HERE'S THE DIFFERENCE
A Study of Important Biblical Distinctions
By William MacDonald
ASPECTS OF JUSTIFICATION
The New Testament teaches that we are justified by grace, by faith, by blood, by power, and by works. This is apt to prove confusing, if not contradictory, unless we realize that in each case a different aspect of the same subject is being presented.
First of all, what does justification mean? To justify means to reckon righteous. It does not mean to make righteous, but to declare to be righteous. Actually it is a legal term; it comes from the courtroom.
We are not righteous in ourselves. We have no righteousness. But when we receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, God reckons us to be righteous on the basis of Christ's substitutionary work. When we are "in Christ," God can righteously declare us to be righteous because full satisfaction has been made at Calvary for all our sins. The believing sinner is clothed in all the righteousness of God. "For he (God) hath made him (Christ) to be sin for us, (He) who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Cor. 5:21).
As we mentioned at the outset, justification is said to be by grace, by faith, by blood, by power, and by works. How can it be by all these five ways?
First, justification is by grace. In Romans 3:24 we read, "Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." This means that man does not deserve to be justified. He cannot merit it or earn it; he must receive it as a gift. Grace is the term upon which God gives justification to man-completely undeserved and unbought-freely, as a gift.
Second, justification is by faith, "Therefore, being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:1). This means that the sinner must receive justification by a definite act of trust in the Savior. Confessing himself to be worthy only of hell, he must accept the Lord Jesus as the One who paid the penalty of his sins on the Cross.
Grace is God stooping down to guilty man and offering justification as a free gift on the basis of Christ's redemptive work at Calvary. Faith is repentant man reaching up and receiving the gift from God without any thought of deserving it by his character or earning it by his works.
Justification is also by blood. "Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him" (Rom. 5:9). This, of course, refers to the price which had to be paid in order that I might be justified. The sinless Savior shed His precious blood to settle the debt that my sins had accumulated. The enormous value of my justification is seen in the staggering price that was paid to secure it.
While there is no Scripture that says in so many words that we are justified by power, the truth is contained in Romans 4:25: "(He) was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification." Here our justification is directly connected with the Resurrection of Christ. And rightly so! If He had not risen our faith would be futile, and we would still be in our sins (1 Cor. 15:17). So our justification is inseparably linked with the power that raised our Lord Jesus from the dead. That is why we say that we are justified by power.
Finally, we are justified by works. " Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only" (James 2:24). Here is where a distinct contradiction seems to appear. The Apostle Paul teaches unmistakably that we are justified by faith alone. But James seems to say here, "Not so. We are justified by faith and by works." However, that is not what James is saying. He does not teach that justification is obtained initially by doing good works. Neither does he say that we are justified by faith plus works. What he is saying is that we are justified by the kind of faith that results in a life of good works.
It is futile for a man to say he has faith if he doesn't have works to back it up. That kind of faith-that is, a faith of words only, is worthless (James 2:14-17). True faith is invisible but can be demonstrated by works (James 2:18). Abraham was justified by believing the Lord (Gen. 15:6), but years later he showed that his faith was genuine by being willing to offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering (Gen. 22:9-14). Rahab proved the reality of her faith by harboring the Israeli spies and helping them escape (James 2:25). So when we speak of justification by works we mean that works are the outward manifestation that we have truly been justified by faith. Works are not the cause; they are the effect. They are not the root; they are the fruit.
Putting these all together, we find that the New Testament teaches that we are justified by:
grace-this means we don't deserve it.
faith-this means we must receive it.
blood-this means it was purchased by the Savior's death.
power-this means that the Resurrection proves God's satisfaction with the Savior's work.
works-this means that when we are genuinely justified by faith, there will be good works to prove it.
All these aspects of justification have been expressed poetically as follows:
God's sov'reign grace selected me
To have in heav'n a place;
'Twas the good pleasure of His will;
I'm justified by grace.
In due time Christ on Calv'ry died;
There flowed that crimson flood
Which makes the foulest white as snow;
I'm justified by blood.
God raised Him up; this is the pledge,
Should evil doubtings lower;
His resurrection quells each fear;
I'm justified by power.
The Holy Spirit guided me
To what the Scripture saith;
I grasped the truth; Christ died for me!
I'm justified by faith.
Now if you doubt that I am Christ's,
If one suspicion lurks,
I'll show by deed that I am His;
I'm justified by works.
I praise the Lord, 'tis all of Him,
The grace, the faith, the blood,
The resurrection pow'r, the works;
I'm justified by God!
-Helen H. Shaw
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