Justification, an Act of Acquittal


     One of the sublime subjects taught in the New Testament is the subject of justification. The teaching of Paul in Romans 4: 1-7 presents some of the most succinct thoughts relative to justification. The text reads as follows (KJV):

     "What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered."

     A brief exegesis of the text and definition of "justification." In Romans 4: 1-7, Paul shows that justification does not come as a result of keeping the Law of Moses (cp. Rom. 3: 28, 21, 4: 10-16). External acts or meritorious deeds such as circumcision cannot directly result in justification (vs. 10). If one could work and thus earn salvation, grace would not be needed, Paul reasoned (vs. 4, 5). In fact, in the case of earned justification, God would be indebted. Paul shows that such a truth predated the system of Moses (vs. 1 ff.). This singular truth also applies to Christ's law, earned salvation, if such were possible, always excludes grace (cf. Rom. 11: 6). What is the meaning of "justification?" W. E. Vine comments thus on dikaiosis (noun for "justification"):

     "Denotes "the act of pronouncing righteous, justification, acquittal;" its precise meaning is determined by that of the verb dikaioo, "to justify"; it is used twice in the Epistle to the Romans, and there alone in the New Testament, signifying the establishment of a person as just by acquittal from guilt" (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).

     Justification presupposes guilt and condemnation. The scriptures teach, "For the wages of sin is death…" (Rom. 6: 23). Furthermore, the Bible declares that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3: 21, see also Eph. 2: 1, 2, 11, 12). Therefore, all accountable individuals are condemned. Justification is the official pronouncement of freedom from guilt and condemnation. Justification, then, is acquittal. Moreover, spiritual condemnation is so severe that man cannot extricate himself from his penalty of death (Tit. 3: 5).

     The means of justification. The scriptures mention a number of matters as instrumental in the sinner's justification or acquittal. Man is expressly said to be justified by God, grace, faith, Christ's blood, the Holy Spirit, and by performing works that God has required (Rom. 3: 30; 3: 24; 3: 28; 5: 9; I Cor. 6: 11; Jas. 2: 24). When a careful study is made of the "instruments" involved in justification, harmony is seen. For instance, God the Father provides the opportunity for man's releasement from guilt. Grace or favor emanates from God and is the answer to the problem of man not being able to effect his own salvation. Faith is man's part and allows man to lay hold of God's grace. Hence, salvation is "by grace…through faith" (Eph. 2: 8). Jesus' blood is the means of acquittal. Jesus said, "For this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matt. 26: 28). The Holy Spirit is active in man's justification in that He has provided the word in which we learn of justification (Jn. 14-16). As mentioned, faith on man's part is necessary (Jn. 8: 24). The required faith is an active and obedient faith (Gal. 5: 6). The works expressed by saving faith are not meritorious, though. How can man glory in "belief," "repentance," "confession of Christ's deity," and "baptism"? (Jn. 6: 29; Acts 17: 30, 31; Rom. 10: 9, 10; Acts 2: 38). The Christian is created unto humbly doing the works that God has ordained (Eph. 2: 10).

     Some negative means of man's justification. The scriptures are also very explicit regarding how man is not justified. For instance, the works of the Law of Moses do not save man. "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law," wrote Paul, "but by the faith of Jesus Christ …not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified" (Gal. 2: 16). What is said relative to the works of the law is true regarding "all works," as such. There is no work thus performed that can eliminate the need of God's grace. However, God does require certain "works" (expressions of faith), in order to access his grace (cf. Tit. 2: 11-14). Therefore, man is said to both save and justify himself and also not be able to justify himself (Acts 2: 40; Lk. 10: 29).

     The results of justification are many and wonderful. "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God though our Lord Jesus Christ, " Paul injected (Rom. 5: 1). Guilt and condemnation are adversely overwhelming, but acquittal results in peace that "passeth all understanding" (Phili. 4: 7). As a result of justification, man can be saved from the impending wrath of God, be made an heir of God, and be freed from the guilt of "all things" (Rom. 5: 9; Tit. 3: 7; Acts 13: 39).

     As seen, there are many considerations involved in the great subject of justification. Man, by law, is condemned and cannot effect his freedom. However, God has provided the means of man's being pronounced innocent. All that God has supplied is sure and certain. However, the failure is on the part of man. Man must exercise saving faith (Eph. 2: 8-10). If justification were all of God, as some teach, universal salvation would result. Alas, only a few will be saved because only a few will obey God and accept His terms of pardon (Matt. 7: 13, 14; Heb. 5: 8, 9). The matter that is incomprehensible about God's justification is why do most remain in a state of condemnation?

     Addendum: Be it clearly known, there is absolutely no way that man can meritoriously achieve salvation. The scriptures are replete with teaching to this end: "Not by works of righteousness which we have done," Paul writes, "but according to his mercy he saved us…"(Tit. 3:5). Salvation is a "gift of God" offered to man in his state of utter helplessness (Eph. 2: 1-8). Salvation is "not of yourselves…not of words, lest any man should boast" (2:9). Abraham and David exemplify the truth that one can not merit ("worketh") salvation (Rom. 4:1-8). While man can not earn salvation, works are required. In Titus 3:5 where Paul affirmed we are not saved by works, Paul goes on to say we are saved…by the washing of regeneration…" Obviously, baptism is meant. In the text in which we are told "for by grace are ye saved," Paul says "through faith" (Eph. 2:8). Grace is God’s part: faith is man’s part. Active, obedient faith is required (Gal. 5:6, Jas. 2:24). The Bible does not contradict itself in the matter of man’s salvation.   Religionists commonly array works (any kind) and salvation. Beloved, the truth is man cannot be saved without obedience (Heb. 5:8,9) However, it is God’s grace that saves. This is because man alone can never effect redemption (cf. Matt. 18:22-27). Nonetheless, man’s obedience is indispensable in salvation (Acts 2:36-41).

     Jesus summed it up when he taught: "So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say we are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do." (Lk. 17: 10).  You are encouraged to read, "Justification, Paul and James" to help further explain the text of Romans 4 and James 2.