And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Today we turn to the fourth link in the golden chain – justified.
No one is excluded. That is what the Bible declares; we have ALL sinned against God many, many times throughout our lives (Romans 3:23), and we are therefore guilty and condemned (Romans 3:19). We may feel ashamed of past actions, relationships, words, thoughts, and desires with a guilty conscience accusing us. Ashamed and unworthy, the question arises: how can I be right with a God who hates sin?
There is an answer, but it is God’s own answer. There is nothing we can do or contribute to achieve peace with God; no human person can do it for us. And parents cannot do it for their children. We must go to God alone and personally, recognising he alone has the answer.
The good news is that a believer is ‘justified’ when a person trusts in Christ. This word takes us to the heart of the Christian gospel. Paul has been explaining this from the first chapter of this letter (verse seventeen), right through to the middle of chapter five – and again the verb ‘justify’ appears in this chapter.
What does Paul mean by saying a believer is justified? Let us notice that this was a legal term used in a court context (Deuteronomy 25:1) when an accused person was declared not guilty in relation to the law. If God justifies us we may say:
- God never ignores sin. That would be impossible as his pure nature reacts necessarily against all sin.
- When God justifies, he does so by honouring his law and sending his own Son to meet all the righteous demands of his law by his perfect life on earth and by suffering the punishment of our sin on the cross. The obedient One was our substitute on the cross, ‘the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all‘ (Isaiah 53:6). Believers will never, never be punished for sin again because God’s own Son bore our punishment once and for all in his own body on the cross (1 Peter 2:24).
- God not only forgives our sins when we trust Christ, but he also reckons Christ’s righteousness to our account, so we are acquitted and declared righteous on the ground of Christ’s obedience to death for us. We are justified!
In the opening verses of Zechariah chapter three, there is a helpful illustration of what it means to be justified. In a vision, Joshua as high priest is standing before the angel of Jehovah while Satan accuses him and the people he represented as being sinful. Joshua was ‘clothed with filthy garments’, representing sin and guilt, but the Lord rebuked Satan, reminding him that God had chosen Joshua and his people despite their guilt. Immediately there is a divine command for Joshua’s filthy clothes to be removed from him for the Lord to ‘clothe you with rich robes’ (verse 4). Then Joshua heard the comforting words that his iniquity was ‘removed’ by God in an act of forgiveness. In addition he was dressed in clean clothes provided by God, representing God’s righteousness.
That is precisely what God does when he justifies those who trust Christ. He forgives but also because our sins were laid on Christ then Christ’s righteousness is reckoned to the believer. Before the holy God, the believer stands with clean clothes representing the righteousness of Christ. That is how God views Christians, ‘justified’ on the ground of the Saviour’s life and death on the cross (2 Corinthians 5: 21).
Praise Him indeed!
Dr Eryl Davies (Heath Church Cardiff)