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Theology: Justification

By Rev. Mark Kelderman & Rev. Maarten Kuivenhoven

If I knew your bank account number and deposited two million dollars into your account, I would have imputed (reckoned, declared, or counted) it to you or your account. What this means practically is that since I have put this money into your account, the very next moment you can come into the bank and withdraw part or all of it. It is rightfully yours even though it was an entirely gracious act since I did not owe you anything. Now, imagine this account is in the red because you had borrowed a million dollars, and I told you I would pay off your million dollar debt and then for the rest of your life you could forever draw from my account whenever you had need. Then, when my money entered your account, immediately the million dollar debt was paid and you have a lifetime of credit to draw from what is rightfully yours. Of course, it cost me to do this for you but you have been justified from your debt and are now free.

“Put as simply as possible, justification is an act of God where He declares an ungodly sinner to be righteous.”

Justification is basic to a proper understanding of the gospel and salvation. We must understand this doctrine and we must be justified ourselves. Put as simply as possible, justification is an act of God where He declares an ungodly sinner to be righteous. To begin with, we are unrighteous. We are ungodly; we do not imitate God as we were created to do. Since God is perfectly holy and righteous, He cannot have us in His presence, but we cannot help ourselves out of this situation because every sin increases our guilt and proves we are corrupt at the core of our being. We need to be made new creatures. The only way that God can deal with us, then, is when we would become righteous as our unrighteousness is taken away. That is exactly the message of the gospel. “For he (God) hath made him (Christ) to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).

When we think of our salvation, our earlier simple story has parallels. Of course, there is no comparison of money with our sins, but the fact is that we are in debt to God. Because of our debt of sin, the payment accepted is death. And even if we could pay that debt, we would also need a righteousness to grant us standing with God. Now this is the wonderful transaction of the gospel which is seen in the text above. The Son of God came down from heaven to take upon Himself our debt. This debt is imputed to Him; it is put on His account.

Therefore, He was reckoned to be guilty of death even though He never committed sin. This is why Christ Jesus had to die: He was counted guilty by the same principle of justice that pronounces us guilt-free when we come to Him in Spirit-given faith (Eph. 2:8). He died as the substitute of His people. He puts His righteousness to our account so that we become the righteousness of God in Him. In the words of the Heidelberg Catechism, “God, without any merit of man, but only of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of christ; even so, as if I never had had, nor committed any sin; yea, as if I had fully accomplished all that obedience which Christ has accomplished for me, inasmuch as I embrace such a benefit with a believing heart.”

Justifying faith is an act of the sinner who, with God-given faith, lays hold upon Christ and His righteousness. God justifies the ungodly. Justification, therefore, is an act of God but it is received by faith. In so doing, we are declared righteous before God. We are justified by faith. It is in believing this truth that we will experience the peace of God in our hearts and be assured by God that we are adopted as sons and daughters into his family. Justification has everything to do with Christ; without Him and His active and passive obedience, we could never be declared just with God. But through Christ and true faith in Him, we are set free from the condemnation of the law and are adopted as children of God.

When we are justified before God, there is absolutely no sin which we have committed or will commit that can ever stand against us, because we stand before God in Christ. God can as soon cast away His Son as He could cast away any who are in Christ by faith. The knowledge and comfort of this truth of justification is connected to our faith. In so far as I embrace these things for myself, I will receive the benefit of them in my soul. This does not change the fact and reality of my standing with God, but it affects my comfort of this truth. We are justified once for all and it is the growth in this knowledge that will cause us to rejoice and live lives of service and gratitude to God for all that He has done for us.

So go to the bank of God’s grace by faith, and draw on His account grace for grace. Everything you need for every day is in Christ. Go to him, pleading on his faithful promise, and believe His word of grace for all things are yours in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 3:21–23).

This article originally appeared in the Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth, March 2011, under the title, “Declared to be Free.” Posted here with permission.


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