Wednesday, October 27, 2021

What Is Justification?

Q. 33: What is justification?
Answer: Justification is an act of God's 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. (WSC)

Note that the catechism describes justification as an act, rather than a work. Justification is not a change that God brings about within us, but a declaration regarding our status as guilty or innocent. In the Bible, to justify and to condemn are opposites (Rom. 8:33-34). Normally the righteous ought to be justified and the wrongdoer condemned.

Nevertheless, in this gracious act of justification, God pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in his sight. He justifies the ungodly (Rom. 4:5). As David said in Psalm 32, the man whom God saves has his sins forgiven by God so that God does not count his sins against him (Ps. 32:1-2, Rom. 4:6-8). Rather than counting his sins against him, God pronounces the believer innocent and righteous. Having been justified, there is therefore no condemnation that stands against the believer. “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?” (Romans 8:33–34, see also Rom. 8:1).

How can God do this? Doesn't Proverbs 17:15 say that it is a bad thing to justify the wicked? But God does not approve the sins of the believer. Instead, he imputed those sins to his sinless Son who received their punishment (Is. 53:6, 2 Cor. 5:21). Christ rose again “for our justification,” since his resurrection vindicated him as righteous, having paid in full the debt of sin (Rom. 4:25, 1 Tim. 3:16). God therefore imputes Christ's righteousness to those who believe in him (Rom. 5:17-19).

This righteousness, which is the grounds of our justification, is received by faith alone, not by works. I am not justified by “a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil. 3:9). Our works do not contribute in the least bit to justification (Rom. 3:28). Even faith is not the basis of our justification, but the instrument by which we receive Christ’s righteousness, which is the basis of our justification. This act is entirely free and undeserved and gives us abundant reason to be grateful to God and to be assured of his love.

You can find more on the doctrine of justification in Romans 3-5 and in our confession of faith here. You can read my comparison of Roman Catholic and Protestant views of justification here.