by Faith – How and When Does It Happen?
In our first 2 lessons we learned that all of us are born with Adam’s sin nature, and have an overpowering tendency to do what is contrary to God’s will; but God in His infinite grace and mercy has provided a way that His wrath can be appeased and we can be reconciled to Him. That way is through the sacrificial death of His Son, Jesus Christ, as the atonement or payment for sins. It is through faith in Jesus Christ as God’s perfect sacrifice, that we can be declared in right standing with Him.
Rom 5:21 God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God. (NET)
Whereas, each of us came into this world in a state of condemnation caused by the disobedience of Adam, and passed on to the entire human race- this lesson will explore the source, the grounds , and the means by which we receive a justified status in the eyes of God.
Biblical Justification Defined
In Romans 4 Paul uses the term impute (d/th) – Greek logizomai eleven times in connection with righteousness. This Greek word is an accounting term which refers to the crediting of something to an account. It means to consider, to count towards, or to credit to one’s account. The believer has God’s righteousness credited to his account by means of his faith in the gospel message, and thus is considered to be in a right relationship to God’s law. Paul’s emphasis on the fact that righteousness is imputed – not imparted when we are justified disproves the claims of some theologians who teach that we are made righteous, as opposed to being declared righteous in the eyes of God when we are initially justified. In other words we are righteous as far as standing with God is concerned, but we aren’t necessarily righteous as far as our “works” are concerned. There is no change in our nature. God doesn’t eradicate our sin nature when He declares us righteous. —Dulle
What are the primary benefits of our Justification?
When we are considered righteous by God, He restores communication between us and Him; the communication that we were barred from while lost in sin.
Rom 5:1-2 Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: 2 By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
The grace that we receive after being justified is not only God’s unmerited favor towards man, but it is also the ability that God gives us to live for Him. (1 Cor 15:10; Philippians 2:13) One of the things that grace does for us is that it allows us to live holy before God (Titus 2:11-14). grace gives us the ability to live above sin, not indulge in it!
1Co 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
Php 2:12-13 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. (This is an example of grace at work in us).
Tit 2:11-14 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, 12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; 13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the lorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; 14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
The Basis and Means of Justification
“Romans 3:19-31 (KJV) is the most definitive passage on this subject. Here it will be seen that the source of our justification is God’s grace; the grounds of our justification is Christ’s sacrificial death; and we receive justification by means of faith.” (Jason Dulle).
Rom 3:19-31 (KJV) Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. 21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; 22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: 23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
Rom 3:24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation* through faith in his blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the orbearance of God; 26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. 27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. 29 Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: 30 Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. 31 Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.
*ἱλαστήριον (Jilasthrion) It refers specifically to the “mercy seat,” i.e., the covering of the ark where the blood was sprinkled in the OT ritual on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).
The following scriptures illustrate the fact that our justification required the grace, the blood, and the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Rom 3:24 (KJV) Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
Rom 5:9(KJV) Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
Rom 4:25(KJV) Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.
1 Cor 15:17-18 (NET) And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is useless; you are still in your sins. 18 Furthermore, those who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished.
Next we must understand what faith is if we are ever going to comprehend what it means to be justified by faith. The word translated “faith” is the Greek word pistis. This word means to trust, or rely upon something/someone. In our case we rely on, and trust in God for every aspect of our lives, especially our salvation. This eliminates the idea that we are saved by a mere confession that we believe in Jesus and that He died for our sins. To believe in Jesus to completely rely on Him for our salvation. It is a lifetime of walking with Jesus, trusting Him for our salvation everyday. It has to do with our commitment to Jesus. To be justified by faith, then, means that God considers us to be righteous when we place our complete trust in Jesus’ work on our behalf at Calvary, and continue to walk by the same faith that justified us when we first truly believed the gospel message. Some denominations have the mistaken belief that our initial act of faith does more than justify us – they believe that this initial act of faith ushers us into the New Birth experience. Actually, Justification precedes regeneration, but must be followed by regeneration. The Bible clearly teaches that It is not enough to be pronounced right with God, but we must also be transformed by Him through regeneration i.e. the New Birth experience. Even though we receive justification when we first believe, we continue to enjoy the merits of it throughout our entire lifelong walk of faith.
Hebrews 11 is called “the faith chapter’ because it describes a great cloud of witnesses who by faith, and as a result of their faith, continued to obediently perform acts of righteousness, in many cases even offering their lives as martyrs for the cause of Christ.
Jason Dulle says: It must not be conceived that God justifies us because of our faith in Him. He justifies us by means of our faith. The former teaches that faith is a work of man that God rewards. “Justifying faith does not do anything, but passively accepts what Christ has done for us. We are not justified on account of our faith, but by means of our faith. To believe in the former is to make faith the grounds of our justification, rather than Christ and His atoning work at Calvary.”
Examples of How and When Justification Initially Occurs
For this part of our study we will consult the apostle Paul and his writings on the subject of justification by faith, and also see what we can learn by closely following his use of Abraham and his experiences, especially in reference to Abraham’s faith and obedience throughout his life.
Justification in the Abrahamic Covenant
At this juncture one might question at what point does a person first become justified? To answer this question let’s read what Paul has to say about it using Father Abraham’s experiences as our example:
Rom 4:3-11 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. 4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. 5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. 6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, 7 Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. 8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin. 9 Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. 10 How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. 11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised:that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:
Rom 4:18-25 who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. 9 And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara’s womb: 20 He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; 21 And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. 22 And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. 23 Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; 24 But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; 25 Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.
In other words, Abraham was initially justified, or put in right standing with God simply by believing what God told him, with no accompanying acts of obedience.
There were three significant events in Abram/Abraham’s life that we as Christians can use as examples for understanding the process of salvation: He received his initial justification when he first believed. (Gen 15). [And that justification would remain valid as long as he continued to believe]. God established a covenant with Abram/Abraham that was sealed by circumcision. (Gen 17). [This was to establish a people or nation, and a land]. Abraham displays his willingness to obey God’s command to sacrifice his son Isaac. (Gen 22)
Let’s look at the passage in Genesis
where Abram was justified:
Gen 15:1-6 After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. 2 And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? 3 And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir. 4 And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. 5 And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. 6 And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
Two chapters later, in Gen chapter 17, the LORD appeared to Abram, changed his name to Abraham and established a covenant with him that required Abraham and every one of his descendants to be circumcised; anyone who refused to do so would be cut off from his people because they had broken the covenant.
God’s covenant with Abraham – the beginning of the Jewish nation:
Gen 17:1-10 And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect 2 and I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. 3 And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, 4 As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. 5 Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. 6 And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. 7 And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.8 And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. 9 And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.
Abraham displays his willingness to obey God’s command to sacrifice Isaac:
Gen 22:2 “And he (God) said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.”
Heb 11:17-19 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: 19 Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.
COMMENT: Just as God provided a substitute to die in Isaac’s place, so Jesus, the Lamb of God became our substitutionary sacrifice.
When and why did God “preach the gospel unto Abraham”?
Gal 3:6 -9 Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. 7 Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. 8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. 9 So then they which are of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.
After Abraham passed the supreme test of being willing to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, God said, “And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice. (Gen 22:18).
Gal 3:16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.
Gen 22:15-18 And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, 16 And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: 17 That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; 18 And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice. (This is when God preached the gospel to Abraham).
The scriptures are clear that God didn’t “preach the gospel” unto Abraham until He obeyed God and was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac. Notice: God didn’t swear that he would make Abraham the ancestor of His son Jesus, the Lamb of God who would die for the sins of all men, until Abraham passed the test of being willing to offer his son in obedience to God!
How does all this apply to us as Christians?
Just as Abraham was willing to obey God’s command to sacrifice Isaac, his child of promise, on the altar, so we as Christians must be willing to obey the gospel (death, burial, resurrection) and crucify our fleshly nature by being buried with Jesus in baptism. (a symbol of death from whence God was able to raise us up, in a figure).
Gal 2:20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
Col 2:11-12 In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:12 Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.
Dear reader: I sincerely hope that this study of the biblical concept of justification by faith.will bless and enlighten you in your christian journey.
I would also like to acknowledge Jason Dulle from whom I have learned much . His blog site can be found at Theosophical Ruminations
Donald W. Eames