Shannon Baptist Church
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Shannon, Illinois 61078
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written by Pastor David Wood


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 241,242).
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 be answered.
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" (Morris 243).
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 4:22-24

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 Judaizers–
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.

Works Cited:

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.

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