Ho Soo Kam of Singapore
There is only one absolute and eternal standard of righteousness that is of the nature and character of God. This is called the righteousness of God. Therefore we say that whatever God does must be right because righteousness is summed up in him. A thing is right because God does it and he does it because it is right.
"Thy righteousness also, O God is very high, who hast done great things: O God, who is like unto thee!" (Psalm 71:19). Truly there is no other god like unto the true and living God, the God of the Bible, the God who created the heavens and the earth (Genesis1:1). His righteousness is very high and no man can attain unto it. "For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God." (James 1:20). "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8,9).
"His work is honourable and glorious: and his righteousness endureth for ever." (Psalm 111:3).
"Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and thy law is the truth." (Psalm 119:142).
One day the Lord is coming again to judge the world with righteousness and the people with his truth.
To be justified means to be declared righteous by God. If man could obtain a thorough conformity with the divine standard of righteousness by keeping all the commandments and precepts contained in God's holy law, man would reach the standard of righteousness laid down by God.
But the experiential truth of every heart is revealed in the holy Scriptures: "There is none righteous, no, not one: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." (Roman 3:10,23).
Some people have sought to establish their own righteousness by attempting to fulfill the letter of the law of Moses. "For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God." (Roman 10:3). The apostle Paul before his salvation has succeeded so far that he could declare that as touching the righteousness which is of the law he was blameless, that is no fault could be found in him by men who measured him by the letter of the law (Phil 3:6). Yet when the commandments contained in the law were opened up to him in their application to the thoughts of his heart, he found that sin, though repressed, was not conquered.
"What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shall not covet." (Romans 7:7). "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." (Romans 3:20).
"If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me: if I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse." (Job 9:20). "For in thy sight shall no man living be justified." (Psalm 143:2).
The reason why the law cannot justify is clearly stated "For by the law is the knowledge sin." The law can only open the sinner's eyes to his sin, but it cannot remove it. The law simply defines sin. Galatians 3:10 gives us a further reason why justification cannot take place by obedience to the law. The law demands perfect and continual obedience: "'Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law do them." No man can render a perfect and perpetual obedience to the law. The law stops the mouth of every man, and declares him guilty before God. (Romans 3:19,20).
The apostle Paul cites two witnesses, Abraham from the books of the law, and David from the prophets to establish his statement that now the righteousness of God independent of the law "is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets." (Romans 3:21). These two are representative of the two divisions of the human race, the Gentile and the Jew. Abraham was justified some 430 years before the law was given in Genesis 15:6 and some 25 years or so before he was circumcised, as he was 99 years old when he was circumcised. In Romans 4:1-8 Abraham represents the uncircumcised Gentile, while David represents the circumcised Israelite.
Abraham "believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness." Genesis 15:6). This verse is quoted four times in the New Testament not only to highlight its importance but for our understanding. "For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness." (Romans 4:3). "Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? For we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. How was it then reckoned? When he was in circumcision or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision." (Romans 4:9,10).
"Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." (Galatians 3:6).
"And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God." (James 2:23). In the verse Genesis 15:6, three words enter on the pages of the holy scriptures for the first time - belief, righteousness and reckoning or imputation (accounted to).
David who wrote the prophetic psalms acknowledged his iniquities, transgressions and sin, words that were used by the high priest on the great day of atonement.
Let us always compare scripture with scripture. The Apostle Paul amplified these verses for us in Romans 4:6. "Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works."
Jesus Christ the Son of God has partaken of human nature, of whom God could say in the full meaning of the words, "Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity." (Heb 1:9). Jesus Christ is called "the righteous" (1 John 2:1). He, in human nature, without sin, lived up to the perfect nature and character as the righteousness of God. The righteousness of Christ is the righteousness of God. The deity and righteousness of Christ is referred to in 2 Peter 1:1. "Simon Peter a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ."
Jesus Christ has become righteousness to us (1 Cor 1:30). Hence we read of Christians as those "who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness." (Romans 5:17). This gift is made to us by Christ's atoning death on the cross, by the shedding of his holy, precious blood to wash away our sin. God made Christ who knew no sin, to be sin (that is; dealt with him as sin should be dealt with), that we might become the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21).
By the law is the knowledge of sin, therefore the law was a school master to lead us to Christ. "When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law. To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons." (Galatians 4:4,5).
A justified person is one who is free from any charge of guilt, and therefore has a right standing before God. It is a change in a man's standing before God. It is a change from guilt and condemnation to acquittal and acceptance. Even if the guilty sinner is forgiven his sin and pardoned from its penalty, how can he be justified, declared not guilty? Justification is an act of God. It is the free gift of God's grace "through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:24). With the sinner, God not only forgives, but justifies. The believer in the Lord Jesus Christ is without guilt in God's sight. Justification is our title to eternal life. Forgiveness of sin removes its penalty-death; justification gives its reward eternal life. Therefore justification consists firstly of the forgiveness of sin and the removal of its guilt and punishment and secondly the imputation of Christ's righteousness and restoration to God's favour. The forgiven sinner is not like the discharged prisoner who has served out his term and is discharged from further punishment but with no rights of citizenship. The repentant sinner receives back in his pardon, the full rights of citizenship of heaven, as if he has never sin before.
"Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:24).
It is by God's grace that we are justified exactly as it is by grace that we are saved - for when we are saved we are justified. Grace is God's free favour. It involves absolutely no merit upon our part, but all is of God. It is his unmerited favour. By that grace, that favour, we who deserve nothing but to be pronounced guilty and condemned are saved and justified. From the contents of the holy scripture it must be clearly evident that if men, sinful and sinning, are to be justified at all, it must be "freely by his grace".
"But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8).
Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him." (Romans 5:9). The blood shed by the Lord Jesus Christ is the ground of our justification for "without shedding of blood is no remission" of sin (Heb 9:22). "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." (1 John 1:7). Even in his grace God did not and could not justify us unrighteously, that is, without justice. Consistent with his holiness, he required that sin's penalty be paid. So in grace, God gave his only begotten son to be the propitiation for our sin. Thus God could forgive and pardon us in justice, since sin's penalty was met by his sinless and righteous son. We are justified by faith in his blood, the blood of his cross. (Romans 3:25).
Justification is transmitted to us by (or through) faith. "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 5:1). Faith is not meritorious. Faith is to trust God and even his faith comes through the Holy Spirit, for "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17). To have faith is to believe. It is the hand that reaches out and receives God's free gift. Believing God, his gift is ours. We believed Christ who "in his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree." (1 Peter 2:24). To Christ our sin was imputed at Calvary, and likewise the righteousness of Christ which is the righteousness of God was imputed to us (Romans 4:24). For to impute is to ascribe to, to reckon to, to credit to one's account that which is imputed. When the blessed Son of God hung on the cross, our sin was ascribed to or reckon to him. He was made sin for us, while there was laid to our account the righteousness of God in him.
"But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification." (Romans 4:24,25).
It is written that Christ "was raised again for our justification." (Romans 4:25). If our justification is dependent upon his shed blood, how can it be said that his resurrection is its means? It is contingent upon both. Had he not died, he could not have been raised again; had he not been raised, we would not know that his death satisfied God's holiness. That Christ "was raised again for our justification" serves to assure us that it is true that we are justified. It is the seal of our righteous standing before God. "If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins." (1 Cor 15:17).
"Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works." (James 2:18).
"Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." (James 2:24).
James is telling us that a justified man will bring forth fruit. "Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone." (James 2:17). When faith does not bring forth fruits it is not a justifying faith. We do not slight good works, for they have their place but they follow, not precede justification. The workingman is not the justified man, but the justified man is the workingman. Works are not meritorious, but they meet with their reward in the life of the justified. The good tree shows its life by its fruits, but it was alive before the fruit or even the leaves appeared. There is no merit in faith alone. It is not mere faith that saves but faith in Christ. Faith in any other saviour but Christ will not save. Faith in any other gospel than that of the New Testament will not save. (Galatians 1:8,9).
There is no contradiction between Paul and James touching the matter of faith and works (cf. James 2:14-26; Rom. 4:1-12). Paul is looking at the doctrine from the divine perspective and declares that we are justified, in the sight of God, meritoriously, without absolutely any works on our part. James considers the doctrine from the human perspective and declares that we are justified, in the sight of man, evidentially, by works, and not by faith alone (James 2:24). James is showing us not the ground of our justification but the demonstration and evidence of our Justification. Only the merits of Jesus Christ can make our good works acceptable to God. Good works are the fruits of becoming God's children by faith in Christ's work done wholly outside of us.
The scriptures considered establish that the believer is justified immediately he believes (Gen. 15:6; Luke 18:13,14). He is justified freely (Romans 3:24), fully (Acts 13:38,39), finally and eternally (Romans 8:33-34). Moreover it is not a process, or progressive. All believers are justified in exactly the same way, and to the same degree, for Christ is our righteousness, and the believer has been made the righteousness of God in him. In the book of Romans the apostle Paul sets forth the gospel truth that the sinner is not justified by an infused righteousness but by an imputed righteousness - meaning a righteousness that is found wholly in another person. This other person is Jesus Christ the Son of God. A Bible believer is not justified by virtue of what God has wrought out in him but by virtue of what God has wrought out in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21-28; 4:4-11). Bible-believers need not look within their own experience to find something that will give them any assurance that they may stand acceptable before God. The great gospel truth is that God had already forgiven and accepted them in Jesus Christ. And by faith in God's perfect work, faith alone in God's finished work in Jesus Christ, Bible believers could now rejoice that "the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:1) was freely imputed to them.
God justifies the ungodly, the uncircumcised and the heathen through faith, without works. This doctrine is a message of unspeakable joy. God freely loves and forgives the vilest sinner and sets him free from all condemnation solely because he has faith in God's wondrous work in Jesus Christ. In the gospel of the imputed righteousness of Christ, Bible-believers beheld the smiling face of the heavenly Father. The gospel is the good news of what God has done.
Bible-believers do not deny the reality or necessity of God's work of grace in the hearts of men by the power of the Holy Spirit. They do not make light of good works. But they place truth in its right order. They know that faith in Christ's work for us brings the Holy Spirit to work in us. They know with joy the grand gospel message that God justifies freely, solely on the ground, the solid ground, of Christ's work for us. They are clothed with Christ's garments of salvation and His robe of righteousness. (Isaiah 61:10).
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