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Justification by Faith Alone – 2

Category Articles
Date May 19, 2003

Paul is picturing two men here. There is Adam and there is Christ. It is as if there are only two men in the whole cosmos, Adam and Christ. And all these two men do, they do for those they represent. They are representative heads, they are covenant heads. And what Adam does, he does for all who are in Adam. And what Jesus Christ does, He does for all who are in Him. They are, Paul is teaching us, the divinely appointed heads of humanity.

by Ian Hamilton


The previous article dealt with our greatest need. We concluded by recognising that no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by observing the law; rather through the law we become conscious of sin. And Paul has step by step sought to show us that in ourselves we have no resources by which to restore ourselves to a right relationship with God. In ourselves we are altogether bankrupt – "There is none righteous, no not one. We have nothing in ourselves with which to manufacture a righteousness that God can receive and look upon and embrace. Indeed it is through the law that we become conscious of sin. God has not given us His law as a ladder by which to climb our way into His good favour. He has given us His law amongst other things as a mirror by which to expose our unrighteousness.

However, God has not abandoned us, But how can God justify the ungodly without at the same time un-God-ing Himself? In these verses from Romans 3:21 Paul step by step explains to us and expounds to us how God justifies the wicked, and yet in so doing remains altogether just and righteous. And he tells us in these verses at least six things about this righteousness that justifies the ungodly.

First of all, notice that the righteousness we so desperately need is provided by the very God we have offended: "but now a righteousness of God apart from law has been made known" (vs 21)

Second: Paul tells us here is that this righteousness is apart from law. "But now a righteousness of God, apart from law, has been made known". "Cursed is everyone", says Paul to the Galatians, "who does not do everything written in the book of God’s law". That’s our standing and our state before God. The law humbles us, it crushes us. But now a righteousness of God apart from law.

The law and the prophets bear testimony and witness to it, because God only ever has had one way of justifying the ungodly. And the whole scripture in its covenant continuity and identity testifies to this. That’s why, in the fourth chapter, Paul will go on to show in the examples of Abraham and David, that God has only ever justified the ungodly by faith. It is not as though there is one method of justification in the old covenant and a new method of justification in the new covenant. No, says the apostle, the law and the prophets testify to this righteousness of God that has now come in its fullest revelation. Look at David, he says. Look at Abraham. How did God justify them? By grace through faith.

Thirdly : This righteousness becomes operative in our lives through faith in Jesus Christ: v. 22, "this righteousness of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe" For He is the substance of the covenant, the goal of the covenant, and the object of justifying righteousness. The Fourth thing that Paul highlights here is that this righteousness is the gift of God’s grace. Look at v. 24, "They are justified freely by His grace", or by His grace as a gift. It is not your faith that justifies. Faith is the empty hand that receives God’s gift of justifying righteousness. And even the faith with which we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ is God’s gracious gift to us in His mercy.

But then fifthly, this righteousness is freely given but was not bought cheaply. And so he writes in vv. 24 and 25 that "we are justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation through faith in His blood". Now there are two great words here that highlight the cost to God of justifying the ungodly. Paul speaks of being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. He is telling us that Jesus became the ransom price to rescue us from the guilt and the power of sin and Satan, that Jesus became the substitute sacrifice, that God laid on Him the iniquity of us all, that the price has been paid, and paid in full. We have been redeemed, set free, rescued, delivered by that ransoming sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. What a cost to God, to lay upon Him, the very Son of His love, the iniquity of us all.

How was God able to do this? The key truth for us to grasp here – and it is one of the great principial truths of the revelation of God in His word – it’s the great truth of representative or federal or covenant headship. How do we benefit from what Jesus Christ has done? Well, it’s this great truth, you remember, that Paul develops at some length and explains in the latter half of Romans 5. And he comes in v. 18 of that fifth chapter to write this, "Consequently, just as the result of one trespass’, meaning the fall of Adam, "was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness", and he is compressing the whole course of the Saviour’s life, death and resurrection, and calls it one act of righteousness, "was justification that brings life for all man". "For just as through the disobedience of the one man, the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man, the many will be made righteous".

Paul is picturing two men here. There is Adam and there is Christ. It is as if there are only two men in the whole cosmos, Adam and Christ. And all these two men do, they do for those they represent. They are representative heads, they are covenant heads. And what Adam does, he does for all who are in Adam. And what Jesus Christ does, He does for all who are in Him. They are, Paul is teaching us, the divinely appointed heads of humanity.

Now it’s at this point that many begin to complain. Some say, "That’s not fair, I didn’t ask to be in Adam. That’s not fair." My friends, all that God does is right and good. It’s right and good because He does it.

It’s pointless to protest "I would never have done what Adam did". Because everyone of us does what Adam did, everyday of our lives. Because the same representative principle which constitutes us sinners in Adam is the same principle by which Jesus Christ saves sinners. And we’re all of us aware of the representative principle and we are bound up in it. God imputes to Christ, makes over to Christ, lays upon Christ our iniquity and our sin and our unrighteousness and our wickedness. And as our great covenant Head He makes over to us all the benefits and the blessings that are His, and imputes and reckons to us the perfect righteousness of His Son. There is a great transfer.

He never sees us, notwithstanding our sin, apart from the righteousness of His Son. That’s the staggering glory of the gospel of the grace of God, that He can look upon me, a benighted sinner, and see me clothed with the righteousness of His Son.

Let me draw this to a conclusion. What does this mean for our lives? There are four things that this doctrine of God’s gratuitous justification in and through Jesus Christ brings to our lives.

i] It is productive, first of all, of humility. Paul asks the question in v. 27, "Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No", he says, "but on that of faith". Where then is boasting? We’re eternal debtors to the free grace of God in Jesus Christ.

ii] Secondly, it is productive of assurance. "Being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ". "No condemnation now I dread, Jesus and all in Him is mine."

iii] Thirdly, there will be consecration. Doxology is where we first rest. But Paul goes on in Romans 12:1 to say, "Therefore I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to give yourselves as a living sacrifice

iv] And finally, this, it brings you transformation. Humility, assurance, consecration and transformation. We must jealously guard the distinction between justification and sanctification, we must never forget that Christ has been made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. The sanctified man or woman is the justified man or woman, because justification is in Christ. And when you are vitally united to Christ your life cannot but, by God’s grace, evidence that. And that’s why a transformed life is the great evidence of a justified life. Of course we should declaim, defend, argue for the truth, but the greatest commendation of the truth is a transformed life. The evidence of us being justified sinners is that some little likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ is manifest in our poor lives. When my children were younger, people would often say to them, "You know, you look just like your mother". (Rarely the father, sadly to say, usually their mother.) "You look just like your mother". And I thought, "I couldn’t think of anything better for my children". And isn’t that, in a sense, to be true of believers, that people look at our lives and say, maybe dimly, maybe poorly, feebly "I know whom you belong to. I know who has begotten you". Transformation is where justification inevitably leads, because the righteousness that is imputed to us is by union with Christ and by the work of the Spirit imparted to us. May the Lord manifest in our lives the ultimate fruit of justifying righteousness, which is likeness to the moral glory and personal beauty of our Saviour Jesus Christ.

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