Salvation: Our Justification

Salvation is one of those all-encompassing words. It can speak of our salvation from the penalty of our sin (which would be an eternity in hell experiencing the wrath of God), our salvation from the power of sin in our daily life, or our salvation from the very presence of sin upon reaching the new heavens and the new earth. These three aspects of salvation are called our justification, our sanctification, and our glorification, and it is the context of the conversation that determines the meaning. The foundation of each of these benefits is the finished work of Jesus Christ. Salvation is not something that can be earned, but can only be received by the glorious grace of God alone. I would like to spend some time over the next few days discussing these three aspects of our salvation; beginning today with justification.

What is justification? The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines it as “an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.” (WSC Q. 33) This definition tells us several important facts about our justification. First of all, it is an act of God’s free grace. This is something that God does at a point in time, not because of anything that we have done, but all because of His gracious choice. This is the reason theologians can say that our justification is monergistic (It is the work of God alone).

Second, it is the salvation event in which all our sins are pardoned, and we are declared righteous in the sight of God. How could this possibly be since we are sinners and will continue to battle sin as long as we live on this terrestrial ball? Paul tells us succinctly in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” In other words, at the cross God placed the sin of all of God’s elect people on Christ in order that He could endure the wrath and curse of God that all sinners deserve, and at that same time, all of the righteousness of Jesus Christ (who kept God’s Law perfectly) was credited to the lives of His people. It has been called the “Great Transaction.”

Last of all, this salvation becomes ours through faith alone. It is not ours through faith + our good works, or faith + our covenantal faithfulness; no, it is ours through faith alone. Paul spells this out clearly in Romans 3:20-28: 

20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.  21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it –  22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:  23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.  26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.  27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.  28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

It is important to note that even the faith with which we believe is not something that we work up from within. No, even that faith “is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) This is why I often sound like a broken record (if you are old enough to the sound of a broken record) as I repeat the same refrain again and again: “Man is justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.”

So my exhortation today is simply to put your trust in Christ alone, for it is only in Him that you can be justified and find rest for your soul.

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