justification

This week’s word is a theological term, soteriology. It means the doctrine of salvation.

Previous posts on atonement, redemption, regeneration, election, and justification address various aspects of the doctrine of salvation. Future posts will unpack more specific aspects of the doctrine.

As a panoramic view of the mountains contains multifaceted views, colors, shadows, and wonder so the doctrine of soteriology is dynamic and beautiful. The aim of this post is to remind us of the wonder, grandeur, and multifaceted glory of the doctrine of soteriology.

We often think of the Bible as a book about salvation. And it is. But the Bible is about more than salvation for us, the Bible is a book about God and his glory. In God’s greatness and glory, he sent his only Son, Jesus Christ to earth. Jesus came to earth to reveal God (John 1:14), to show us God’s love (John 3:16), to set us free through the truth (John 8:32), and to offer us eternal life by knowing him (John 17:3). In truth, Jesus is the storyline of Scripture.

As regards humanity, Jesus came to earth to be our Savior and our Lord.

Why do we need this doctrine? Why do we need salvation?

The doctrine of soteriology connects with the doctrines of humanity (who we are), sin (why we need salvation), and Christ (the One who saves). We need salvation from Jesus Christ because we have been made in God’s image (Genesis 1:28). We need salvation from Jesus Christ because we are sinners who have broken God’s laws (Genesis 3; Romans 3:23). We need salvation because unless God saves, we are hopeless to save ourselves.

The various aspects of soteriology teach us glorious truths about our salvation.

  • In election we learn that God planned our salvation from eternity.
  • In regeneration we learn that God made us alive from our condition of being spiritually dead.
  • In atonement we learn that Jesus became our substitute so that our sin could be paid for.
  • In redemption we learn that God bought us out of our slavery to sin and freed us.
  • In justification we learn that God declares us righteous through Christ.
  • In sanctification we learn that God made us holy and is working in us to make us more like Christ.
  • In adoption we learn that God chose us to be in his family and has made us his heirs.
  • In union with Christ we learn that God has given us a unique personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
  • In glorification we learn that God will give us eternal, glorious bodies like that of the risen Christ.

And there are more aspects to salvation than just these.

We often ask, “Are you saved?” And that’s an appropriate question. But it is multifaceted and more glorious than we can possibly imagine.

The doctrine of soteriology puts us in our appropriate place in the universe. The glories, depths, and wonders of our salvation far exceed our own personal experiences in being saved. God’s work in salvation is eternal in its scope (from before creation until after consummation), universal in its extent (available for the entire world), costly in its accomplishment (Jesus gave his life), personal in its invitation (for you and for me), and glorious in its result (God’s redemption of us through Christ reveals his glory).

What do we do with this doctrine?

First, receive it. If you have not yet repented of your sin and trusted in Christ alone, then do so now. Admit you are a sinner. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ alone for your salvation. Commit your life to Jesus as Lord.

Second, worship from it. If you have received Jesus as Lord and Savior, then worship the God who did so much to bring you salvation. He is worthy. Let your salvation drive your worship of the Lord who loves you.

Third, learn about it. Don’t just be content that you are saved. Read Scripture, learn about God, go to church, listen in a small group, read good theological books. Our salvation is deeper and more glorious than we can ever fathom, and yet God gives us the privilege to know him and know his saving work in our lives.

Fourth, share it with others. Be thankful that God loves you, and sent Jesus to save you. But God does not just want to save you only. He sent Jesus to save the world. Be a witness to God’s saving work for someone else.

Often, when we think about the doctrine of salvation, we mean the specific aspect of salvation called justification.

Justification is the aspect of salvation where we are declared righteous by God.

The doctrine of justification was seminal to Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther struggled regarding salvation for years. He sought to be justified (made right with God) through his works. This is the basic teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and was certainly Luther’s primary understanding prior to his conversion. For Roman Catholics, the works that justify are the sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, Penance, Eucharist, etc.) By participating in these sacraments, the good Catholic is supposed to be justified, that is made right with God. Luther’s problem was that he was a consistent confessor of his sins and an effective participant in these sacraments, yet had not experienced salvation. He had no peace or assurance that he had been forgiven.

Luther’s turning point (and indeed the significant turning point in the Protestant Reformation) was Habakkuk 2:4 quoted in Romans 1:17, “The just shall live by faith.” Like a lightning bolt, Luther understood. One could not be justified by works or good deeds. Rather, justification came by faith alone.

Justification by faith alone initiated the Reformation emphasis of the five solas. Salvation is through Christ alone, by grace alone, in faith alone, from Scripture alone, for the glory of God alone.

Paul details the doctrine of justification further in Romans 3.

20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Romans 3:20-26, emphasis mine.

Justification comes by God through Christ’s work on the cross. Justification was earned by Christ. It is a gift of grace to the believer. It is received by faith.

You might ask, “Why doesn’t God just unilaterally forgive sin? Why did God need to go through the terrible judgment of the cross and judge our sin through Christ?”

Think about God as a Judge. He will one day judge every person who has walked planet earth. Could he just wipe away sin? I guess he could, but what kind of judge would he be if he just wiped away our sins? Consider a court of law. Imagine if a murderer were facing a judge. The murderer was evidentially and admittedly guilty of the crime. There was no challenging his guilt; he was guilty of his crime. But when standing before the judge, the judge pronounced him innocent and let him walk away. The judge said something like this, “The evidence is here. I’ve seen it. I choose to ignore the evidence and the guilt. I pronounce you innocent. You may go your way.” What confidence could we have in that judge or that judicial system? This is not what it means to be justified before God.

God, the Father, our Judge, has seen our sin and wickedness—with perfect clarity. Our guilt and sin are against God. He’s the One who has judged us guilty. But then God does something unique and wonderful. In the midst of his indescribable holiness, in the depth of our sinful depravity, in the truth and justice of our sinful guilt, God the Father does justify us (declare us right before him). He is able to do so, not because he unilaterally declares us innocent, but because he sent Jesus to take our place. Jesus’ death on the cross was God’s judgment on sin. As such, God did punish sin. He punished Christ for our sin. So when God declares us justified, he does so on the basis of Christ’s death on the cross that paid the penalty for our sin.

Justification is an act of God through Jesus Christ. It is a gift of grace, not merited by our works, but solely by Christ’s works. It is received by faith alone in Jesus Christ.

Justification motivates us to receive the glorious gift of salvation by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:24-25). If you haven’t received the gift of salvation, consider trusting in Jesus Christ today.

Justification provides us ample reason to praise God. Your salvation is not by your own deeds or from your own goodness. It is a gracious gift of God that reveals the unfathomable depth of God’s mercy and grace.