Skip to comments.Covenant Theology: Justification (Part 3)
Posted on 02/11/2004 5:58:46 AM PST by sheltonmac
Covenant Theology: Justification (Part 3)
(Sermon Number Thirteen)
James E. Bordwine, Th.D.
With this sermon, I come to the third point regarding the doctrine of justification. Previously, I noted that our justification involves a legal or judicial pronouncement from God concerning our relation to Him. This declaration is two-fold. God declares the sinner pardoned or free from guilt, and He declares the sinner righteous. This declaration of God is referred to as a judicial or legal pronouncement because it has to do with the sinner's state within the context of God's holy standards. God's acceptance of the sinner replaces or sets aside His former declaration of the sinner's condemnation.
Additionally, I talked about the ground of our justification. The ground is that which allows God to declare a condemn sinner righteous. The ground of justification, therefore, must be a righteousness that satisfies God's justice; and it must be a righteousness that permanently constitutes the sinner acceptable to God. The ground of justification must be a perfect righteousness; the ground of justification must be one that can secure remission for past sins as well as future sins. Only a perfect, complete and incorruptible righteousness can secure a perfect, complete and irreversible justification.
We saw how clearly the Bible teaches that the ground of our justification is not in us or in our accomplishments. It is not the sinner's good intentions or the sinner's occasional obedience to which God looks when declaring the sinner justified. What righteousness, then, does God impute to the condemned sinner? If the ground of our justification is a perfect, complete and incorruptible righteousness and if that righteousness is not and cannot be located in the sinner himself, where does it come from? We learned that the sinner must have the righteousness of Another credited to him because, as a fallen creature, he never can be justified on the ground of his personal righteousness. And so the Scripture teaches that God has respect only for the work of Christ in the matter of our justification. The sinner is pardoned based upon Christ's atonement and the sinner is declared righteous based upon the perfect life of Christ. In both cases, God imputes, or credits to the sinner what Christ provided.
Justification leaves the sinner in a comfortable and favorable relationship with God. Under the third point, therefore, I want to discuss just what this state of justification means. What can a justified sinner claim? What is the nature of his status? Obviously, I've answered these questions partially already. The sinner can claim that he is acceptable before God; he can claim that Christ's righteousness has been imputed to him. We can have a better understanding of what this means, however, if we study how the Bible describes this state of justification.
3. The State of Justification
As I talk about the state of justification, I will do so by referring to a number of characteristics by which this condition is described. These characteristics reveal more about what it means to be justified than any single statement. In a sense, then, I will be looking at some of the implications of our justification.
Let me begin by reading Rom. 5:1, 2: Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. It takes little effort to see three important characteristics of our justification in these two verses. First, Paul says that since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. This statement implies that, prior to justification, we did not have peace with God. We know that this is true based upon our study of fallen man's condemnation. By nature, we were opposed to God and all that is godly; therefore, we were God's enemies.
But in Christ Jesus, as Paul teaches, those who were God's enemies become God's special and favored people. The peace that Paul says is ours in Christ Jesus is the state of being reconciled to our Creator. Man was, of course, meant to live out his days and do his work while enjoying a comfortable relationship with his Maker. The transgression of Adam caused a break in the naturally peaceful relationship between Creator and creature. By the work of the Savior, that break is repaired and the sinner is no longer estranged from the One who formed him and gave him life. In place of God's opposition and certain judgment, the justified sinner has God's protection, love and acceptance; in Christ, the justified sinner is the friend of God.
A second characteristic contained in Rom. 5:1, 2 is what Paul calls this grace in which we stand. The grace that Paul mentions is synonymous with justification. This phrase implies that the state of justification is a fixed condition; it implies security and freedom from ever having to worry about being returned to a state of condemnation. In this context, the word that Paul uses, which is translated stand (histemi) refers to being permanently established. Paul describes the state of justification as an abiding status that is the result of a past action; that past action is, of course, God's declaration of our acceptance on the ground of Christ's work.
This verse illustrates why it is correct to refer to a state of justification. The term justification can be said to apply not only to the declaration that God makes concerning the sinner, but also to the status of the one who is the subject of the declaration. We can say that we are justified, by which we mean that we are in, and will continue in, a state of being acceptable to God. The permanence of this particular benefit of justification is well-explained in Rom. 8:38, 39:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
One of the great blessings of justification is our abiding in a loving relationship with our Creator throughout all the years that we live on the earth and into eternity; this is a relationship that is stronger, so to speak, than any force or threat that might be brought against it in all of God's universe. We never have to worry about our sentence of condemnation being reinstated; we never have to worry about being put in a position of having to earn God's favor. Justification means eternal security and eternal acceptance; it means that we will persevere to the end and be saved. We enjoy this privilege now as God watches over us, provides for us and guides us along our way; and we will enjoy this privilege in a supreme fashion when we enter heaven.
A third characteristic of the state of justification is, in Paul's words again, hope of the glory of God. I have often defined hope as the expectation of future blessing. This definition holds true here in Rom. 5:2. Paul describes the justified sinner as having a hope or expectation of being ushered into the magnificent presence of God one day; the justified sinner can confidently believe that he will dwell with his Creator in unending bliss. Our justification is not only the ground of this hope, it also is the guarantee that this hope will be realized some day.
The consummation of redemption that is to occur after Christ has subdued all of His enemies and has called all the elect by His Spirit into union with Himself, is said to be the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus (Titus 2:13) and also the revelation of [Christ's] glory (1 Pet. 4:13); it is that time when, according to Jude 24, the people of Christ will stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy. Longing for this day of consummation, anticipating it with eagerness, knowing that this day will arrive is what Paul means by we exult in hope of the glory of God. The state of justification is one of certain, surely to be realized hope.
Paul makes an immediate application of this particular blessing of justification in vv. 3 ff. where he encourages his readers to persevere through their tribulations knowing that such circumstances can only purify their hope. And, he adds, that the hope we have in Christ and which is refined as we pass through our trials in this life, does not disappoint. Hope, then, is a powerful element in the life of the justified sinner. It keeps him from being overwhelmed by tribulation; it keeps him from despair; it keeps him from living an aimless, miserable life in which he cannot look to tomorrow, but must wrestle with each day's disappointments as though his happiness depended upon temporal circumstances. Paul says that with hope as a blessing of justification, the believer can face anything; he can face manifold tribulation because neither his spiritual well-being nor his outlook on life is tied to today's events. The saved sinner looks to the day of his deliverance because that is where his justification is taking him, as it were.
To these three characteristics of our state of justification, I would add the declaration of Rom. 8:1, which serves as a summary of our status before God: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. This verse doesn't apply just to the moment when God declares us righteous. It would be more accurate to think of it as going into effect at the moment God declares us righteous and remaining in effect forever. While I don't want to downplay the importance of self-examination and obedience to God's word, I will say that the Christian who is excessively burdened with feelings of guilt and feelings of never measuring up has yet to comprehend Rom. 8:1. Assuming, of course, that a professing believer has been genuinely born again and is not engaged in any continuing sinful conduct, that believer should not be wrestling with feelings and notions that contradict Paul's words. Our freedom in Christ is a thing to be pondered; it is a doctrine that should move us to thanksgiving.
There are no charges to be brought against the Christian. Christ's atonement covers past, present and future sins. There is no condemning accusation coming from the Law of God because the Savior received the accusation and silenced it with His death. To live in a state of full and free pardon puts the believer at odds with the rest of humanity. Fallen man is forever trying to rid himself of guilt and feelings of despair; he is forever trying to find some explanation, some philosophy, some practice that will bring calm to his soul. Only in Christ, however, as Paul teaches, is the sentence of condemnation lifted.
In Christ, we rest; we don't struggle with man-made rules and regulations and we don't submit ourselves to the tyranny of Pharisaism; we don't let our enemy cause us to dwell on our failures and we don't measure the quality of our faith by comparing it to someone's list of rights and wrongs. We just rest securely and confidently in Christ. We receive Him, we embrace Him, we trust Him and we give not another thought to impressing God or winning His acceptance by our conduct.
I should mention that while this free and full pardon delivers us from the sentence of condemnation that was against us, it also delivers us from the inevitable end of that condemnation, which is the wrath of God that is to come. There will never be a day on which the believer will have the dread of God rekindled in his heart. Even on that great day when all that is hidden is made known, when the wrath of God begins to descend upon the sons of men, even on that day, the Christian will enjoy a sweet rest in the Savior; he will have nothing to fear from that judgment.
A final matter that I would like to address arises from the claim of some who misunderstand the teaching of Scripture and from others who deliberately seek to refute the teaching of Scripture. The claim is that licentiousness must abound in the state of justification, as understood in covenant theology, because of our emphasis on grace. Accompanying this claim is the implication that the doing of good works is of little concern to the one who believes the doctrine of justification by faith alone.
Let me begin a refutation of this claim by pointing to Rom. 6:1, 2: What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Remember the context of these verses, which is Paul's explanation of the disobedience of Adam that led to our condemnation and the obedience of Christ that led to our justification. The apostle has just stated that as the sin of Adam's transgression was magnified and expanded, so God's marvelous grace abounded all the more. The result is that we who are in Christ are delivered from the condemnation belonging to us as descendants of Adam.
In light of this wonderful truth and the magnificence of God's saving grace, Paul anticipates that someone might foolishly ask: Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? Here is where Paul makes the necessary connection between justification and sanctification. We will study sanctification in detail in a later sermon, but for now, notice how Paul responds to the suggestion that continued sin would bring continued grace. He emphatically states that those who are justified have died to sin. Paul uses a tense here that indicates a definitive act in the past; he has in mind that decisive and permanent break with sin that necessarily occurs upon regeneration and justification. If to be justified is to be declared righteous, then it is not difficult to see that sin has no place in the life of the believer. Deliberate, persistent sin in the life of one claiming to be justified is a clear contradiction of that profession. This is not to say that justified sinners never again violate God's standards; it is to say that justified sinners will not be characterized by disobedience. On the contrary, they will be characterized by righteousness, which is the fruit of the seed of God planted within.
As Paul goes on to explain in Rom. 6, those who are united with Christ by faith died with Him and they rose with Him and they now walk in newness of life. (v. 4) The old self, that is, the unregenerate nature, was crucified with Christ and we are slaves of sin no longer. (v. 6) The state of justification is not compatible with unrighteousness. To think that God's grace comes in response to sin, as though sin somehow triggers grace, is a serious error. God's grace was manifested to deliver us from sin and His grace was manifested abundantly because of the magnitude of sin.
Sin has no place in the life of the one justified; he has been delivered from sin's dominion and is finished with that cruel master. The state of justification is characterized by a love for righteousness, in terms of creed and deed. The justified sinner will confess the righteousness of God as His own and he will agree with the Scriptures at every point; at the same time, the justified sinner will behave righteously and will seek to conform his life to the holy standard of God.
It is unbiblical, then, to suggest that those who believe in justification by faith according to the grace of God do not give thought to good works. Such a claim cannot be sustained when viewed in light of what the Bible says about justification. Justification, in fact, mandates good works. The ultimate objective of our redemption is our conformity to the image of our blessed Savior. If good works are those evidences of this ongoing work of God in us, then certainly those who believe in the doctrine of justification by faith must advocate the necessity of accompanying good works.
In the application, I want to return to the first three characteristics of the state of justification. In Rom. 5:1, 2 Paul gives us three important results of our justification: peace with God, an abiding security and freedom, and hope. Peace with God, an established and permanent relationship with Him and hope; these are no small blessings! I want us to dwell on these privileges of justification for just a few minutes.
As a believer, you have peace with God. You are no longer under His sentence of condemnation, you are no longer subject to His wrath. In Christ, the Creator has established peace between Himself and a rebel. Surely this truth of your peace with God is of great comfort throughout your life; surely this truth of your peace with God is like a rock for your soul during those times of distress and heartache. Surely you can draw comfort from this truth when passing through some tribulation. In is this peace with God that sustains and encourages and strengthens His children. How marvelous to think that we are loved by God and that He has, in His Son, settled the matter of our sin debt. For us, God is a benevolent Father who now guides us, instructs us and protects us as we make our way to heaven. And because we are at peace with God, we can live out our days and do our work without fear.
Moreover, our justification means that we are forever secure and free. Is it not a great blessing, a great thrill to know that God has not required payment for our sin from us, but has accepted the payment of our Substitute? Is it not a great blessing and thrill to know that we need no longer shudder at the reading of God's Law or cover our ears at the preaching of His word?
You are justified, you have been accepted by God in Christ and nothing will ever change that. There is no one and no force to remove you from the state of justification. You are as secure as a sovereign, all-powerful, all-knowing God can make you. And you are free from all those schemes that fallen man has devised to make himself acceptable to God and from all those devices he uses to comfort himself in his sinful misery. You can enjoy the life that God has given you; you can serve Him and carry on with your responsibilities.
And, of course, our justification gives us hope. Have you ever imagined life without hope? Even unbelievers have hopeit is an earthly, temporal hope, but they do have expectation of good things in the future. The trouble is, of course, they have no basis for their hope; it is, therefore, a mere empty creation of their depraved imaginations.
Paul thought about life without hope and he expressed his feelings in chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians: If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. (v. 19) The context of this statement is the apostle's discourse on the doctrine of the resurrection. He presents the doctrine of the resurrection as an element in the gospel message. Just as surely as Christ rose from the dead, so shall His people be raised from the dead, Paul writes. That resurrection is part of the consummation of all things. It is anticipation of that great day that is our hope in this life. Nothing we experience in this life can compare with what awaits us. How can we not be anxious about the coming of that day? How can we not long for it, even as we work for Christ and see His kingdom spread around the world? There are times, to be sure, when this hope will be particularly dear to us. There will be times when the burdens of life will weigh heavily upon us and the thing that will sustain us, the thing that will let us lift up our heads will be the hope of the glory of God.
Conclusion (preparation for the Lord's Supper)
The sacrament that is displayed before you embodies the blessings that I've just recounted: peace with God, an abiding loving relationship with God and hope. This sacrament testifies to the fact that Christ brought you peace by paying for your sins. Our reception of these elements confirms our abiding relationship with God in which He loves us and has us as His own. Every time we receive these elements, our interest in Christ is confirmed. And certainly this sacrament speaks of hope. We are instructed to observe this sacrament until Christ comes back and then, according to His own words, we will drink the cup with Him in His Father's kingdom. We long for that day and this sacrament reminds us that we ought to have hope as the people of God.