Justification: Peace with God by Grace, through Faith, in Christ Alone
by Matthew Tellis
“For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification”
The doctrine of justification is the foundation of the Reformation. Understanding justification, biblically, was pivotal in Martin Luther’s challenge to the Roman Catholic Church, and it shaped the Protestant Reformation. The Roman Catholic view of justification relies heavily on one’s own works, but we can see plainly in Scripture that we cannot justify ourselves before God (Rom 3:10-18). Romans 3:23 says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. If, then, we cannot attain justification by our works, how may we have peace with a righteous God? When reading Paul’s letters we see justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and this is central to Paul’s gospel message (Eph 2:8-10, Rom 1:17, 3:21-5:21, Gal 2:15- 5:1).
“Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Rom 4:4-5).
When thinking about the wages due to ‘the one who works,’ it makes me think about what wages are due us. What is our due? Because of Adam’s rebellion, sin came into the world and “no one does good, not even one.” Since we all have sinned against a holy God our works are worthless and sinful, and the wages of sin is death. God is just and our due penalty is eternity in hell. But God, out of the richness of his love, provided us with a free gift: grace. By grace, God sent his Son who suffered in our place and received the penalty we deserved.
“To the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”
In Genesis 15 we see God’s promise to Abraham, that his offspring would be as many as the stars. “And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Romans 4 shows that through faith we are heirs of the promise to Abraham, and not by works of the law. “For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.” (Rom. 4:14) Paul makes clear in Romans that the law is outward, but there is an inward heart problem the law cannot fix. We need reconciliation the law cannot provide. Because Abraham was fully convinced that God would do what he promised, his faith was counted as righteousness, and he was reconciled to God. This was not for Abraham’s sake alone, “but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was raised for our justification” (Rom 4:24-25).
In Christ alone there is reconciliation. Christ is the promised heir of Abraham, and through Christ we are the promised offspring of Abraham. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1). Peace with God. What an amazing statement! When we examine our sinful selves, peace with the holy and righteous Creator of the universe seems unreachable. “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:24-25). Because he bled and died and took our punishment on the cross, and was raised to his throne on high for our justification, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1); and since there is no condemnation, no eternal punishment for our sins, as heirs through the promise of faith in Christ, there is eternal peace with God.