Imagine that you stood guilty
of a crime before a judge, and the judge says, "I impute upon you
the verdict of acquittal, not based upon your absence of guilt, but
based imputation of your justification. You will no longer be treated
as a criminal because someone else has agreed to bear your punishment."
What would be your response? Certainly one of great relief and joy.
Justification depicts the judicial standing of the one who has been
bought back from sin by the payment of another. A justified individual
has been declared righteous as opposed to being made righteous.
Clear distinction must be made between justification and sanctification.
The Roman Catholic theologians have failed to make this distinction:
they link works to the process of sanctification and justification (Morris
What is justification? Justification is a legal term; it means a verdict
of acquittal (Morris, 241), and it means to be declared righteous. "It
means that He treats the sinner as if he had not been a sinner at all–on
the basis of Christ's cross-work" (McLachlan 22). It means to be
totally accepted; man can stand before God (Morris, 242).
Justification is not just as if man had never sinned. Though that statement
is often made, justification goes much further than that. Justification
is more than forgiveness wherein God's wrath is appeased. Justification
is more than making one righteous. If such were the case, there must
be a change in the character of a man necessary before will God receive
him–i.e. sanctification (Morris, 241,242).
The justified are considered
righteous by the One who is righteous.
Two major questions must
First, how could the righteous one declare the unrighteous righteous?
Scripture says of God, . . .for I will not justify the wicked (Exodus
23:7). He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just,
even they both are abomination to the LORD (Proverbs 17:15).
So, how could God declare the unrighteous righteous? Simply stated:
man's sin became Christ's sin. Christ's righteousness became the righteousness
of the sinner.
"Visualize two ledgers.
On one ledger is a list of all of your sins. On the other ledger is
a list of the righteousness of Christ. Now exchange your ledger for
Christ's. This exemplifies justification" (McGee, 46).
For he hath made him to be
sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness
of God in him (I Corinthians 5:21).
The work of justification
is not a mere subtraction of sin; rather it is an exchange–an exchange
of God's righteousness and man's sin and man's sin for God's righteousness.
All this was done through
Christ's work on the cross. Christ "was delivered for our offenses,
and was raised again for our justification" (Romans 4:25). F.W.
Dillistone says, "By the death of Jesus, in other words, man's
debt of sin had been annulled in a way consonant with God's righteousness"
Why is God able to make the unrighteous righteous? God's ability to
justify comes into focus with the feat of imputation. To impute is "to
ascribe to a person as coming from another" (Webster's 707). Jesus
Christ ascribed to the sinner his own righteousness.
And therefore it was imputed
to him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone,
that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed,
if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead. Romans
Jesus Christ was able to
ascribe righteousness to the believer because He imputed to himself
man's sin. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that
we might be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Corinthians 5:21).
The second question concerning
justification is how does one answer the seemingly opposing views of
justification in Romans and James?
The passages in question are Romans 3:28, Romans 5:1 and James 2:24.
Paul and James were dealing with two different problems; they used the
same word in two different ways. Paul deals with the self-righteous
legalists who emphasized their works as a means to salvation. James
deals with careless intellectuals who were lax, demonstrating no works
as a result of salvation. Romans is looking forward to justification
as the means to salvation; James is looking back at justification as
a result of salvation. "Unproductive faith cannot save, because
it is not genuine faith. Faith and works are like a two-coupon ticket
to heaven. The coupon of works is not good for passage, and the coupon
of faith is not valid if detached from works" (Ryrie 1753). Paul
stresses "the faith that issues in works, and James [stresses]
the works that issue from faith" (Stott, 192).
Interestingly, Abraham is the example both James and Paul use. By faith
Abraham's works were justified before God, and he was declared righteous.
By works his faith was justified before men, proven to be righteous
in a practical and visible way (McLachlan, 25). At the same time, with
James, faith was absolutely essential for works to be genuine. James
says, "seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works
was faith made perfect?" (James 2:22). For Paul, works were an
obvious result of genuine faith. Paul states, "what shall we say
then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How
shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" (Romans
6:1,2). Ultimately, James and Paul are in complete accord.
McGee, Robert S. The Search
For Significance. Pasadena, Texas: McGee, 1985.
McLachlan, Douglas. "Rediscovering
Our Doctrinal Foundations." Northland Baptist Graduate School.
Dunbar, Wisconsin, 1993.
Morris, Leon. The Cross in
The New Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1965.
Ryrie, Charles Caldwell.
The Ryrie Study Bible. Chicago: Moody, 1978.
Stott, John. The Cross of
Christ. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1986.
Woodbridge, Charles J. A
Handbook Of Christian Truth. Old Tappan, New Jersey: Revell, 1953.
Webster's New World Dictionary
of the American Language 1976 ed.