Understanding justifying grace is key to grasping the good news of salvation in Christ.
Introduction to Justifying Grace
Justifying grace is all about how sinful human beings can be made right before a holy God. Justification comes from the Greek word dikaioo, meaning “to declare righteous.” So, justifying grace describes the way God, by His grace, declares us righteous even though we don’t deserve it.
This doctrine has been pivotal throughout church history. Martin Luther and the other Protestant Reformers championed justification by faith alone as they broke from Roman Catholic theology. Earlier, Catholic theologians like Augustine wrestled with concepts like prevenient grace and infused righteousness.
In the 18th century, John Wesley founded Methodism on an Arminian understanding of salvation. For Wesley, prevenient grace works in people’s lives to allow them to repent and believe. Then justifying grace pardons them when they put their faith in Christ.
So why does this type of grace matter today? First, it reveals the meaning behind Jesus’ sacrifice and highlights the beauty of the gospel message. Additionally, it assures salvation since our right standing depends fully on Christ’s work, not our own merit.
Over the next several sections, we’ll explore what the Bible teaches about justification, trace some historical perspectives, examine its effects on believers’ lives, and explore how Christians should respond to this incredible gift of grace.
What Does the Bible Say About Justification?
Since justifying grace deals with how we are made right with God, it’s closely tied to the biblical theme of righteousness. Scripture clearly teaches that all people have sinned and face divine judgment without excuse (Romans 3:23). But God, in His mercy, sent Jesus to obey the law perfectly and die for sinners (Romans 5:8).
This is the background context for verses like Titus 3:7:
so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs with the hope of eternal life.
Here, Paul explains that justification comes purely by God’s grace and results in believers becoming His heirs. Through faith, we have peace with God, new life in the Spirit, and the assurance of heaven (Romans 5:1; John 3:16).
So, what does it mean exactly to be justified or declared righteous?
The Biblical Concept of Justification
In essence, justification is a legal verdict. Sinners stand guilty before the Judge of the universe. But for those who put their trust in Jesus, God declares them:
- Forgiven – Their sins are pardoned and will be remembered no more
- Righteous – They are credited with Jesus’ perfect obedience even though they have done nothing to earn it
Romans 4:5-8 describes believers as blessed with forgiveness and the non-imputation of sin. Second Corinthians 5:21 says God made Christ “to be sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
So, justification happens at a point in time when someone first believes. It’s not a process like sanctification but a declaration that changes one’s status from guilty to innocent.
Key Bible Verses on Justification
Let’s explore some other notable justification passages:
- Romans 3:20-26 – “All have sinned… and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
- Galatians 2:16 – “A man is not justified by works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus.”
- Titus 3:5-7 – “He saved us, not by works of righteousness… so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs…”
- James 2:21-24 – Abraham was “justified by works when he offered up Isaac… You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected.”
So, the consistent thread is that salvation is completely due to God’s grace rather than human effort. Good works serve as evidence of genuine faith but play no role in earning justification.
Even James agrees that Abraham pleased God through trusting Him (Hebrews 11:8-12), long before offering Isaac. Works validate rather than achieve right standing with God. Justification remains an unmerited gift.
Perspectives on Justification Throughout History
Understanding Christian history helps deepen our grasp of theological concepts. Let’s analyze how views of justification developed over time.
Early Church Fathers
The early church wrestled with questions about sin and grace. Some, like Tertullian, taught that serious post-baptismal sins could not be forgiven. Others like Ambrose and Augustine emphasized God’s grace and downplayed human merit while still holding that humans cooperate in the process.
Catholic theology has always tended to blur the lines between justification and sanctification. People receive grace, which enables obedience. But justification wasn’t sharply defined as a one-time legal declaration.
Over time, deviations from biblical doctrine increased. By the medieval period, Catholic theology essentially taught salvation by merit. To be justified, one had to participate personally in the seven sacraments administered by the clergy. This included good works, penance, indulgences, and more.
Reacting to this corruption, early forerunner John Wycliffe re-centered the gospel on God’s grace. He affirmed biblical authority and taught justification by faith alone.
Eventually, more voices cried out for reform. No one was more pivotal than Martin Luther, the German monk whose “Tower Experience” revolutionized theology. Studying Romans, Luther finally understood that “the righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17) and embraced justification sola gratia, sola fide – by grace alone, through faith alone.
Other giants like John Calvin articulated Reformed theology, while Jacobus Arminius founded the Remonstrants and argued against Calvinist predestination.
Despite variants, Protestantism was mostly united around justification by faith apart from works. The council of Trent hardened Rome’s position while Reformers countered with meticulous arguments from Scripture.
Battles raged through the 17th century until philosopher Immanuel Kant re-centered discussion around human reason rather than revealed truth. This shift facilitated liberalism and set the stage for further deviation from orthodoxy.
John Wesley and Methodism
Another key perspective arose during the 18th-century Evangelical Revival led by John Wesley. Wesley built on classical Protestant doctrine but espoused a distinctly Arminian theology focused on God’s prevenient grace given to all. This grace goes before justifying grace, enabling the lost to repent and believe.
Wesley also emphasized the witness of the Spirit, giving subjective assurance of salvation. Justification pardons the guilt of sin, while the Spirit’s testimony confirms we have been adopted as God’s children.
In Wesleyan thought, prevenient grace makes way for justifying grace received instantly by faith. This sparks the beginning of sanctification and the process of being made holy by God’s power.
The Effects of Justifying Grace
What actually happens at that moment when God declares a sinner righteous? Scripture describes justification as a spiritual resurrection from death to new life. Those who believe in Jesus are born again as children of God. Let’s explore some key effects:
Forgiveness of Sins
First and foremost, justifying grace brings forgiveness. Jesus bore God’s wrath on the cross so those who trust in Him don’t have to (1 Peter 2:24). The legal demands were satisfied through Christ’s substitutionary death. So, the pardoned sinner is cleared of all charges. Past, present, and future sins are wiped away and will be remembered no more (Psalm 103:12).
What unspeakable, liberating grace to be acquitted and declared blameless before our Judge! This redemption causes saints to sing for endless ages of God’s glorious mercy shown at Calvary.
In addition to forgiving sins, justification also makes believers truly righteous in God’s sight. Jesus’ perfect record is credited to those united to Him by faith (Romans 4:22-25). We stand before the Father as if we lived Christ’s sinless life. This “alien righteousness” astounded Luther as he studied Scripture.
God looks at His children and sees absolute purity belonging to His beloved Son. This is possible because all our offenses were punished at the cross. With guilt removed, Christ’s righteousness satisfies the positive demands of the law on our behalf. We’re given what we could never achieve through our own efforts.
Adopted as God’s Children
These gifts of forgiveness and credited righteousness totally transform one’s standing before God. No longer guilty criminals deserving wrath, believers become adopted children and heirs of our Father in heaven (Galatians 4:4-7). God’s own Spirit assures us that we belong to Christ and can come boldly into God’s presence (Romans 8:15-16).
Our filthy rags have been replaced by Christ’s splendid garments (Isaiah 61:10). And this new status is permanent since it depends fully on Jesus’ finished work. As Paul explains in Romans 8, nothing in all creation can separate God’s children from His eternal love. Hallelujah, what a Savior!
In summary, justification gives repentant sinners:
- Forgiveness of sins
- Credited righteousness
- Adopted family status
- Confident access to the Father
- Eternal security anchored in Christ
Glory to God for this lavish grace poured out on the undeserving!
How Should Christians Respond to Justifying Grace?
As we meditate on the glories of justifying grace revealed in Scripture, how should we respond? Above all, our hearts cry out in worship and contrition. Like Paul in 1 Timothy 1, we marvel that Christ showed unlimited patience by appointing us to serve Him even though we acted ignorantly in unbelief.
Truly, our Savior’s mercy endures forever! This gospel revelation leaves no room for pride or self-reliance. In fact, the stunning gift of justification should drive Christians to their knees in dependency and gratitude.
What are some appropriate responses to God’s justifying grace?
Firstly, as we better understand God’s righteousness revealed in Christ (Romans 1:17), we gain perspective on our wretched sinfulness apart from Him. Becoming a Christian is not a merit badge for good behavior. It’s a supernatural rescue operation to redeem arrogant rebels hostile to truth (Colossians 1:21).
Remembering this cultivates true humility. Our right standing depends completely on Another’s work. In the gospel, the Judge declares guilty vermin to be royal children. We contributed nothing to this joyous adoption except the sin that made it necessary! Such lavish mercy leaves no place for pride.
Gratitude and Praise
Grasping the wonders of justification also nurtures profound thankfulness. Christians delight in singing “grace greater than all my sin” that has “pardoned” and “set me free.” Our hearts overflow with praise for the Lamb whose blood washed away our stains.
The heavens can’t contain the Hallelujah Chorus of eternity as voices from every nation testify of Calvary’s love. Rivers of gratitude flow endlessly toward the gracious Redeemer who gave His life to make us righteous.
Love and Devotion
In response, we devote ourselves fully to the Lover of our souls. The cross powerfully demonstrates Christ’s compassion and dismantles our indifference. Having received this costly grace, Paul explains that Jesus’ love compels us no longer to live for ourselves (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
Recognizing our ransom emboldens affection displayed in obedience. Christians yearn to live righteously by the power of the Spirit to please the Master. Delighted devotion arises naturally from those realizing they’ve been spared wrath and given eternal joy.
Application of Justification Truths
Let’s explore how comprehending justification impacts various areas of life:
Grasping this doctrine fuels gospel proclamation. Just imagine – through faith, even the worst villains can be pardoned and credited with Jesus’ sinless record! Such astonishing grace compels sharing the good news.
Justification of truth clarifies the essence of the message. Salvation doesn’t depend on sacraments or steps but on wholehearted trust in Christ’s finished work. We plead with hearers to believe and be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Meditating on the finality of justification also buoys believers’ assurance. Since our standing depends entirely on the Son’s perfect obedience, it remains forever fixed. God looks at His sons through the lens of the Savior’s righteousness. So He sees only beauty regardless of our babbling performance.
This security in justification sets struggling saints free from sin-consciousness. Yes, we aim for obedience. But even carnal Christians remain safe in the imputed righteousness of Christ.
In addition, justification insights direct practical application. For example, we use wisdom when considering fasts, vigils, or vows. Why? Because attempting religious works to earn merit subtly undermines confidence in justification truths.
Of course, fasting can aid concentration or express devotion. But embarking on self-atoning asceticism denies the all-sufficiency of the cross. Redeemed children need no whip. Our Shepherd leads us kindly as we walk by faith in Him.
What is Justifying Grace? The Doctrine That Matters
In closing, let me encourage you to understand why justification remains crucial today:
- It clarifies the biblical gospel, guarding against legalism.
- It provides assurance for struggling Christians who feel defeated in sanctification. Our security rests on Christ’s work alone.
- It protects the glory due to God for salvation. Justification maintains that humans contribute nothing meritorious, only the sin requiring forgiveness!
In light of these reasons, may the church continue proclaiming this pivotal doctrine. Just imagine – the holy Judge declares ungodly sinners pardoned and righteous because Jesus died in their place! Oh, the wonders of God’s scandalous grace.
Hallelujah for justification received through faith alone. Soli Deo Gloria!