Justification is by Faith Alone: Page 2 of 4 (series: Lessons on Romans)
by John Lowe
And fall short of the glory of God. The statement that all have sinned is further enhanced by the fact that both Jew and Gentile have come short of God’s glory. What is the glory of God? The Bible frequently speaks of the glory of God appearing in the pillar of the cloud leading Israel (Ex 16:7–10); the tabernacle of the congregation at Kadesh (Num 14:10); the temple of Solomon (I Kgs 8:11); the Mount of Olives at Jerusalem (Ezk 11:23); etc. The glory of God now, however, rests in the person of Jesus Christ. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). The glory of God is the person of Jesus Christ.
When Stephen was stoned he looked steadfastly to heaven and saw the glory of God and (or even) Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55). The knowledge of the glory of God is said to be in the face of Jesus Christ. “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (II Cor 4:6). When Paul says that we have come short of the glory of God he means that we do not measure up to the sinlessness of Jesus Christ. The Mosaic Law served as God’s standard of righteousness until the coming of Christ. But when the Lord Jesus was made a curse for us, He redeemed us from the curse of the Law. “For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Rom 10:4). Thus, the standard of God’s holiness today is not the Old Testament law but the person of Jesus Christ.
24 Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
Justification is a legal term referring to a right standing before God. That standing can never be earned. “Redemption” refers to the act by which a slave is given freedom. Through faith in Christ, sinners are delivered from slavery to sin.
Paul makes three observations about the righteousness of God which brings justification. He says that the righteous man is justified freely and that this justification is by his grace and provided through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Being justified freely means being justified without any prior conditions being met. Being justified by God’s grace indicates that not only is our justification without prior conditions being met but, on the other hand, it is graciously given. We do not merit justification, but we enjoy it. You cannot have both merit and grace. Our justification was by the grace of God. Beyond this, it was through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Since the word redemption signifies a buying back, it must have been accomplished by the payment of a price. The price of our redemption was the blood of Jesus Christ. “Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold… but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (I Pet 1:18–19). Therefore, we are justified in the sight of God when the righteousness of Christ is placed upon us by the grace of God, freely and without cause. Only then does God view us as ransomed by the blood of Christ.
It is possible for a man to justify God by believing and obeying God’s word. In other words, he declares God to be righteous in all that God says and does. “And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John” (see Luke 7:29)
And, of course, a man can justify himself; that is, he can announce his own righteousness. But this is nothing but a form of self-deception. “But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29).
When James teaches that justification is by works he does not mean that we are saved by good works, or by faith plus good works, but rather by the kind of faith that results in good works. “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (Jas. 2:24).
In order to avoid confusion later on, we should pause here to explain that there are six different aspects of justification in the New Testament. We are said to be justified by grace, by faith, by blood, by power, by God, and by works; yet there is no contradiction or conflict.
1. We are justified by grace—that means we do not deserve it.
2. We are justified by faith (Rom. 5:1)—that means that we have to receive it by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ.
3. We are justified by blood (Rom. 5:9)—that refers to the price the Savior paid in order that we might be justified.
4. We are justified by power (Rom. 4:24-25)—the same power that raised the Lord Jesus from the dead.
5. We are justified by God (Rom. 8:33)—He is the One who reckons us righteous.
6. We are justified by works (Jas. 2:24)—not meaning that good works earn justification, but that they are the evidence that we have been justified.
25 Whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed.
The main points of verses 25 and 26 are:
(1) God presented Jesus Christ as an atoning sacrifice, a propitiation.
(2) This sacrifice was Christ’s blood.
(3) It is obtained by the sinner through faith.
(4) The sacrifice was necessary because in the past God had not fully punished sin.
(5) It was also necessary to confirm the justice of God.
(6) This sacrifice demonstrated that it is God who justifies those who have faith in Jesus Christ.
Propitiation. Propitiation has the idea of appeasing or satisfying. Therefore, propitiation refers to the work of Christ on the Cross, by which He both satisfied the demands of God’s justice and canceled the sinner’s guilt. In other texts, the same Greek word is translated “mercy seat.” The mercy-seat was the lid of the ark. On the Day of Atonement the high priest sprinkled the mercy-seat with the blood of a sacrificial victim. By this means the sins of the high priest and of the people were atoned for, or covered. When Christ made propitiation for our sins, He went much further. He not only covered them but did away with them completely. Christ’s death on the Cross can also be interpreted in terms of the Day of Atonement, on which the blood of the sacrificial animals was sprinkled on the mercy seat in the Most Holy Place to atone for the sins of the people (see Lev. 16:14–16). In either case, through the death of Christ on the Cross, God took the initiative to bring mankind into right relationship with Himself. Jesus Christ is our mercy seat. He is the person by whom our sins were atoned, our penalty paid, and the offended party appeased. Jesus Christ is where God meets man.
The word propitiation also occurs in Hebrews 2:17: “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”Here the expression “to make propitiation” means to put away by paying the penalty.
Whom God set forth as a propitiation. God set forth Christ Jesus as a propitiation. “For God so loved the world that He gave (set forth) His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).Because of His sacrifice, God’s wrath is averted, and mercy can be shown on the basis of an acceptable sacrifice.
To demonstrate His righteousness. Why did Jesus Christ become our propitiation? The answer is to demonstrate his righteousness. This is done by atoning for sins, which prior to Calvary were not permanently dealt with. “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). God made His statement about sin at the cross. He not only said something about it, He did something about it. The righteousness of God is declared by atoning for present and future sins as well as past sins. Therefore God is the justifier of any man, past, present, or future, who places his faith in the blood of Jesus Christ.
From Adam to Christ, God saved those who put their faith in Him on the basis of whatever revelation He gave them. Abraham, for example, believed God, and it was reckoned to him for righteousness (Gen. 15:6). But how could God do this righteously? A sinless Substitute had not been slain. The blood of a perfect Sacrifice had not been shed. In a word, Christ had not died. The debt had not been paid. God’s righteous claims had not been met. How then could God save believing sinners in the Old Testament period? The answer is that although Christ had not yet died, God knew that He would die, and He saved men on the basis of the still-future work of Christ. Even if Old Testament saints didn’t know about Calvary, God knew about it, and He put all the value of Christ’s work to their account when they believed God. In a very real sense, Old Testament believers were saved on credit. They were saved on the basis of a price still to be paid. They looked forward to Calvary; we look back to it.