation. All our sins are either pardoned or they are not. If they are, then we are forever accounted righteous in the sight of God. To return to a state of condemnation would be to overthrow the purposes of God which lead from predestination through to calling through to justification and eventual glorification (Romans 8:28-30) This cannot be.
[iv] Justification cannot be increased or decreased. Sanctification levels in Christians can fluctuate, but never justification. It is 100% justification 100% of the time.
[v] We can be assured about our justification. Pick out the definite language in the following verses which show that the Apostle was not struggling with the thought whether or not he was actually justified. Notice how definite and assured he is when he so speaks, not only of himself but also of others:
[a] Romans 5:1
[b Romans 5:9
[c] 1 Corinthians 6:11
[d] Titus 3:7
Any other verses which give assurance about some matter of salvation can also be pressed into service to include justification. If a man is definitely saved, then he is definitely justified etc.

[i] An early attack upon this doctrine came during the formative years of the NT church.
Satan meant this attack for evil (i.e. if he could pervert the gospel early, then the truth would never get out) but God meant it for good (i.e. it gave the Apostles the opportunity to get the great truth down in writing before the canon of Scripture was complete.)
In the churches at Antioch (Acts 15) and also in Galatia (Galatians) certain men taught that circumcision was needful for salvation.
The Apostles refuted this in the controversies which followed.
Paul also stated the truth positively in Romans 3-5 along with its practical outworking in Romans 6-8

[ii] Although refuted early in the history of the NT Church, yet the heresy has returned again and again.
Rome and many of the cults teach that justification is by faith plus works, instead of by grace through faith alone in Jesus Christ.
This is to preach another gospel (Galatians 1:8-9) and we cannot fellowship with them, but rather reprove them (Ephesians 5:11)

OFFICIAL ROMAN CATHOLIC TEACHING: “If anyone says that men are justified either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and remains in them, or also that the grace by which we are justified is only the good will of God, let him be anathema. If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing more than confidence in the divine mercy, which remits sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is this confidence alone which justifies us, let him be anathema.” (Council of Trent: Canons 11 and 12 on Justification)
Comment: Here Rome very clearly contradicts the doctrine of Justification by faith alone, accounting those of us who teach that it is so as accursed. Rome has not withdrawn these curses. This is still her official teaching.

OFFICIAL JEHOVAH WITNESS TEACHING: “Jehovah God will justify, declare righteous, on the basis of their own merit all perfected humans who have withstood that final, decisive test of mankind. He will adopt and acknowledge them as his sons through Jesus Christ.” (Life Everlasting in Freedom of the Sons of God Book, 1966 page 400)
Comment: This could not be more blatant. Justification is not said here to be on the basis of Christ’s merit imputed to men’s account, but rather on the basis of their own merit. Every one who has gone in the way of Cain (the first merit monger) and certainly every Pharisee could ascribe to this statement of the Jehovah Witnesses.

OFFICIAL MORMON TEACHING: “The sectarian dogma of justification by faith alone has exercised an influence for evil since the early days of Christianity ” (James E. Talmadge, The Articles of Faith. p20)
Comment: Two indictments are here laid against this doctrine. One: That it is a sectarian dogma and that it has long exercised an evil influence. James E Talmadge was a Mormon Apostle and is an eminent authority to quote.

[iii] If justification is not by grace through faith alone, then it must be by faith plus something else.
This something else must be of the sinners own doing and it is this which becomes so problematic.
What can the sinner do to contribute towards his own justification?
His works of righteousness’ are viewed by God as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) – the evil fruit which the corrupt tree can only produce (Matthew 7:17-18)
The sinner can never do enough to make any contribution.
Even if he has done all those things which he was commanded, he must confess at last that he is an unprofitable servant (Luke 7:10)
To teach justification by faith plus works is to drive the sinner away from Christ and have him glory in his works (Romans 4:2) making salvation to be of debt rather than grace.
Since this can never be (Romans 11:35) it is then to effectually persuade a man to damn his own soul.

Why does the Lord Jesus Christ teach in Matthew 25:31-46 that those who were found doing good works were accepted into the Father’s Kingdom while those who had no good works were prevented from entering?
Those who enter into the Kingdom of Heaven in these words were not justified by these good works. These good works (as above) are not the cause/source of their justification, but rather the fruit. The scene foretold in Matthew 25 is simply the teaching of James 2:10-23 being put into operation on the Day of Judgement.

Q33:What is Justification?
A: Justification is an act of Gods free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us , and received by faith alone.
This definition should be committed to memory.


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