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Lectures on Justification
Geoffrey PaxtonGeoffrey J. Paxton  (Geoffrey J. Paxton is an Anglican clergyman and principal of the Queensland Bible Institute, Brisbane, Australia.)
Lecture I:  What Does "to Justify" Mean?

In this series on justification, we will first consider the question, What does "to justify" mean in the New Testament? All agree that justification is of God, but not all agree on the precise significance of justification. The most straightforward way of expressing the problem is this: Does "to justify" mean to declare just," or does it mean "to make just"? Another way is to speak of "objective justification" and "subjective justification." That is, does justification mean an event objective and external to the person justified — an "outside of me" justification — or does it mean that something takes place "within" the person justified—a "subjective" reality? "Declarative" or "efficient" and "declarative or creative" are other ways of expressing the two views of justification which have been represented in the history of theology.

Some have refused to see the "either—or" that we have presented here. In their thinking, God declares a person just but also makes him just at the same time; God's act of justification is both an "outside of me" act and a simultaneous "inside of me" act. However, the great divines who have held that justification means to pronounce just" have insisted on the "objective" side as being the only aspect of true Biblical justification. To them, justification is purely a "declaratory" act of God outside of the one justified. Such contenders have had no use for a "double justification."

Of course, to contend for an "either—or" in justification is not to suggest that nothing takes place within the justified, as we shall see later. All we are insisting upon here is that justification is either "the declaration of" or "the creating of"; it is not both a declaration and a creation.

In this lecture it is our business to contend for the position that justification is God's declaring a person just, not God's making a person just. "To justify" means the same as "to pronounce righteous" a person who, in himself, is anything but righteous. In fact, the person who is justified is, in himself, full of rottenness and repugnant to true holiness. Justification is thoroughly and completely objective.

Take the two expressions "to glorify God" and "to glorify the body." In the first instance it will be clear that it is impossible "to make God glorious," because He already is absolutely glorious. In the second instance it is quite conceivable "to make the body glorious." Hence the two significations of the expression "to glorify." The thesis of this lecture is that "to justify" corresponds to the first meaning of "to glorify" in the preceding example. The expression "to justify" does not mean "to make just" but "to declare just," "to affirm as just." The meaning is the same as the first instance but for a totally different reason. You cannot make God glorious, because He is glorious. You cannot say "to justify" means "to make just," not because the believer is already just, but because Another is utterly just on his behalf—namely, the Son of God. "To justify" is an act of God based upon a perfect righteousness, not an act of God which produces a perfect righteousness. To glorify God is an act based upon a perfect glory, not an act which produces glory in God.

Four Reasons Considered

What are the reasons for taking this position? The first place to turn is the Scriptures.

1. Justification in the New Testament is (a) the justification of the perfectly Righteous and (b) the justification of the ungodly, or sinner. When the first justification is spoken of, the One justified is (1) perfect God and (2) perfect Man.

The justification of the perfectly Righteous, when it is the justification of perfect God, is instanced in Luke 7:29: "When they heard this all the people and the tax collectors justified God . . ." The New International Version captures the force of this by saying       
". . . acknowledged that God's way was right." The justification of perfect God is the declaration (not the making) of God's justice.

The justification of the perfectly Righteous, when it is the justification of the perfect Man, is instanced in 1 Timothy 3:16: "He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated [or justified—see margin] in the Spirit. . ." According to the Expositor's Greek Testament (Vol. 4, p. 118), this justification took place "on a review of the whole of the Incarnate life." Christ was emphatically the Righteous One (Acts 3:14; 22:14; 1 John 2:1). Christ is declared to be righteous, not made righteous.

The justification of perfect God (Luke 7:29) and perfect Man (1 Tim. 3:16) is in both instances the declaration, not the creation, of righteousness.

What about the justification of imperfect man, or the sinner? Obviously, if we keep in mind that justification is the justification of the ungodly, it will be impossible to think of it as the creation of righteousness. If the latter were so, justification would not be justification of the ungodly. But this is exactly how the New Testament refers to it. Romans 4:4, 5 speaks explicitly of justification of the ungodly and of justification consisting in God not reckoning our sin against us.

Also, when Paul speaks of justification apart from the works of the law, it should be recognized that he is speaking of justification apart from conformity to the positive demands of the law, i.e., holiness in thought and deed (Rom. 3:2~28; Gal. 2:16; 3:11; 1 John 2:2). This is justification of those who possess no holiness in and of themselves, no personal conformity to the positive demands of the law.

Court of Law2. The true meaning of justification can be derived from its antithesis in the New Testament. The opposite of "to justify" is not "to deprave" but "to condemn." If "to justify" meant "to make holy," its opposite would be "to make unholy." However, if "to justify" means "to acquit," then its opposite would be "to condemn." This is exactly the situation. According to Paul, the opposite of "to justify" is "to condemn." From the context of Romans 5:12f., it is clear that the antithesis is one of condemnation and justification, not "making corrupt" and "making righteous" Hence: ". . . the judgment followed one sin [i.e., Adam's] and brought condemnation, but the gift. . . brought justification." Rom. 5:16. And Romans 5:18 declares: "Just as the result of one trespass was condemnation . . . so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification . . ." This emphasis governs the way we understand Romans 5:19: "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." The propagation of a corrupt nature from our father Adam is a sound Biblical and theological truth, but it is not the emphasis of Paul in this passage (cf. Rom. 5: 12f.). His emphasis is this: Because of our connection with Adam, that which judicially results is condemnation. However, because of our connection with Christ, that which judicially follows is justification. Just as condemnation does not mean "making wicked, so justification does not mean "making good." By looking at the antithesis of to justify" ("to condemn"), we are able to see that to justify" means "to acquit," not "to make holy."

In reference to this second point, we might add that examination of the expressions used in the service of explanation and illustration in the Biblical passages reveals that they are derived, not from the operation of purifying the soul or infusing righteousness into it, but from the procedure of the courts in their judgments or of offended persons in their forgiveness of offenders (cf. Rom. 8:33, 34).

3. In determining the true Biblical meaning of justification, examination of equivalent expressions shows that the same idea is conveyed as in the judicial sense of "to justify" and "justification."

In John 3:18 the reward for believing is not purification (though it follows rightly enough) but noncondemnation, i.e., acquittal, or justification. Likewise, hearing the Word of Jesus and believing in Him (John 5:24) is said to bring, not freedom from corruption, but freedom from condemnation and judgment.

Perhaps the clearest passage which highlights the signification of an equivalent to justification is 2 Corinthians 5:19-21. In verse 19 the work of reconciliation is explained appositionally, not as purifying men from their sins, but "not counting men's sins against them." Justification is the nonimputation of sin. Verse 21 clearly states: "Him who knew no sin God made to be sin for us in order that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." In what sense was Christ made sin? By imputation or by impartation? By counting, or reckoning, Christ as a sinner, or by making Christ a sinner? There can only be one answer which does justice to the Biblical evidence. Christ was made sin by imputation and not by impartation; by having our sin on Him, not in Him! Likewise, we may ask how we are made the righteousness of God in Him. The answer is the same. We are made the righteousness of God by imputation and not by impartation. We are treated as if we were righteous and not because we are, in actual fact, righteous in ourselves. Christ was treated as a sinner because He came and took our lot, and we are treated as righteous because, by faith, we take His lot.

4. To speak of justification in the sense of "to make holy" is to give justification the same meaning as sanctification has in the greater portion of the Scriptures. Justification and sanctification become synonymous; both mean "to make holy." What in the Scriptures is meant to signify an outward deliverance from the penalty of sin (justification) is made to signify an inward deliverance from the power of sin (sanctification). This is the official position of the Church of Rome. What the Bible teaches as a judicial process Rome has made an infusion of a quality. However, the judicial process and the infusion of a quality are different things indeed! The Council of Trent and some of her devotees after her have fallen into the terrible mistake of making one figure represent two inseparable but quite different things—pardon and renewal, deliverance from the penalty of sin and deliverance from the power of sin. The council declared that justification consists both of remission and internal renovation.

Rome has argued like this: When justification takes place, does this mean that nothing happens within the believer at all? The answer to this question is "No!" If then, says Rome, something happens within the believer as well, why make justification refer to the external reality only? It is obvious, says Mohler (and Boussuet before him), that the external figure is used to signify an internal reality. The judicial process, in conformity with the ancient mode of expression, is used to connote an inward personal deliverance.

MountainsOur reply to this is that the reality intended must correspond to the figure employed. To understand the judicial language of justification as including the necessary consequence of sanctification is like taking the figurative expression "the foot of a mountain" to mean both the base and the top of a mountain. You cannot separate the base from the top, but you must not use the (one) figure of the base to include, at the same time, the top. Just as the foot and the top of the mountain are inseparable, so are justification and sanctification inseparable. However, just as the foot of the mountain must be distinguished from its top, so justification must be distinguished from sanctification. Further, just as the top of the mountain is not necessarily meant when one is referring to its foot, so sanctification is not of necessity referred to when the figure of justification is used.

It could well be that Protestants, in the interests of stressing the utter objectivity of justification, have aided (albeit unwittingly) Rome in her error by not giving sufficient stress to the internal work of the Spirit. However, to confuse what must be distinguished is as bad as dividing what is inseparable.

The Argument of Newman

We have looked at an argument put forward by Rome and, I trust, have clearly showed its deficiency. We must now consider another argument, which was put forward by John Henry Newman in his Lectures on the Doctrine of Justification (Lect. 3), and which also seeks to identify justification and sanctification. Whereas the argument we have just looked at was one which tried to make one figure refer to two quite distinguishable realities, Newman's argument is based on the power of the divine Word. Newman said that what begins as a Word ends with a fact when it is the Word of God. "Let there be light, and there was light," said Newman. The Word of God Is a creative Word. God speaks, and it is done! When, therefore, He declares a person righteous, He of necessity makes him so. Justification is the Word, said Newman, but renewal is the effect of that Word. The Word declaring is, with God, the Word making. Hence, in conclusion, justification may be called renewal.

There is a prima facie forcefulness about this argument because it is based upon the truth of the power of God's Word, just as the previous argument of Mohler and Boussuet had a certain force because it was based on the inseparability of justification and sanctification. However, Newman's argument is no more valid than Mohler's. The Word of the Lord effects. We will not deny that. However, we need to add that it effects what the Almighty intends it to effect. Did not God speak to bring the world out of chaos? Yes indeed. Did that Word also bring forth light? No, it did not. A second Word was employed to bring light out of darkness. Separate acts of the Word of God produce quite separate and distinct effects. Or put it this way: God does not bring about all things by the utterance of His Word but only that which He intends by that particular utterance. When God says, "You are just," He brings about only what He intends; and it is clear from the rest of Scripture and the great gift of the Mediator, that God does not intend to make us just by the utterance of His mouth but by the satisfaction of His justice claimed by faith and brought about by grace.

In sum: We have asserted the meaning of "to justify" as "to declare righteous" and not "to make righteous." We have adduced four major reasons for so affirming: (1) the signification of the word in the justification of the perfectly Righteous (God and Christ) and the sinner (the believer); (2) by noting the antithesis of "to justify," which is not "to corrupt" but "to condemn"; (3) an examination of equivalent expressions; and (4) the necessary distinction between justification and sanctification.


To conclude this lecture, we shall endeavor to make some positive statements concerning the meaning of justification which shall be taken up and elucidated in subsequent lectures.

1. Justification, while it includes pardon, is not merely pardon. In order to be justified, a person must possess a Righteousness upon the ground of which the verdict must be pronounced. Justification as mere pardon and justification as the infusion of righteousness both fail to do justice to the immutable law of God's holiness and the deep-seated guilt of the rebel subject.

2. Justification is the reversal of God's attitude to the sinner because of the sinner's new relation to Christ. The justified sinner is "in Christ," and "behold, all things are become new" (2 Cor. 5:17) — even the attitude of the Almighty. God did condemn; now He acquits. God did repel; now He admits into His favor. The new attitude of God corresponds to the sufficient satisfaction of the law by the Mediator. The justified sinner is pardoned because Christ, the Mediator, has paid the penalty for the transgression of the law. The justified sinner is accepted into heaven as a reward for perfect conformity to the positive demands of the law. Pardon alone or acceptance alone would be inadequate. Whereas holiness is under a single obligation—the continued fulfillment of the positive demands of the law — sin is under a double obligation — that of meeting the penalty and fulfilling the precepts of the law. The work of Christ was in the sinner's stead.

3. The justification of the sinner is different from that of a righteous person. The former is unmerited, while the latter is merited. Our justification is without works, while the justification of Christ is because of works (active and passive). For justification per se to be work-less — that is, for God merely to forgive "out of the blue" as it were — the law would have to be abrogated, not fulfilled (cf. Matt. 5:17). This would be mercy without justice and, hence, no peace to the troubled conscience.

4. While the justification of the sinner is not by his works, if the justified sinner does not have good works, his justification is spurious. Good works are the "evidential cause" of justification, while God's glory is the final cause, the work of Christ is the meritorious cause, and faith is the instrumental cause.

5. A person is justified in order to be sanctified, not sanctified in order to be justified. Sanctification is glorification begun, but glorification at Christ's coming is sanctification completed. Thus the scripture shall be fulfilled, ". . . whom He justified, them He also glorified." Rom. 8:30.