Justification Establishes The Righteousness Of God & Our Legal Relationship To All Things
To understand the significance of justification by faith alone for the every day life of the believer, it is first necessary to know what sets it apart from every other aspect of salvation.
What is it that makes justification the heart of the gospel, the main hinge upon which religion turns, and the article upon which the church stands or falls?
If you suppose the reason is that justification most clearly reveals the sovereign discretion, grace, and mercy of God in salvation apart from the will, worth, and works of men, you would be mistaken.
It is true the doctrine of justification clearly reveals these things, but not exclusively or even primarily so.
God’s electing love, enlivening regeneration, transforming sanctification, and indeed every part of salvation equally reveal that God saves apart from the will, worth, or work of the sinner. It could even be argued that election more clearly reveals the divine prerogative in salvation, or that sanctification more clearly reveals the divine power in salvation, or regeneration the passivity of man under God’s work.
What sets justification apart and gives it its unique significance is this: Of all the aspects of salvation we enjoy, justification reveals and extols the legal right of the triune God, i.e. His righteousness both within His own being and in His dealings with mankind. And this issue of God’s righteousness is fundamental for the enjoyment of salvation in the Christian life and is what makes justification the heart of the gospel.
God’s righteousness refers to the truth that within His own being and in all His dealings with the creation, particularly mankind, the triune God acts according to the standard of His own ethical goodness. Implied also is the right of God to insist upon and maintain that standard. The righteousness of God is not appreciated much anymore in the churches today. In fact, it would be fair to say that failure to honour it underlies most movements to reject the truth of justification. Churches today may be interested in personal improvement and even deliverance from misery. But as Abraham Kuyper once charged, the whole matter is merely one of “calling for the assistance of the Great Physician, who receives His fee and then is discharged with a few thanks. The question of right does not enter into the matter at all; so long as the sinner is made holy, all is well.”
God’s righteousness is basic to the Christian faith. It is an essential perfection of God’s own being and activity; if God were unrighteous or act unrighteously, He would not be God. Consider also that along with knowledge and holiness, it is a perfection God communicated to man when He created him in His own image, and is a perfection He immediately restores by Christ in the new man. In addition, the person and every work of Jesus Christ has as its purpose to reveal the righteousness of God. On the cross, rather than let sin go unpunished, God punished the same in His beloved Son, would accept only the sacrifice of His righteousness as satisfaction for sin, and rewarded Him righteously with highest honour and glory for His work.
Jesus was provided to restore us to righteousness, suffered to obtain for us righteousness, died to satisfy the righteousness of God, and arose and ascended to make us partakers of that righteousness. He, Jesus Christ, the mystery of godliness, was even Himself justified in the Spirit (I Timothy 3:16) to reveal God’s righteousness.
Should it surprise us then that justification, the forensic, juridical, and legal act of God declaring us righteous on the basis of the cross, is the heart of the gospel?
It is so because it establishes God’s righteousness. It reveals God to be the Lawgiver who establishes right and wrong, the Judge who determines what is in conformity with that law, and King who rules in righteousness, punishing or rewarding according to His law. And since it establishes God’s righteousness, it reveals the wonder of His grace in justifying men.
The further significance of justification, then, is that because it reveals God’s righteousness in establishing a relationship with us, it serves as the legal basis for every relationship of the believer. And so, our justification serves as the basis for our relationship to the world, relationship to sin, to death, to the law, to the church, to every member of the church, to every member of the world, but especially to our relationship to God. There can be no relationship with God apart from justification, and no subsequent change in our condition by God unless there is first a change in our status, that is our legal relationship to God, the legal right of God over us.
By W. Langarek