Truth that Matters

Justification by Grace Through Faith

This class looks at the topic of justification, or our being declared righteous by God. Note that the Greek words translated "righteousness", "to be made righteous," "justification," and "to be justified" all come from the same root; in many places English versions mix these translations in the same passage. For example, in the key section of Romans 3, we read:

21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;

Try substituting "the justification" for the two instances of "the righteousness;" then try substituting "being made righteous" for "being justified," and see if that doesn't make Paul's statement clearer. Always do this in the New Testament passages that use both words.

The concept of justification by faith was central to the reformation; the idea of justification held by most Protestants was declared anathema, or deserving of hell, by the Roman Catholic church at the Council of Trent in the 1560's. To help us understand the issues here, one of the readings details the differences between Roman interpretation and general Protestant interpretation of this topic.

Read the following Scriptures several times, noting places where they discuss the idea of being made right with God. These are longer passages than usual; take your time going through them:

Genesis 15, Leviticus 16, Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Romans 3:10-5:19, 8:12-39, 9:30-10:13, 2 Cor 5:21, Galatians 2:15-4:7, James 2:14-26, Titus 3:3-7.

Questions: For this class, please write responses to all four questions:

Readings: Read the following articles in the order listed, then revise what you wrote above. If you are from a Roman Catholic background, try to summarize the official position of that church on justification, and detail how your present beliefs differ, if at all, from that position.

Revise your written answers in light of the insights into Scripture you have gained through the readings.

(Excerpt from Owen)

There is in the Scripture represented unto us a commutation between Christ and believers, as unto sin and righteousness; that is, in the imputation of their sins unto him, and of his righteousness unto them. In the improvement and application hereof unto our own souls, no small part of the life and exercise of faith does consist.

This was taught the church of God in the offering of the scapegoat: "And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat. And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities," Lev.16:21,22. Whether this goat sent away with this burden upon him did live, and so was a type of the life of Christ in his resurrection after his death; or whether he perished in the wilderness, being cast down the precipice of a rock by him that conveyed him away, as the Jews suppose; it is generally acknowledged, that what was done to him and with him was only a representation of what was done really in the person of Jesus Christ. And Aaron did not only confess the sins of the people over the goat, but he also put them all on his head, "wenatan 'otam al-rosh hassa'ir",--"And he shall give them all to be on the head of the goat." In answer whereunto it is said, that he bare them all upon him. This he did by virtue of the divine institution, wherein was a ratification of what was done. He did not transfuse sin from one subject into another, but transferred the guilt of it from one to another; and to evidence this translation of sin from the people unto the sacrifice, in his confession, "he put and fixed both his hands on his head." Thence the Jews say, "that all Israel was made as innocent on the day of expiation as they were on the day of creation;" from verse 30. Wherein they came short of perfection or consummation thereby the apostle declares, Heb.10. But this is the language of every expiatory sacrifice, "Quod in ejus caput sit;"-- "Let the guilt be on him." Hence the sacrifice itself was called "chatat" and "'ashan",--"sin" and "guilt," Lev.4:29; 7:2; 10:17. And therefore, where there was an uncertain murder, and none could be found that was liable to punishment thereon, that guilt might not come upon the land, nor the sin be imputed unto the whole people, a heifer was to be slain by the elders of the city that was next unto the place where the murder was committed, to take away the guilt of it, Deut.21:1-9. But whereas this was only a moral representation of the punishment due to guilt, and no sacrifice, the guilty person being not known, those who slew the heifer did not put their hands on him, so as to transfer their own guilt to him, but washed their hands over him, to declare their personal innocence. By these means, as in all other expiatory sacrifices, did Cod instruct the church in the transferring of the guilt of sin unto Him who was to bear all their iniquities, with their discharge and justification thereby.

So "God laid on Christ the iniquities of us all," that "by his stripes we might be healed," Isa.53:5,6. Our iniquity was laid on him, and he bare it, verse 11; and through his bearing of it we are freed from it. His stripes are our healing. Our sin was his, imputed unto him; his merit is ours, imputed unto us. "He was made sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might become the righteousness of God in him," 2 Cor.5:21. This is that commutation I mentioned: he was made sin for us; we are made the righteousness of God in him. God not imputing sin unto us, verse 19, but imputing righteousness unto us, does it on this ground alone that "he was made sin for us." And if by his being made sin, only his being made a sacrifice for sin is intended, it is to the same purpose; for the formal reason of any thing being made an expiatory sacrifice, was the imputation of sin unto it by divine institution. The same is expressed by the same apostle, Rom.8:3,4, "God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us." The sin was made his, he answered for it; and the righteousness which God requireth by the law is made ours: the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us, not by our doing it, but by his. This is that blessed change and commutation wherein alone the soul of a convinced sinner can find rest and peace. So he "has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us, that the blessing of Abraham might come on us," Gal.3:13,14. The curse of the law contained all that was due to sin. This belonged unto us; but it was transferred on him. He was made a curse; whereof his hanging on a tree was the sign and token. Hence he is said to "bear our sins in his own body on the tree," 1 Pet.2:24; because his hanging on the tree was the token of his bearing the curse: "For he that is hanged is the curse of God," Dent.21:23. And in the blessing of faithful Abraham all righteousness and acceptation with God is included; for Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness.

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