Justification by Faith

Posted: January 16, 2013 by Dillon in Theology
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Justification by Faith is one of those long, seemingly complicated phrases in the Christian vocabulary.  It was popularized by Martin Luther’s phrase Sola fide (by faith alone).  So what exactly does it mean? How can faith justify someone?

I think the book of Romans is the best place to find these answers.  For those unfamiliar, Paul (the author of Romans) emphasizes just how fallen and depraved the human race is; he spends no expense in pointing out seemingly small sins as well as more serious sins. Paul’s thesis statement appears in Romans 3:20, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the law, rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”  There is a lot going on in this verse.  Paul is arguing that the Mosaic law, the laws of Moses, don’t help you do anything about your sin.  Rather, the law just makes you aware of your sin.  We actually have a great example of this today:

A speed limit sign does nothing to stop you from speeding, it merely makes you aware that you are speeding.  The Mosaic law functions in the same way.  What happens when you tell a child, “Don’t touch that!” Immediately the child wants to touch it.  When something is restricted it becomes more appealing; this is human nature.

Now let’s get to the kicker.  Romans 3:21-24:

“But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

There are two words that probably caught your attention in this passage: righteousness and justified.  Paul is using some legal terminology right here.  “Righteousness” means right standing, or being in favor.  “Justified” literally means “to be made right with.”  In this case, Paul is saying that those who have received grace have been declared right with God.  The legal terminology is important here, because we have to remember that God is a judge. Judges, by definition of their position, have the authority to declare anyone they see fit as innocent.  Generally speaking, we only credit Jesus with forgiving our sins.  But there’s so much more! A criminal who serves time in prison is no longer charged with their crimes, but is not necessarily forgiven. God provided a way for us to not only be free from our sins, but to be declared right in His eyes.  If that’s not significant, remember what Romans 3:23 said, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Paul summarizes this revelation by saying, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2). I could write an entire post about just those two verses!  Paul is saying that through Christ, we have access to a means of being justified with God. We are metaphorically clothed in righteousness.  Even though we have been made right with God, we still prove each and every day that we don’t deserve it.  That’s why we can’t earn our justification.  We are only justified through faith.


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