by Faith

General Information

In Christianity, salvation is variously conceived. One prominent conception emphasizes justification--the process through which the individual, alienated from God by sin, is reconciled to God and reckoned just or righteous through faith in Christ.

Second only to belief in the Bible as a mark of Protestantism is the conviction that humans are not saved by their merits or good works, as the 16th-century reformers heard Catholics claiming, but only "by grace, through faith." According to Protestants, God took the initiative in saving the world from sin through his activity in Jesus Christ, and even the faith that led people to believe in this activity was a gift, not an achievement. Nonetheless, however consistent Protestant teaching on this subject may be, Protestant cultures have often produced earnest strivers after God--sober and hard-working people who try to prove that they are God's elect (Predestination) and preachers or other leaders who seem as legalistic in their approach to church life as the 16th-century Catholics were.

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Additional Note from BELIEVE's Editor

Among the large amount of e-mail that BELIEVE receives is a significant amount from non-Protestants who cannot understand how or why someone might get into Heaven without having done a long list of Good Works. A brief overview is that Protestants recognize that the Original Sin of Adam and Eve caused every one of their descendants (us) to be irresistably sin-filled. Zwingli and Luther and all of the following Protestant leaders have seen this situation as being totally "hopeless" for mankind, that absolutely nothing that any human could ever say or do could possibly overcome Original Sin.

Since Adam and Eve had broken a Covenant with God, some resolution would therefore be necessary in order to allow ANY humans to avoid Hell. Therefore, to resolve that broken Covenant, God Sacrificed His Son, Jesus. Jesus' Death therefore Atoned for each person's (previous) sins as of the moment they are Saved. Through absolutely no merit of their own, people are Saved completely and solely by God's Grace. In order to request this Grace, a person must ONLY express Faith in Jesus as Savior.

Non-Protestants (and a lot of Protestants, too) see this as resulting in an over-population of Heaven, by a lot of people who probably don't really belong there. After all, if a mass-murderer would end a killing spree with a statement "I believe and accept Jesus as Savior", it's hard to imagine how or why that person would belong in Heaven!

But Protestants see the alternative, of each individual doing many Good Works, essentially trying to "score points", as being a non-Scriptural method of getting to Heaven. Such a situation seems to imply that an absolutely sin-filled person could somehow "overcome" Original Sin and come to merit being in Heaven on his/her own. Protestants have real problems with the consequences of such a possibility! Therefore, the concept of Justification by Faith arose and is now central to Protestant beliefs. Technically, the correct name should be "Justification BY God's Grace, as a response to a person's Faith". This view eliminates any good or bad a person might do from affecting God's Grace.

Critics fairly point out Scriptures such as Rev. 22:12 and Matt. 25:41 seem to suggest that, once in Heaven (or Purgatory), people are then judged by God and then possibly sent to Hell. Those Verses (and others) seem to support the Catholic position of REQUIRING Good Works in order to first be Saved. (Protestants read from James that Good Works ARE A RESULT OF a Saved person learning to become more Christ-like.


General Information

Justification is a forensic term, opposed to condemnation. As regards its nature, it is the judicial act of God, by which He pardons all the sins of those who believe in Christ, and accounts, accepts, and treats them as righteous in the eye of the law, i.e., as conformed to all its demands. In addition to the pardon (q.v.) of sin, justification declares that all the claims of the law are satisfied in respect of the justified. It is the act of a judge and not of a sovereign. The law is not relaxed or set aside, but is declared to be fulfilled in the strictest sense; and so the person justified is declared to be entitled to all the advantages and rewards arising from perfect obedience to the law (Rom. 5:1-10). It proceeds on the imputing or crediting to the believer by God himself of the perfect righteousness, active and passive, of his Representative and Surety, Jesus Christ (Rom. 10:3-9).

Justification is not the forgiveness of a man without righteousness, but a declaration that he possesses a righteousness which perfectly and for ever satisfies the law, namely, Christ's righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 4:6-8). The sole condition on which this righteousness is imputed or credited to the believer is faith in or on the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith is called a "condition," not because it possesses any merit, but only because it is the instrument, the only instrument by which the soul appropriates or apprehends Christ and his righteousness (Rom. 1:17; 3:25, 26; 4:20, 22; Phil. 3: 8-11; Gal. 2:16). The act of faith which thus secures our justification secures also at the same time our sanctification (q.v.); and thus the doctrine of justification by faith does not lead to licentiousness (Rom. 6:2-7). Good works, while not the ground, are the certain consequence of justification (6:14; 7:6).

(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)


Advanced Information

The basic fact of biblical religion is that God pardons and accepts believing sinners (see Pss. 32:1 - 5; 130; Luke 7:47ff.; 18:9 - 14; Acts 10:43; 1 John 1:7 - 2:2). Paul's doctrine of justification by faith is an analytical exposition of this fact in its full theological connections. As stated by Paul (most fully in Romans and Galatians, though see also 2 Cor. 5:14ff.; Eph. 2:1ff.; Phil. 3:4ff.), the doctrine of justification determines the whole character of Christianity as a religion of grace and faith. It defines the saving significance of Christ's life and death by relating both to God's law (Rom. 3:24ff.; 5:16ff.).

It displays God's justice in condemning and punishing sin, his mercy in pardoning and accepting sinners, and his wisdom in exercising both attributes harmoniously together through Christ (Rom. 3:23ff.). It makes clear what faith is, belief in Christ's atoning death and justifying resurrection (Rom. 4:23ff.; 10:8ff.), and trust in him alone for righteousness (Phil. 3:8 - 9). It makes clear what Christian morality is law - keeping out of gratitude to the Savior whose gift of righteousness made law - keeping needless for acceptance (Rom. 7:1 - 6; 12:1 - 2). It explains all hints, prophecies, and instances of salvation in the OT (Rom. 1:17; 3:21; 4:1ff.). It overthrows Jewish exclusivism (Gal. 2:15ff.) and provides the basis on which Christianity becomes a religion for the world (Rom. 1:16; 3:29 - 30). It is the heart of the gospel. Luther justly termed it articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiae; a church that lapses from it can scarcely be called Christian.

The Meaning of Justification

The biblical meaning of "justify" (Hebrew, sadeq; Greek, LXX and NT, dikaioo) is to pronounce, accept, and treat as just, i.e., as, on the one hand, not penally liable, and, on the other, entitled to all the privileges due to those who have kept the law. It is thus a forensic term, denoting a judicial act of administering the law in this case, by declaring a verdict of acquittal, and so excluding all possibility of condemnation. Justification thus settles the legal status of the person justified. (See Deut. 25:1; Prov. 17:15; Rom. 8:33 - 34. In Isa. 43:9, 26, "be justified" means "get the verdict.") The justifying action of the Creator, who is the royal Judge of this world, has both a sentential and an executive, or declarative, aspect: God justifies, first, by reaching his verdict and then by sovereign action makes his verdict known and secures to the person justified the rights which are now his due. What is envisaged in Isa. 45:25 and 50:8, for instance, is specifically a series of events which will publicly vindicate those whom God holds to be in the right.

The word is also used in a transferred sense for ascriptions of righteousness in nonforensic contexts. Thus, men are said to justify God when they confess him just (Luke 7:29; Rom. 3:4 = Ps. 51:4), and themselves when they claim to be just (Job 32:2; Luke 10:29; 16:15). The passive can be used generally of being vindicated by events against suspicion, criticism, and mistrust (Matt. 11:19; Luke 7:35; I Tim. 3:16).

In James 2:21, 24 - 25 its reference is to the proof of a man's acceptance with God that is given when his actions show that he has the kind of living, working faith to which God imputes righteousness. James's statement that Christians, like Abraham, are justified by works (vs. 24) is thus not contrary to Paul's insistence that Christians, like Abraham, are justified by faith (Rom. 3:28; 4:1 - 5), but is complementary to it. James himself quotes Gen. 15:6 for exactly the same purpose as Paul does to show that it was faith which secured Abraham's acceptance as righteous (vs. 23; cf. Rom. 4:3ff.; Gal. 3:6ff.). The justification which concerns James is not the believer's original acceptance by God, but the subsequent vindication of his profession of faith by his life. It is in terminology, not thought, that James differs from Paul.

There is no lexical ground for the view of Chrysostom, Augustine, and the medieval and Roman theologians that "justify" means, or connotes as part of its meaning, "make righteous" (by subjective spiritual renewal). The Tridentine definition of justification as "not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man" (Sess. VI, ch. vii) is erroneous.

Paul's Doctrine of Justification

The background of Paul's doctrine was the Jewish conviction, universal in his time, that a day of judgment was coming, in which God would condemn and punish all who had broken his laws. That day would terminate the present world order and usher in a golden age for those whom God judged worthy. This conviction, derived from prophetic expectations of "the day of the Lord" (Amos 5:19ff.; Isa. 2:10 - 22; 13:6 - 11; Jer. 46:10; Obad. 15; Zeph. 1:14 - 2:3, etc.) and developed during the intertestamental period under the influence of apocalyptic, had been emphatically confirmed by Christ (Matt. 11:22ff.; 12:36 - 37; etc.). Paul affirmed that Christ himself was the appointed representative through whom God would "judge the world in righteousness" in "the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God" (Acts 17:31; Rom. 2:16). This, indeed, had been Christ's own claim (John 5:27ff.)

Paul sets out his doctrine of the judgment day in Rom. 2:5 - 16. The principle of judgment will be exact retribution ("to every man according to his works," vs. 6). The standard will be God's law. The evidence will be "the secrets of men" (vs. 16); the Judge is a searcher of hearts. Being himself just, he cannot be expected to justify any but the righteous, those who have kept his law (Rom. 2:12 - 13; cf. Exod. 23:7; 1 Kings 8:32). But the class of righteous men has no members. None is righteous; all have sinned (Rom. 3:9ff.). The prospect, therefore, is one of universal condemnation, for Jew as well as Gentile; for the Jew who breaks the law is no more acceptable to God than anyone else (Rom. 2:17 - 27). All men, it seems, are under God's wrath (Rom. 1:18) and doomed.

Against this black background, comprehensively expounded in Rom. 1:18 - 3:20, Paul proclaims the present justification of sinners by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, apart from all works and despite all demerit (Rom. 3:21ff.). This justification, though individually located at the point of time at which a man believes (Rom. 4:2; 5:1), is an eschatological once - for - all divine act, the final judgment brought into the present. The justifying sentence, once passed, is irrevocable. "The wrath" will not touch the justified (Rom. 5:9). Those accepted now are secure forever. Inquisition before Christ's judgment seat (Rom. 14:10 - 12; 2 Cor. 5:10) may deprive them of certain rewards (1 Cor. 3:15), but never of their justified status. Christ will not call in question God's justifying verdict, only declare, endorse, and implement it.

Justification has two sides

On the one hand, it means the pardon, remission, and nonimputation of all sins, reconciliation to God, and the end of his enmity and wrath (Acts 13:39; Rom. 4:6 - 7; 2 Cor. 5:19; Rom. 5:9ff.). On the other hand, it means the bestowal of a righteous man's status and a title to all the blessings promised to the just: a thought which Paul amplifies by linking justification with the adoption of believers as God's sons and heirs (Rom. 8:14ff.; Gal. 4:4ff.). Part of their inheritance they receive at once: through the gift of the Holy Spirit, whereby God "seals" them as his when they believe (Eph. 1:13), they taste that quality of fellowship with God which belongs to the age to come and is called "eternal life." Here is another eschatological reality brought into the present: having in a real sense passed through the last judgment, the justified enter heaven on earth.

Here and now, therefore, justification brings "life" (Rom. 5:18), though this is merely a foretaste of the fullness of life and glory which constitutes the "hope of righteousness" (Gal. 5:5) promised to the just (Rom. 2:7, 10), to which God's justified children may look forward (Rom. 8:18ff.). Both aspects of justification appear in Rom. 5:1 - 2, where Paul says that justification brings, on the one hand, peace with God (because sin is pardoned) and, on the other, hope of the glory of God (because the believer is accepted as righteous). Justification thus means permanent reinstatement to favor and privilege, as well as complete forgiveness of all sins.

The Ground of Justification

Paul's deliberately paradoxical reference to God as "justifying the ungodly" (Rom. 4:5), the same Greek phrase as is used by the LXX in Exod. 23:7; Isa. 5:23, of the corrupt judgment that God will not tolerate, reflects his awareness that this is a startling doctrine. Indeed, it seems flatly at variance with the OT presentation of God's essential righteousness, as revealed in his actions as Legislator and Judge, a presentation which Paul himself assumes in Rom. 1:18 - 3:20.

The OT insists that God is "righteous in all his ways" (Ps. 145:17), "a God. . . without iniquity" (Deut. 32:4; cf. Zeph. 3:5). The law of right and wrong, in conformity to which righteousness consists, has its being and fulfillment in him. His revealed law, "holy, just and good" as it is (Rom. 7:12; cf. Deut.4:8; Ps. 19:7 - 9), mirrors his character, for he "loves" the righteousness prescribed (Ps. 11:7; 33:5) and "hates" the unrighteousness forbidden (Ps. 5:4 - 6; Isa. 61:8; Zech. 8:17). As Judge, he declares his righteousness by "visiting" in retributive judgment idolatry, irreligion, immorality, and inhuman conduct throughout the world (Jer. 9:24; Ps. 9:5ff., 15ff.; Amos 1:3 - 3:2, etc.). "God is a righteous judge, yea, a God that hath indignation every day" (Ps. 7:11, E R V). No evildoer goes unnoticed (Ps. 94:7 - 9); all receive their precise desert (Prov. 24:12).

God hates sin, and is impelled by the demands of his own nature to pour out "wrath" and "fury" on those who complacently espouse it (cf. the language of Isa. 1:24; Jer. 6:11; 30:23 - 24; Ezek. 5:13ff.; Deut. 28:63). It is a glorious revelation of his righteousness (cf. Isa. 5:16; 10:22) when he does so; it would be a reflection on his righteousness if he failed to do so. It seems unthinkable that a God who thus reveals just and inflexible wrath against all human ungodliness (Rom. 1:18) should justify the ungodly. Paul, however, takes the bull by the horns and affirms, not merely that God does it, but that he does it in a manner designed "to shew his righteousness, because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God; for the shewing, I say, of his righteousness at this present season: that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus" (Rom. 3:25 - 26,). The statement is emphatic, for the point is crucial.

Paul is saying that the gospel which proclaims God's apparent violation of his justice is really a revelation of his justice. So far from raising a problem of theodicy, it actually solves one; for it makes explicit, as the OT never did, the just ground on which God pardoned and accepted believers before the time of Christ, as well as since.

Some question this exegesis of Rom. 3:25 - 26 and construe "righteousness" here as meaning "saving action," on the ground that in Isa. 40 - 55 "righteousness" and "salvation" are repeatedly used as equivalents (Isa. 45:8, 19 - 25; 46:13; 51:3 - 6, etc.). This eliminates the theodicy; all that Paul is saying, on this view, is that God now shows that he saves sinners. The words "just, and" in vs. 26, so far from making the crucial point that God justifies sinners justly, would then add nothing to his meaning and could be deleted without loss.

However, quite apart from the specific exegetical embarrassments which it creates (for which see V. Taylor, ExpT 50:295ff.), this hypothesis seems groundless, for (1) OT references to God's righteousness normally denote his retributive justice (the usage adduced from Isaiah is not typical), and (2) these verses are the continuation of a discussion that has been concerned throughout (from 1:18 onward) with God's display of righteousness in judging and punishing sin. These considerations decisively fix the forensic reference here. "The main question with which St. Paul is concerned is how God can be recognized as himself righteous and at the same time as one who declares righteous believers in Christ" (Taylor, p. 299). Paul has not (as is suggested) left the forensic sphere behind. The sinner's relation to God as just Lawgiver and Judge is still his subject. What he is saying in this paragraph (Rom. 3:21 - 26) is that the gospel reveals a way in which sinners can be justified without affront to the divine justice which, as shown (1:18 - 3:20), condemns all sin.

Paul's thesis is that God justifies sinners on a just ground, namely, that the claims of God's law upon them have been fully satisfied. The law has not been altered, or suspended, or flouted for their justification, but fulfilled, by Jesus Christ, acting in their name. By perfectly serving God, Christ perfectly kept the law (cf. Matt. 3:15).

His obedience culminated in death (Phil. 2:8); he bore the penalty of the law in men's place (Gal. 3:13), to make propitiation for their sins (Rom. 3:25). On the ground of Christ's obedience, God does not impute sin, but imputes righteousness, to sinners who believe (Rom. 4:2 - 8; 5:19). "The righteousness of God" (i.e., righteousness from God: see Phil. 3:9) is bestowed on them as a free gift (Rom. 1:17; 3:21 - 22; 5:17, cf. 9:30; 10:3 - 10): that is to say, they receive the right to be treated and the promise that they shall be treated, no longer as sinners, but as righteous, by the divine Judge. Thus they become "the righteousness of God" in and through him who "knew no sin" personally, but was representatively "made sin" (treated as a sinner and punished) in their stead (2 Cor. 5:21).

This is the thought expressed in classical Protestant theology by the phrase "the imputation of Christ's righteousness," namely, that believers are righteous (Rom. 5:19) and have righteousness (Phil. 3:9) before God for no other reason than that Christ their Head was righteous before God, and they are one with him, sharers of his status and acceptance. God justifies them by passing on them, for Christ's sake, the verdict which Christ's obedience merited. God declares them to be righteous, because he reckons them to be righteous; and he reckons righteousness to them, not because he accounts them to have kept his law personally (which would be a false judgment), but because he accounts them to be united to the one who kept it representatively (and that is a true judgment).

For Paul union with Christ is not fancy but fact, the basic fact, indeed, in Christianity; and the doctrine of imputed righteousness is simply Paul's exposition of the forensic aspect of it (see Rom. 5:12ff.). Covenantal solidarity between Christ and his people is thus the objective basis on which sinners are reckoned righteous and justly justified through the righteousness of their Savior. Such is Paul's theodicy regarding the ground of justification.

Faith and Justification

Paul says that believers are justified dia pisteos (Rom. 3:25), pistei (Rom. 3:28), and ek pisteos (Rom. 3:30). The dative and the preposition dia represent faith as the instrumental means whereby Christ and his righteousness are appropriated; the preposition ek shows that faith occasions, and logically precedes, our personal justification. That believers are justified dia pistin, on account of faith, Paul never says, and would deny. Were faith the ground of justification, faith would be in effect a meritorious work, and the gospel message would, after all, be merely another version of justification by works, a doctrine which Paul opposes in all forms as irreconcilable with grace and spiritually ruinous (cf. Rom. 4:4; 11:6; Gal. 4:21 - 5:12).

Paul regards faith, not as itself our justifying righteousness, but rather as the outstretched empty hand which receives righteousness by receiving Christ. In Hab. 2:4 (cited Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11) Paul finds, implicit in the promise that the godly man ("the just") would enjoy God's continued favor ("live") through his trustful loyalty to God (which is Habakkuk's point in the context), the more fundamental assertion that only through faith does any man ever come to be viewed by God as just, and hence as entitled to life, at all. The apostle also uses Gen. 15:6 ("Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness," ERV) to prove the same point (see Gal. 3:6; Rom. 4:3ff.).

It is clear that when Paul paraphrases this verse as teaching that Abraham's faith was reckoned for righteousness (Rom. 4:5, 9, 22), all he intends us to understand is that faith, decisive, wholehearted reliance on God's gracious promise (vss. 18ff.), was the occasion and means of righteousness being imputed to him. There is no suggestion here that faith is the ground of justification. Paul is not discussing the ground of justification in this context at all, only the method of securing it. Paul's conviction is that no child of Adam ever becomes righteous before God save on account of the righteousness of the last Adam, the second representative man (Rom. 5:12 - 19); and this righteousness is imputed to men when they believe.

Theologians on the rationalistic and moralistic wing of Protestantism, Socinians, Arminians, and some modern liberals, have taken Paul to teach that God regards man's faith as righteousness (either because it fulfills a supposed new law or because, as the seed of all Christian virtue, it contains the germ and potency of an eventual fulfillment of God's original law, or else because it is simply God's sovereign pleasure to treat faith as righteousness, though it is not righteousness; and that God pardons and accepts sinners on the ground of their faith). In consequence, these theologians deny the imputation of Christ's righteousness to believers in the sense explained, and reject the whole covenantal conception of Christ's mediatorial work.

The most they can say is that Christ's righteousness was the indirect cause of the acceptance of man's faith as righteousness, in that it created a situation in which this acceptance became possible. (Thinkers in the Socinian tradition, believing that such a situation always existed and that Christ's work had no Godward reference, will not say even this.) Theologically, the fundamental defect of all such views is that they do not make the satisfaction of the law the basis of acceptance. They regard justification, not as a judicial act of executing the law, but as the sovereign act of a God who stands above the law and is free to dispense with it, or change it, at his discretion. The suggestion is that God is not bound by his own law: its preceptive and penal enactments do not express immutable and necessary demands of his own nature, but he may out of benevolence relax and amend them without ceasing to be what he is. This, however, seems a wholly unscriptural conception.

The Doctrine in History

Interest in justification varies according to the weight given to the scriptural insistence that man's relation to God is determined by law and sinners necessarily stand under his wrath and condemnation. The late medieval theologians took this more seriously than any since apostolic times; they, however, sought acceptance through penances and meritorious good works. The Reformers proclaimed justification by grace alone through faith alone on the ground of Christ's righteousness alone, and embodied Paul's doctrine in full confessional statements.

The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were the doctrine's classical period. Liberalism spread the notion that God's attitude to all men is one of paternal affection, not conditioned by the demands of penal law; hence interest in the sinner's justification by the divine Judge was replaced by the thought of the prodigal's forgiveness and rehabilitation by his divine Father. The validity of forensic categories for expressing man's saving relationship to God has been widely denied. Many neo orthodox thinkers seem surer that there is a sense of guilt in man than that there is a penal law in God, and tend to echo this denial, claiming that legal categories obscure the personal quality of this relationship. Consequently, Paul's doctrine of justification has received little stress outside evangelical circles, though a new emphasis is apparent in recent lexical work, the newer Lutheran writers, and the Dogmatics of Karl Barth.

J I Packer
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

Sanday and Headlam, Romans; E D Burton, Galatians; L Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross; V Taylor, Forgiveness and Reconciliation; Calvin, Institutes 3.11 - 18; J Owen, Justification by Faith; J Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification; W Cunningham, Historical Theology, II; A Ritschl, Critical History of... Justification; C Hodge, Systematic Theology, III; L Berkhof, Systematic Theology; G Quell, T D N T, II; J A Ziesler, The Meaning of Righteousness in Paul; H Seebass and C Brown, N I D N T T, III; H Kung, Justification; G B Stevens, The Christian Doctrine of Salvation; J W Drane, Paul, Libertine or Legalist? E Kasemann, "The Righteousness of God in Paul," in NT Questions of Today; G C Berkouwer, Faith and Justification.


Advanced Information

Justification (noun), denotes "the act of pronouncing righteous, justification, acquittal"; its precise meaning is determined by that of the verb dikaioo, "to justify" (see B); it is used twice in the Ep. to the Romans, and there alone in the NT, signifying the establisment of a person as just by acquittal from guilt. In Rom. 4:25 the phrase "for our justification," is, lit., "because of our justification" (parallel to the preceding clause "for our trespasses," i.e., because of trespasses committed), and means, not with a view to our "justification," but because all that was necessary on God's part for our "justification" had been effected in the death of Christ. On this account He was raised from the dead.

The propitiation being perfect and complete, His resurrection was the confirmatory counterpart. In 5:18, "justification of life" means "justification which results in life" (cf. v. 21). That God "justifies" the believing sinner on the ground of Christ's death, involves His free gift of life. On the distinction between dikaiosis and dikaioma, see below.

In the Sept., Lev. 24:22.


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Justification (noun), has three distinct meanings, and seems best described comprehensively as "a concrete expression of righteousness"; it is a declaration that a person or thing is righteous, and hence, broadly speaking, it represents the expression and effect of dikaiosis (No. 1).

It signifies (a) "an ordinance," Luke 1:6; Rom. 1:32, RV, "ordinance," i.e., what God has declared to be right, referring to His decree of retribution (KJV, "judgment"); Rom. 2:26, RV, "ordinances of the Law" (i.e., righteous requirements enjoined by the Law); so 8:4, "ordinance of the Law," i.e., collectively, the precepts of the Law, all that it demands as right; in Heb. 9:1, 10, ordinances connected with the tabernacle ritual; (b) "a sentence of acquittal," by which God acquits men of their guilt, on the conditions (1) of His grace in Christ, through His expiatory sacrifice, (2) the acceptance of Christ by faith, Rom. 5;16; (c) "a righteous act," Rom. 5:18, "(through one) act of righteousness," RV, not the act of "justification," nor the righteous character of Christ (as suggested by the KJV: dikaioma does not signify character, as does dikaiosune, righteousness), but the death of Christ, as an act accomplished consistently with God's character and counsels; this is clear as being in antithesis to the "one trespass" in the preceding statement.

Some take the word here as meaning a decree of righteousness, as in v. 16; the death of Christ could indeed be regarded as fulfilling such a decree, but as the apostle's argument proceeds, the word, as is frequently the case, passes from one shade of meaning to another, and here stands not for a decree, but an act; so in Rev. 15:4, RV, "righteous acts" (KJV, "judgments"), and 19:8, "righteous acts (of the saints)" (KJV, "righteousness"). Note: For dikaiosune, always translated "righteousness," Righteousness.


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Justify (verb), primarily, "to deem to be right," signifies, in the NT, (a) "to show to be right or righteous"; in the passive voice, to be justified, Matt. 11:19; Luke 7:35; Rom. 3:4; 1 Tim. 3:16; (b) "to declare to be righteous, to pronounce righteous," (1) by man, concerning God, Luke 7:29 (see Rom. 3:4, above); concerning himself, Luke 10:29; 16:15; (2) by God concerning men, who are declared to be righteous before Him on certain conditions laid down by Him. Ideally the complete fulfillment of the law of God would provide a basis of "justification" in His sight, Rom. 2:13. But no such case has occurred in mere human experience, and therefore no one can be "justified" on this ground, Rom. 3:9-20; Gal. 2:16; 3:10, 11; 5:4.

From this negative presentation in Rom. 3, the apostle proceeds to show that, consistently with God's own righteous character, and with a view to its manifestation, He is, through Christ, as "a propitiation... by (en, "instrumental") His blood," 3:25, RV, "the Justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus" (v. 26), "justification" being the legal and formal acquittal from guilt by God as Judge, the pronouncement of the sinner as righteous, who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ. In v. 24, "being justified" is in the present continuous tense, indicating the constant process of "justification" in the succession of those who believe and are "justified."

In 5:1, "being justified" is in the aorist, or point, tense, indicating the definite time at which each person, upon the exercise of faith, was justified. In 8:1, "justification" is presented as "no condemnation." That "justification" is in view here is confirmed by the preceding chapters and by verse 34. In 3:26, the word rendered "Justifier" is the present participle of the verb, lit., "justifying"; similarly in 8:33 (where the article is used), "God that justifieth," is, more lit., "God is the (One) justifying," with stress upon the word "God." "Justification" is primarily and gratuitously by faith, subsequently and evidentially by works.

In regard to "justification" by works, the so-called contradiction between James and the apostle Paul is only apparent. There is harmony in the different views of the subject. Paul has in mind Abraham's attitude toward God, his aceptance of God's word. This was a matter known only to God. The Romans epistle is occupied with the effect of this Godward attitude, not upon Abraham's character or actions, but upon the contrast between faith and the lack of it, namely, unbelief, cf. Rom. 11:20. James (2:21-26) is occupied with the contrast between faith that is real and faith that is false, a faith barren and dead, which is not faith at all.

Again, the two writers have before them different epochs in Abraham's life, Paul, the event recorded in Gen. 15, James, that in Gen. 22. Contrast the words "believed" in Gen. 15:6 and "obeyed" in 22:18. Further, the two writers use the words "faith" and "works" in somewhat different senses. With Paul, faith is acceptance of God's word; with James, it is acceptance of the truth of certain statements about God, (v. 19), which may fail to affect one's conduct.

Faith, as dealt with by Paul, results in acceptance with God., i.e., "justification," and is bound to manifest itself. If not, as James says "Can that faith save him?" (v. 14). With Paul, works are dead works; with James they are life works. The works of which Paul speaks could be quite independent of faith: those referred to by James can be wrought only where faith is real, and they will attest its reality. So with righteousness, or "justification": Paul is occupied with a right relationship with God, James, with right conduct. Paul testifies that the ungodly can be "justified" by faith, James that only the right-doer is "justified.".

Also, see:
Soteriological Ordering. Various Attitudes

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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