Justification: Our legal standing with the Creator

A few weeks ago (the evening of the 6th of December, to be precise :P), I heard a great sermon on a passage in Hebrews. One of the points made about our justification before God was really eye-opening: our justification is not something that happens to us; it happens in God’s mind, or to put it a different way, it changes the way God views us. It is the bestowal of a status, or standing, not the generating within us of a new nature or character.

So needless to say, I was rather chuffed when I found the following article on Tim Challies’ blog a while later, elaborating on that idea of justification. Tim was (is?) going through John Murray’s book Redemption Accomplished and Applied.

I highly recommend reading the whole post, but this part was relevant for me:

Looking at justification in common usage (outside the Bible) Murray says it is “a declaration of pronouncement respecting the relation of the person to the law which he, the judge, is required to administer.” Justification, then, is forensic. “It has to do with a judgment given, declared, pronounced; it is judicial or juridical or forensic.” He looks quickly to regeneration again, saying “Regeneration is an act of God in us; justification is a judgment of God with respect to us. The distinction is like that of the distinction between the act of a surgeon and the act of a judge. The surgeon, when he removes inward cancer, does something in us. That is not what a judge does—he gives a verdict regarding our judicial status. If we are innocent he declares accordingly.” Murray says that “the purity of the gospel is bound up with the recognition of this distinction.” This means that justification is and remains the article of the standing or falling Church.

The question now arises, how can God declare a person to be righteous when that is so evidently not the case? How can a sinful, defiled man who is at enmity with God be declared righteous by God? “The peculiarity of God’s action consists in this: that he causes to be the righteous state or relation which is declared to be.” So God not only declares righteous but he first makes righteous. “What God does in this case is that he constitutes the new and righteous judicial relation as well as declares the new relation to be. He constitutes the ungodly righteous, and consequently can declare them to be righteous.” He says further, “Justification is therefore a constitutive act whereby the righteousness of Christ is imputed to our account and we are accordingly accepted as righteous in God’s sight.” And he offers these beautiful, soul-stirring words: “God cannot but accept into his favour those who are invested with the righteousness of his own Son.” First God makes a man righteous through the work of Christ and then he declares what is now the reality—that this man is, indeed, righteous.

[Originally posted as a note to my Facebook profile on 22 January 2010]

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Nick on January 26, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    Justification is more than forensic, and to use it as strictly forensic is a jump to conclusions. What is especially noteworthy is that the only time God is described as “judge” is in regards to Final Judgment texts, not conversion. Further, I see no evidences for this “constitutive act whereby the righteousness of Christ is imputed to our account.”
    Romans 4:5-8 says “justifies the ungodly” means “blessed is the man who’s sins are forgiven.”


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