“But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” Romans 4:5.
How a sinner is justified by God is of vital importance to every man. It is the foundation of our hope as there can be no eternal life without it. This justification is the needed peace for condemned hearts and souls. Much confusion has come about regarding justification, yet without it it is impossible to be accepted by God. In this study we will find out what the Scriptures actually teach regarding justification by faith.
What is the foundation for justification?
God created man in His image to live in purity, holiness, love, and perfection. He gave man a perfect law to enable him to live in obedience to His word. All man had to do was to obey one simple command … “Do not eat of the tree” (Genesis 2:17). Obedience would mean that man could live forever in Paradise, but he chose to listen to Satan rather than God. At that very moment became separated from God, and so spiritually died. His physical body began to decay, and his spirit was destined to eternal death in Hell.
Through Adam sin entered the world, bringing with it God’s punishment for it … “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). Thus we are all born sinners as we enter this world through natural birth. This is the reason why God sent His only begotten son into the world to bear our sins, take our punishment, and taste death for us all (John 3:16; Hebrews 2:9). Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross satisfied the requirements of the law of God, and it is only through Him that a man can be reconciled to God. This reconciliation happens the moment our transgressions are removed (Romans 5:18 … “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.”) We see then that Adam represents us all with regards to sin, but Jesus Christ represents us for justification … “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). His blood alone is the foundation of justification by faith.
What is justification?
Justification is not the same as sanctification. Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life, but justification is the free gift (as part of salvation) through the finished work of God’s Son. Nor is it the removal of Satan’s accusations against us, for he will continue to accuse believers throughout their lifetime (Revelation 12:10). It is simply means that the repentant sinner is cleared of all accusations levelled at him by the law. Whereas the law would condemn us to Hell, God, through Jesus Christ, frees us from the curse of the law … “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Galatians 3:13). This does not imply that God overlooks our sinfulness, but He does pardon us, that is, forgiving us our sins through Christ.
Justification is a direct act of God upon the sinner who comes to Christ by faith for salvation … “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered” (Romans 4:7). Justification is therefore having our sins covered and removed by the blood of Christ.
Who can be justified?
The answer to this question is very simple. It is the ‘ungodly’ who can be justified by faith … “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5). It is not the self-righteous, but those who acknowledge their sin who receive justification and forgiveness.
Some teach that one must be sanctified before he can be justified, but this contradicts the plain teaching of Scripture. God justifies the ungodly not the godly. This false teaching is like saying that the Good Shepherd seeks and saves those who are found. No, He came to save the lost (Luke 19:10).
Those who realise their sinfulness and need of the Saviour; those who are tired of iniquity and wickedness, they are the only candidates for justification. A bad man may do good deeds, but these can never save or justify him before God. Both the tree and its fruit is diseased from birth. He must come to Christ, and come through Christ, before he can be accepted by God.
How is a man justified?
Justification is by faith (Romans 4:5), because he who believes is no longer under condemnation, but has received eternal life … “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24) … “We know that we have passed from death unto life” (1 John 3:14). Therefore the means of justification must be faith in Christ … God is “the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). This faith is the conviction that Christ truly is the Saviour and the only one who can remove sin through His finished work on Calvary. This faith implies that the sinner must consciously repent of sin and turn to God. This is the faith that brings justification to the soul.
Faith is the only condition for justification. The very moment a sinner believes he is reconciled to God. Without this faith he remains ungodly and doomed to destruction. Such faith is the exact opposite of self-righteousness and pride. The sinner must humble himself before God by acknowledging his worthlessness and sinfulness. He must see that he is a vile, worthless sinner without Christ. Only then can justification come upon him.
Justification by faith comes as a man commits his life fully to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). It cannot come through good works, reputation, or righteous living … “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16). God justifies the ungodly that come to Christ by faith alone.
Preached by John Wesley 6 October 1739