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IS THERE SOMETHING IN THE BIBLE THAT PUZZLES YOU?

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THE PENTATEUCH

GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS 1.1-7.38 --- 8.1-11.47 --- 12.1-16.34--- 17.1-27.34--- NUMBERS 1-10--- 11-19--- 20-36--- DEUTERONOMY 1.1-4.44 --- 4.45-11.32 --- 12.1-29.1--- 29.2-34.12 --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- PSALMS 1-17--- ECCLESIASTES --- ISAIAH 1-5 --- 6-12 --- 13-23 --- 24-27 --- 28-35 --- 36-39 --- 40-48 --- 49-55--- 56-66--- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL 1-7 ---DANIEL 8-12 ---

NAHUM--- HABAKKUK---ZEPHANIAH ---ZECHARIAH --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- 1 CORINTHIANS 1-7 --- 8-16 --- 2 CORINTHIANS 1-7 --- 8-13 -- -GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- HEBREWS 1-6 --- 7-10 --- 11-13 --- JAMES --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- REVELATION

--- THE GOSPELS

IS THERE SOMETHING IN THE BIBLE THAT PUZZLES YOU?

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Justification by Faith

The Moral Position.

The first question we must ask ourselves when we speak of justification by faith is 'what do we mean by being justified?' A consideration of our common use of the term soon makes that clear. It means to be accepted as having been in the right in what we did. If we say, 'I was justified in what I did', we mean 'I reckon myself as having been in the right in what I did, because what I did must be adjudged as having been the right thing to do by anyone with a full knowledge of the facts'. It refers to my coming to a verdict on my actions, nothing more and nothing less.

This usage is confirmed in Luke.10.29, 'But he, willing to justify himself, said to Jesus, And who is my neighbour?' and in Luke 16.15 where it says, 'And he said to them, You are those who justify yourselves before men. But God knows your hearts, for what is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.' In both cases the idea was not to be made right, but to be seen as in the right. They sought to prove that they were in the right in what they had done. They sought a verdict that they were righteous.

If a panel of people then meet together to examine something I have claimed to be justified in doing, they will consider what I did and examine all the facts, then they may either agree with my verdict or disagree. If they come to the decision that what I did was right they 'justify' me. They say 'you stand there justified, you were in the right'. And, if their verdict is passed on to others, it declares me justified in the eyes of any who accept the verdict. If they come to the decision that I was wrong they do not 'justify' me. They account me as having been in the wrong. They may, of course, justify part of what I did but not the whole. But the point is then that at least that part is said to have been justified, and I am seen as being justified, being seen as having been in the right, with regard to that part. I am 'partially justified'. So being justified simply results from coming to a verdict on my actions and declaring me justified. To be 'fully justified' in this case means that I am accounted as having been 'in the right' in all that I did.

The Legal Usage.

The term is used in a similar sense in a court of law if the purpose of the court is to try me in order to decide whether I am 'guilty' or 'not guilty' of any charge laid against me. The only difference here is that I am not being adjudged morally, but on whether what I did was 'according to the law'. I am being adjudged against what society has laid down is acceptable. If my behaviour is tested out in such a court of law I may have the verdict passed on me that I was 'not guilty'. That means that the court cannot find sufficient evidence to say that I was not justified in what I did or did not do, and is therefore declaring me to be 'justified', declaring me to be 'in the right' with regard to whatever I was charged with, in the light of the evidence. Legally speaking I leave the court without a stain on my character. Or they may declare me 'guilty', which means that they are declaring that what I did was wrong and against the law, so that I was not justified in what I did in the eyes of the law, and I may be punished accordingly.

So being 'justified' is to be in a position where a verdict has been passed on me, a verdict that I am shown to be 'in the right'. It may be a verdict passed by me on myself, in which case I am justified in my own eyes. It may be a verdict passed on me by a group of assessors, in which case I am seen as being 'in the right' as far as those assessors are concerned, and in the eyes of all who accept the assessment. Or it may be a verdict passed by a court, in which case I am declared as 'in the right' as far as the law goes. I am seen as 'justified'.

It will in fact be clear from this that I may be justified by the court, because what I did was not against the law, while at the same time not being justified morally in the eyes of others, because what I did is seen as not in accordance with their acceptable moral standards. Thus something such as abortion may be legally justifiable in the eyes of the law, but morally unjustifiable in the eyes of many people. If I am to be fully justified, both in the eyes of the court and in the eyes of men, then I have to face two verdicts, the verdict of the law and the verdict of morality.

The Basis of Justification.

We see from this that in order for me to be 'justified' there must be a standard against which I am being judged, an examination of the facts, and a verdict arrived at as to whether I was justified or not in my behaviour with reference to that standard. That is what 'justification' is all about, whether by my fellow-men or in the eyes of the court. It is a verdict on whether my behaviour has been right.

And yet the fact is that I may be justified by my fellow-men, who judge me by their own standards, and I may be justified by the court, who judge me by society's general standards, and yet still be guilty of failure to be what I should be and to do what I should do. I may still be unjustified before God in the light of God's standards. In Paul's words, 'I know nothing against myself, yet am I not hereby justified, but He Who judges me is the Lord' (1 Corinthians 4.4).

In the fable of Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book there is a description of the monkeys who lived in the ruins of an ancient city. They would sit there day after day and say to each other, 'we are great, we are free, we are wonderful, we are the most wonderful people in all the Jungle. We all say so, and so it must be true.' All were agreed and therefore how could they be wrong? How like men they were. Men too pat themselves on the back and say that they cannot be too bad because they are all agreed about it. And from this (unless we agree with their logic) we should recognise that we may be justified by our fellow-men and by the courts, made up of our own kind and with our own low standards, and still be in the wrong in the eyes of God. Thus we must now consider the position before God, for His standards are infinitely higher than men's.

The Position Before God.

When we speak of being justified by God it combines all the above ideas of justification, for to be justified in God's eyes mean both that He adjudges me to be in the right morally, and that He adjudges me to be in the right when judged by the Law, that is by the standards of morality laid down His law. In His case there can be no question of whether the verdict is right, for He is aware of all the facts, He knows every nuance of the law, He is the final arbiter of morals, and He judges without fear or favour. If God declares me justified then I am in the right on all counts. I am 'in the clear'. No one can then justifiably point a finger at me. As Paul puts it, 'if God justifies me, who will condemn?' (Romans 8.33-34).

So the question that arises is, how can I be justified in God's eyes and justified in the light of God's verdict when He judges me? For that in the end is what finally matters. What my fellow-man thinks, and what the courts think, while important in a certain sense, is not important in the end. What matters is what God thinks.

Paul is quite firm about the general basis of men's justification. He says, 'Not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified' (Romans 2.13). We may approve of God's law, he says, but it is not by whether we hear and approve of God's law that we are put in the right, it is by actually fully obeying it in every detail. This is important to notice. How easy it is for us to think that because we are 'on God's side' somehow we will be all right. Surely He will then overlook our small failings (our own failings are always small to us). But Paul says, 'No, it is not a question of whether we approve, it is a question of whether we obey. It is those who DO the Law who are justified.' That is, are accounted as those who have obeyed the Law.

Consider for example what Paul says (speaking from the Law) in Galatians 3.10, 'Cursed is every one who does not continue in ALL things that are written in the book of the Law to do them' (Galatians 3.10). The judgment of the Law is clear, to come short of one thing is to be a law-breaker. It is to come under the curse of the law. James similarly puts it this way, 'whoever will keep the whole law and yet stumble in one point, he is become guilty of all' (James 2.10).

If we are stopped by a policeman in the course of disobeying the law it will do us no good to say, 'I approve of the law and I think everyone should obey it, and I observe most of it'. The only question will be as to whether I have broken the law in that one point. If I have I am a law breaker. I am without excuse. The situation is just the same when God stops us. In fact every mouth is stopped and the whole world becomes guilty before God.

So the first thing that is clear is that I cannot be justified before God by my own behaviour because I am less than perfect, because I have broken His Law. All of us have in some way broken God's law and have failed to be what we ought to be. That is clearly stated in Scripture. The standard is stated and the verdict is given. 'All have sinned (the verdict) and come short of the glory of God' (the standard by which we are judged - Romans 3.23). The standard is, 'the glory of God', that is, all that God is in His glory; all that He is in His goodness, in His purity, in His compassion, in His mercifulness, in His longsuffering, in His truth. To come short of that is to have sinned. And the verdict is, all have come short of it.

That is why Paul further says, 'There is no one who does good continually, not so much as one' (Romans 3.12). This is again God's verdict on the basis of His assessment of men and women. He declares, 'No one does good continually without ever doing wrong'. The consequence is that if I am to be judged at the bar of God I can only be found guilty (Romans 3.19). For I only have to have sinned once to be excluded from being justified.

It is clear then that if I receive my deserts I can have no hope of being accepted before God. As Paul says again, '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).

Justified by the Law.

For one reason that God gave us His law was so that we might have a standard against which to judge ourselves. It is like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. We can look into it and find out the truth about ourselves. And the question then is as to whether, when we compare ourselves with His Law, we can see ourselves as in the right in all things. It is not good enough to be partly in the right. In order to be justified we must be fully in the right. Consider again the words of James, 'whoever will keep the whole law and yet stumble in one point, he is become guilty of all' (James 2.10). What he means is that such a person is revealed as a law-breaker. They have broken God's law and will therefore be found guilty at the Judgment. In Paul's words taken from God's Law, 'Cursed is every one who does not continue in ALL things that are written in the book of the Law to do them' (Galatians 3.10). Again his judgment is clear, to come short of one thing is to be a law-breaker. It is to come under the curse of the law.

We may see our offences as 'lesser offences' (someone who broke the speed limit and might thereby have killed someone but fortuitously did not) or 'greater offences' (deliberate premeditated murder). But in both cases, whether a lesser or a greater offence, the law has been broken and the person is a law-breaker. They have come short of the standard set. They are transgressors. They have broken the law.

The person who marginally breaks the speed limit is not seen by people as being quite so bad as the murderer. After all 'we all do it'. But let that person thereby kill a child and then let us see what the verdict of all decent people is. For the fact is that every one who breaks the speed-limit is a potential child killer. And yet even that is not the point. It is not the severity of the crime that is in question but whether it was a crime. The careless cyclist is just as guilty of breaking the law. So as judged against God's law we are all criminals. Have we coveted what others had? We are guilty. Have we withheld good from others? We are guilty. Have we done anything that might have brought harm to others? We are guilty. Have we ever spoken unkindly about another? We are guilty. Have we failed to show due consideration for another? We are guilty. We have sinned and come short of the glory of God. In God's eyes, therefore, we cannot be 'justified', declared to be in the right in all things. We have broken the law and we have offended against conscience.

So if in any way at any time in our lives we have failed to obey anything that God has stated in His Law, we cannot be justified, counted as in the right, in the eyes of His Law, and we cannot therefore be justified, counted as in the right, by God. It only requires one sin to make us a law-breaker. How much more then is this true for us who are guilty of many sins.

Justified by conscience.

And there is another standard by which we can be judged, and that is by our conscience (Romans 2.14-15). It is not a perfect standard for we can each disagree with the verdict brought by the consciences of others. But it is one standard by which we can judge ourselves. We all know that some behaviour is morally good, right in itself, or morally bad, something which should be avoided. And we are all aware that when our consciences tell us to do something, or not to do it, we should obey it, because it is expressing the rightness and wrongness of things. Indeed the conscience is a most powerful thing. Even the most evil of people seek to justify themselves. But if we go against our conscience we are deliberately doing what we believe to be wrong. A person who does this has sinned. And the truth is that we can all equally say, 'all have sinned and have, at some stage, come short of the standard of conscience'. That is a far lower standard than the 'glory of God' but it catches us all nonetheless. We have sinned. We have come short of God's requirements. We have even come short of what are in our best moments our own requirements. For we know that we ought to obey our consciences.

So if we are found guilty when looked at in the light of God's law, and if we are found guilty in the light of our consciences, how can we be found 'not guilty' before God? How can we be 'justified' before Him? How can we be made acceptable to Him? The answer is that left to ourselves we cannot. The truth is that whenever God is called on for a verdict about us His verdict can only be 'guilty'.

God Has Provided A Means of Justification.

And the Bible tells us that God will call all of us into judgment. 'It is appointed to men once to die, and after that the judgment' (Hebrews 9.27). Is there then any hope that we can be found 'not guilty'?

As we have seen the answer naturally is 'No'. We are all guilty before God (Romans 3.19-20). We have not obeyed His Law. We have not done what is right. But amazingly God has provided a way by which we can be 'justified' (declared to be completely in the right), a way of 'justification'. It is not, by this, speaking of a way by which we can be made righteous in ourselves (which 'justify' never means) but a way by which we can have a verdict passed on us that we are seen as righteous.

As we consider this it is important to understand what we mean here by a means of justification. We do not simply mean a means of forgiveness, (although that may occur in parallel with it), for a forgiven man is not 'justified'. Nor do we mean a means of being treated as 'acceptable', although that will result. We mean a means of being actually declared as 'in the right' when we are brought before the bar of God and a verdict is brought on our whole lives. It means a declaring of the fact that when we are seen in His holy eyes, we will be seen as having always done what we ought to have done, and as never having done what we ought not to have done. It is to be seen as measuring up to the requirements of God in every way. For notice this, as we have already seen, justification is always the result of coming to a verdict. It is the result of an assessment. Anything that is not that is not justification.

And this is confirmed by the Greek words used. Dikaio-o - 'I justify' - means to 'account as righteous', 'to deem as righteous', 'to reckon as righteous', to bring a verdict that a man is righteous. Like all o-o verbs that deal with morals it expresses not what is done but what is accounted, the assessment that is reached. It never means 'to make righteous'. It expresses a verdict arrive at. And this is true of all its cognates.

So the thought of 'justification' is of a verdict being reached after an examination of all the facts, and that verdict being that the man or woman involved is 'righteous', totally free from blame.

In the light of this then how can a man or woman be justified before God? The answer at first would appear quite clear. Only One can be justified before God, the One Who did no sin (1 Peter 2.22), the One Who knew no sin (2 Corinthians 5.21), the One in Whom was no sin (1 John 3.5), the One Who was tempted in all points like as we as and was yet without sin (Hebrews 4.15), the One who could ask of His opponents, 'which of you convicts/convinces Me of sin?' (John 8.46).

And that is the necessary clue, for in Him lies the answer. Here was no ordinary man. He was the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, and the Creator of man (John 1.3-4; Colossians 1.16; Hebrews 1.2-3). As such He was the One Who was sent by God to live as representative Man. As representative man He took over where Adam had failed. As representative man He lived out His perfect life on earth. He in fact alone could stand in for us all. And He alone of all men did not deserve to die.

But He came into the world under the predetermined plan of God precisely in order to die (Acts 2.23). He came to suffer, the righteous one for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God (1 Peter 3.18). And as such He died for us all.

That is why, through the grace of God, we can 'be made the righteousness of God in Him' (2 Corinthians 5.21). He can be 'made to us -- righteousness' (1 Corinthians 1.30). That is, His righteousness can cover us and be put to our account if we are 'in Him', for He 'was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification (so that we might be accounted as in the right)' (Romans 4.25).

Paul puts it this way, that we can be 'justified (accounted as righteous) freely by His grace, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, Whom God set forth to be a propitiation through faith, by His blood -- for the showing of His righteousness at the present time, that he might Himself be just and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus' (Romans 3.24-26).

We note from this that 'justification' (being accounted as in the right) is provided through redemption by His blood. It is provided: