18. Justification From Sin


A prisoner is brought forth to hear the verdict of the jury. The foreman says, “We find the defendant not guilty.” The accused has been acquitted of the charge against him. He has been justified, pronounced free from guilt.

The term “justify” with its variant forms is used many times in the New Testament, particularly in the book of Romans, to denote the fact that, through Jesus Christ, the sinner may be absolved of his transgression.

This freeing from sin is called “justification.” In this lesson, we shall study how we are justified, especially as this relates to man’s part in securing this acquittal.


In considering justification, God is the judge, his word is the law, and our sin is the transgression of that law. Theoretically, there are two ways that God might justify man. He might justify him because he is innocent.

In this event, man would be justified because he was good and deserved it. He would have a right to demand justification as rightly belonging to him in the same way that an innocent man, against whom charges have not been proved, has a right to demand to be released.

However, none of us who have reached the age of accountability can be justified in this manner because none of us is innocent. “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23.

If a man could lead a perfect life, never speaking an unkind word, never doing a wrong deed, never thinking an evil thought, he would need neither forgiveness nor Christ. But such is a human impossibility, so we must find out justification on some other ground than innocence.

The second way that God might justify man, in fact, the way that he does justify him, is to pardon him. Since man is actually guilty of sin, he must depend for his justification upon the grace of God rather than his own merit.

The pardon is extended because the debt of sin has been paid by the blood of Jesus Christ. Justice requires that there be punishment for sin. Christ bears that punishment for us, and in the light of that fact, God forgives us, justifies us, and finds us not guilty.

However, justification must be accepted to be of any value. A number of years ago there was a prisoner who was pardoned by an American president. He refused to accept the pardon, and the matter was carried to the courts which declared that a pardon must be accepted to be of any value.

Similarly, although Christ died for all men, his sacrifice will not save all men because all men are not willing to accept his offering. All are not willing to comply with the conditions attached to such acceptance, and God will not justify those who do not meet the conditions.


Many Jews in the time of Christ and his apostles thought that they could be saved by virtue of keeping the law of Moses. In his Roman epistle Paul refutes this by showing that no man ever kept the law perfectly, and since perfection was required if one hoped to be justified by the law, he concludes, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law.” Romans 3:20.

Again, he teaches, “know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” Galatians 2:16.

If a man could have kept the works of the law perfectly, he could have demanded justification as belonging to him. He would have earned it and would not have had to depend upon divine grace.

Such was clearly impossible, so Paul teaches that we are not justified by works. However, notice that he uses “works” in the sense of works of merit, works by which a man might earn salvation.


The great theme of the book of Romans is that we attain justification by our faith. Paul states, “For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” Romans 3:28.

He takes Abraham as a case in point and shows that, had not Abraham believed God, he would not have received the promise. His faith, he concludes “was credited to him as righteousness.” Romans 4:22.

That is, Abraham was considered righteous or justified by God because of his faith, not because of his works or because he was actually without sin. His conclusion is, of course, that we also are justified by our faith in God.


Some have found a seeming contradiction between Paul and James in regard to justification.

James teaches, “Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.” James 2:21-24.

James clearly states that we are justified by works and mentions the case of Abraham as an example. But Paul takes the same man and cites the same Old Testament scripture and draws another conclusion.

He says, “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Romans 4:1-3.

Are these conclusions contradictory? Not at all. Paul and James are speaking of two different kinds of works. Paul, as already shown, was speaking of works of merit or the law. He was demonstrating that we cannot by our own goodness earn salvation.

James, on the other hand, was refuting the teaching that justification is procured by faith only, and he shows that any faith, to be saving, must also be working.

We must have works of faith. He concludes that we are not justified “by faith only,” James 2:24, because a faith that will not work is dead. But he is not teaching that we can earn salvation by works of merit or works of the law.

Once the distinction is clearly made between the two kinds of works envisaged by Paul and James, an understanding of the Biblical teaching of justification is not hard to grasp.


A common difficulty in studying this subject is in the supposition that if we are justified by one thing then all other factors are necessarily excluded. Thus, some teach that man is justified by faith only, which implies that nothing else enters into man’s justification. But this does not follow.

Consider the building of a house. Who builds it? The architect? Yes, because he draws up the plans. The contractor? Yes, because he directs the construction. The labourer? Yes, because he does the physical work. The owner? Yes, because he makes the arrangements for building the house.

Each man plays a part in building the house and each is necessary. It would be incorrect to state that the house is erected by either the contractor or the labourer alone.

The same principle applies to justification from sin. We are justified by God’s grace. “Having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:7.

We are justified by the blood of Christ. “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” Romans 5:9.

We are justified by our faith. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:1.

We are justified by works. “You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.” James 2:24. We are justified by all of these things, all are necessary, but none alone will justify man.

Without God’s grace, the blood of Christ would never have been shed to pay the price for sin. Without the blood, faith in Christ would be of no avail. Without faith, our works would be mere empty actions, yet without works, our faith would be dead and of no value in securing salvation from sin.

The doctrine of justification by faith only is wrong because it not only denies that works play a part in our justification, but it also denies that the blood of Christ has anything to do with salvation. If we grant that we are justified by the blood, then it is obviously wrong to state that we are justified by faith only.

The real key to understanding the part that faith plays in justifying us is found in the Biblical meaning of saving faith. The faith that justified is that which trusts. One may factually believe in Christ and still not trust him.

We read, “Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees, they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human praise more than praise from God.” John 12:42-43.

We are informed, “Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” James 2:19. Certainly, neither these Jewish rulers nor the devils were justified because of their belief, because they did not have the proper kind. The faith that justifies is the faith that obeys.

In Romans 1:5 and Romans 16:26, Paul speaks of the “obedience of faith.” It is obedience which stems from our faith and without which faith is valueless. The man who says, “I believe in Christ,” but will not obey him may have faith, but assuredly not saving faith.

In Hebrews 11 we are told of the great things accomplished by the heroes of the Old Testament through faith. But in each case that faith obeyed. By faith “Abel offered…”, “Noah prepared…”, “Abraham obeyed …”

Had these men not done the things which God required they would not have been acceptable to him. Similarly, if we do not obey the commands of the Lord, we are not acceptable to him and our faith does not justify us because it is not the right kind of faith.


Many have denied that baptism plays any part in justification because they consider it a work of merit. Baptism is not a work. In the first place, the person being baptised is passive and does no work.

Baptism is an act of faith. One is baptised because he has faith in Christ and realises that baptism is a divine command which he must carry out to express that faith.

Baptism, then, is the expression of our faith which puts us into Christ. When we are baptised into him, we are justified by faith because our faith has led us to be baptised. But until we are baptised, our faith does not justify us because we have not obeyed.


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