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Covenant Theology: Justification (Part 1)
Westminster Presbyterian Church ^ | Dr. James E. Bordwine

Posted on 02/09/2004 9:24:50 AM PST by sheltonmac

Covenant Theology: Justification (Part 1)

(Sermon Number Eleven)


James E. Bordwine, Th.D.


As we are studying the doctrine of salvation within the context of covenant theology, we presently are concerned with the ordo salutis, the order of salvation. You will recall that I explained that this phrase refers to the sequence and interrelation of those elements that make up our salvation. Ordo salutis is concerned with the logical explanation of what happens to a sinner when he is acted upon by the Holy Spirit, is brought to new life and thereafter yields himself in loving service to God.

The first aspect of our salvation, which we considered last time, was effectual calling. I noted that this is that act of God whereby, through the Holy Spirit, He awakens and draws the sinner, who previously is spiritually dead, into saving union with Christ. When we speak of God's effectual call, therefore, we mean His supernatural activity in the heart of a sinner that enlivens that sinner's dormant heart and enables him and causes him to respond to the gospel unto his salvation.

This brings us to the second part or aspect of our salvation, which is justification by faith. In preparation for this portion of our study, I want to refer to the Larger Catechism, Question 70, for an introductory definition of justification:

What is justification?

Answer: Justification is an act of God's free grace unto sinners, in which He pardons all their sins, accepts and accounts their persons righteous in His sight; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.

There are three elements to notice in this definition of justification: first, justification involves a declaration of God concerning the sinner; second, the ground of this declaration is outside the sinner; third, it is implied that the sinner thereafter is in a state of favor, instead of a state of condemnation, as was previously true. Primarily, then, the doctrine of justification by faith has to do with the sinner's standing before God. In justification, God declares the sinner pardoned, or absolved of guilt, and righteous, not by counting anything in the sinner worthy of merit, nor by infusing into or creating in the sinner a righteousness, but solely upon the basis of the finished work of Jesus Christ. This ground of justification is “outside” the sinner, so to speak, and is, by God's grace, credited (or imputed) to the sinner. Justification leaves the sinner in a different and blessed relation with God. This is, in capsule form, what we are going to learn as we study the doctrine of justification by faith.

In this section of our study of covenant theology, I will answer certain questions concerning the doctrine of justification by faith. For example, How does the Bible define justification? How does the sinner come to be in a state of justification? What does justification mean to the sinner? How do we describe the state of being justified? These questions will be answered as I treat this subject under three points: one, The Legal Nature of Justification; two, The Ground of Justification; and three, The State of Justification. I will spend one sermon on each of these points in order to give sufficient attention to this most important of doctrines.

1. The Legal Nature of Justification

As I observed when quoting Question 70 of the Larger Catechism, justification involves a declaration by God concerning the sinner; this declaration does not involve a substantial change in the sinner himself, but in his relation to God. Moreover, this declaration is two-fold. God declares the sinner pardoned or free from guilt, and He declares the sinner righteous. This declaration of God is referred to as a “judicial” or “legal” pronouncement because it is concerned with the sinner's state within the context of God's holy standards. Prior to God's effectual call and regeneration, the sinner stands condemned before God. The sinner, in his fallen condition, is subject to the judgment of God that is promised to all law-breakers.

The Bible has much to say about man's depravity; we, however, are concerned not so much with the how our sinful natures manifest themselves as we are with how we appear in the eyes of a holy God. Prior to his salvation, what relation has the sinner to God? In terms of God's absolute holiness, what is the state of the sinner? In this regard, the Scriptures speak of sinners as standing condemned before their Creator; the Bible teaches that fallen man bears a measure of guilt and that guilt separates him from God and makes him liable to God's wrath. In Rom. 5, where the apostle Paul is describing Adam's sin in the Garden of Eden and its subsequent effect upon the human race, he says this:

18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.

For now, I am interested in the first phrase of v. 19, “...through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners...” The word translated “made” (kathistemi) conveys the idea of being reckoned as something or as being counted as belonging to a particular category. When Adam disobeyed God and broke covenant with his Creator, God rendered a judgment against Adam and, since Adam was our head or representative, against all of Adam's descendants. Therefore, we are reckoned as transgressors, we are counted in the category of sinners by virtue of our father's disobedience, even though we were not personally involved in the incident. Adam's guilt was imputed to us and the proof of this is to be observed in our sinful natures. It is important to note that it was not God's judgment that made man worthy of God's condemnation, it was man's sin. God's declaration of judgment against the human race was indicative of our relation to Him; after the fall, man was incapable of measuring up to the holy standards of His Maker. So, according to Paul, all people are in a state of condemnation prior to salvation.

We know very well that what Paul teaches here is echoed throughout Scripture:

All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way… (Isa. 53:6).

The heart [of fallen man] is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick… (Jer. 17:9).

There is a way which seems right to [fallen] man, but its end is the way of death. (Pro. 14:12).

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… (Rom. 3:23).

[Fallen man is] dead in [his] trespasses and sins… (Eph. 2:1).

Nothing taught in Scripture is more clear than the character of our natures as human beings. Repeatedly we are told about our condition and repeatedly we are taught that God's law, which is itself a reflection of His holy character, condemns us. The Bible plainly teaches that man's moral condition, as a result of the fall, makes him unable to live in communion with his Creator. Whenever fallen man is confronted by the character of God, fallen man is left condemned as unholy, unrighteous and unacceptable. This is our plight and it is not just our plight alone, it is the condition of every person who has ever lived or who will live in the future. As a race, we are sinners and God's condemnation bears down upon us all.

Now, then, it must be asked: If God's pronouncement of the sinner's condemnation is correct, how can such a sentence ever be lifted? The answer to this question is found in something that I have been emphasizing, viz., that fallen man's condemnation is a matter of a legal or judicial declaration by God; the same is true of his justification. The lifting of the verdict of condemnation, which is one of the things that happens when the sinner is justified, occurs when God pronounces that the sinner, formally indicted by the holy Law of God and, therefore, subject only to the wrath of God, is now free from that state and exists in a different relation to God. This new standing is one of acceptance before God, the Judge of all the earth. It remains, therefore, for us to study a few passages in which the nature of God's declaration of justification is explained.

I will begin by returning to Rom. 5:18, 19:

18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.

As I stated previously, Paul is describing Adam's sin in the Garden of Eden and its subsequent effect upon the human race; he also is describing the work of Christ, the second Adam, and how that work of atonement restores what was lost in Adam. Adam's transgression resulted in all of his descendants being found in a state of condemnation. We were “made,” “constituted” or “counted as” sinners by Adam's disobedience because he was our covenant representative. By contrast, the second Adam's obedience resulted in a change of status for those belonging to Him. And it is in this truth that we find reason to rejoice and give thanks!

In Christ, the condemned sons of Adam become the justified sons of God. And so, in the second phrase of Rom. 5:19, we read: “...even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” Again, the word translated “made” refers to a declaration, to a categorizing. Because Christ is our covenant representative in salvation, we have attributed to us whatever He earns. God's original declaration of condemnation is replaced by a new declaration of justification. This, of course, hints at the ground of our justification, which we will cover later.

Let me call your attention to another passage, also in Romans. One of the most thrilling declarations made in the Bible is found at the beginning of chapter eight. I say this because, if you follow Paul's teaching up to this point, then his pronouncement at this point is the most welcomed news any sinner could ever hear:

1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

Consider this incredible statement in light of what this same apostle wrote in chapter five. There, we all are condemned, but here we are told that there is no condemnation against us. Paul spends the first part of the epistle to the Romans establishing the condemnation of all men, Jew and Gentile. He then begins his explanation of just how those who are condemned can be justified before a holy God; we just examined part of that argument from chapter five. The immediate context of the verses I just read is Paul's testimony regarding his personal struggle with the remnants of sin in his flesh in spite of his redeemed condition.

With this lengthy background, the apostle proclaims that those who have been called by God into union with Christ no longer stand condemned in the sight of God. In Christ, all of those stinging assessments of our fallen nature, which I read a few moments ago, still are true, but, in Christ, God's perspective on us is changed. The declaration of guilt and liability to God's wrath is removed once the sinner is united by faith with the Savior. The sentence of condemnation is lifted when the sinner is called and regenerated by God. What we must understand is that a judicial declaration of condemnation can only be set aside by another judicial declaration of acceptance.

This is what Paul means when he writes: “the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” This is a glorious thought, a marvelous doctrine; in Christ Jesus, we who were once condemned, alienated from our Creator, giving every evidence of our depravity and bound for eternal darkness are accounted righteous! Let me repeat Paul's exciting words: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Amen!

Earlier, I mentioned that the legal declaration made of the sinner upon his justification is two-fold: God declares the sinner pardoned and He declares the sinner righteous. We've seen that Scripture teaches plainly that justification involves the removal of our original sentence of death; thereby we know that God does pronounce us free from guilt when we are saved. Before concluding this first point, I must show Biblical evidence of the second part of this two-fold declaration, viz., that our salvation also involves God's judgment that we are righteous in His sight.

To complete this study of the nature of justification, therefore, I want to refer briefly to a couple of passages that show the connection between God's pronouncement of the sinner as righteous and the work of Christ (this matter will be fully developed under the second point). The righteousness that the sinner has credited to him, belongs to our Savior, Jesus Christ; and it is His righteousness to which God looks, as it were, when He declares a sinner acceptable.

In 2 Cor. 5:21, we read: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” In our union with Christ, we have credited to us His perfect obedience, His flawless righteousness; and, in turn, our sin, our guilt by which we have come under God's condemnation, is credited to Christ. He bears our sin as His own and God attributes His righteousness to us as our own. The lifting of the sentence of condemnation, which is brought about by Christ's payment of His life, leaves us free from guilt, but we still lack that righteousness that we must have if we are to dwell comfortably with God. Consequently, not only is Christ's payment for sin credited to our account, but also His perfection is credited to our account. Thereafter, God declares us guilt-free and righteous.

Another passage that emphasizes this aspect of our justification is found in 1 Cor. 6. In this chapter, Paul exhorts the Corinthians to behave in a more godly manner toward one another. Their behavior, in some areas, resembled that of the pagans. Therefore, the apostle writes:

9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.

Take note of what Paul says about these Corinthians: some were one thing, but now they are something else; some once were numbered among the most vile of offenders, but now they are numbered among the redeemed of God. Their conversion brought about a change in status; they were condemned due to their sin, but now they were “washed, sanctified and justified” in Christ Jesus. Through His inspired writer, God announces that the condemnation of the Corinthians had been removed and in its place was a divine declaration of righteousness due to their relation with the Savior.

Can you imagine the joy of hearing these words? Can you imagine some in the Corinthian congregation who been fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves and drunkards now hearing that they were washed and sanctified and justified in Christ Jesus? You know, it should be that hard for us to imagine how they felt, not if we take seriously the Scripture's portrait of us apart from Christ. We should experience the same joy, the same relief, and the same overwhelming urge to give thanks to God when we consider what we were and what we now are in Christ.


In the application, I must call your attention to the fact that our appreciation for our salvation depends directly upon our comprehension of what God has done for us. The Scripture's witness against us as sinners is indisputable; it is devastating and leaves us helpless and hopeless apart from the grace of our loving God. Consider our plight, consider that we stood condemned before a holy God. Consider that His perfect character revealed our corruption at every turn. Understand that God's perfect standard reveals every last speck of our sin, every last bit of that depravity that infests our souls. And yet, that same God has declared us justified; He has undertaken to deliver us from a state of damnation into a state of acceptance. Given that these things are true, there are two points that I would offer for your meditation.

First, we should be the most grateful, the most thankful and the most humble creatures in all of God's universe. No other creature of God knows the forgiving and justifying grace of the Creator. No other creature of God knows the movement of the Holy Spirit that brings life from death. No other creature of God knows the joy of pardon or the gladness of eternal life or the thrill of being set free from sin. No other creature of God knows what it is like to have despair exchanged for hope, fear exchanged for courage or aimlessness exchanged for purpose. Our salvation is so ordered that God receives all the glory for the magnificent accomplishment known as our redemption.

Once in a while, you should examine your heart to see just how well you are expressing your gratefulness, your thanksgiving and your humility. Occasionally, you should examine your mind to ensure that you have not been influenced by the false teaching that what you have in Christ is your doing. We all need to be ever vigilant because the modern Church has embraced views of salvation that would rob God of His glory, views that would make the sinner responsible, at least in some measure, for his righteous standing before God. No sinner, however, who listens intently to the Scriptures can long believe that he is to be credited with his salvation. No sinner who knows the word of God can remain confident of his ability to render unto God what God requires.

On the contrary, every man, every woman, every child who hears the teaching of Scripture will be struck with a sense of relief when they realize the state from which they have been delivered. And this sense of relief is manifested through our undying gratefulness to the God of heaven, our unceasing thanksgiving to the Lord of our salvation and our sure humility before the Judge of all the earth.

Second, we should be the most dedicated, the most faithful and the most sincere servants of God in all His universe. No other creature of God knows what it is like to learn that God gave His only begotten Son for his sake. There is no other creature of God who has received so much while being so undeserving. There is no other creature of God who, while lifting a rebellious fist toward heaven has heard the soothing words of the gospel, words that bring peace, safety and contentment. There is no other creature of God who can point to such obvious expressions of the Creator's love and good intentions. Only fallen man, only we who were dead in our trespasses and sins and who have tasted of God's salvation know these things; only we who have been shown the light of the gospel as we stumbled around in the darkness of sin know just how wonderfully our God has loved us and just how rich has been His mercy toward us.

What kind of people ought we to be in light of these things? Ought we to be selfish people or people interested only in our own comfort and our own achievements? Or should we be servants of the Most High God? Should we not be followers of the One who was given for us so that the sentence of condemnation hanging over our miserable heads could be lifted? Should we not be disciples of God's Son, the Son who gave us the supreme example of self-sacrifice and servant hood? What else can we be but slaves to the God who justifies the ungodly?

Take a look at your life, your priorities, your familywhat do you see? What does your life say about how you are responding to the gift of justification? We should not let ourselves forget what we were or how we appeared in the eyes of God before our justification. The key to being properly thankful to God for what He has done and the key to establishing and maintaining the heart of a servant before the Lord are one and the same. The key is learning and thereafter pondering what our heavenly Father has done for us in His Son, Jesus Christ. The Christian who routinely refreshes his mind and heart with the knowledge of God's rescue of him from a sentence of condemnation is the Christian whose whole life is an honor to God.

Conclusion (preparation for the Lord's Supper)

Displayed before us are bread and wine, symbols of the body and blood of our Savior. These symbols were appointed by Christ Himself as a means of instruction, encouragement and hope. This sacrament is a demonstration of God's love for us that brought about the life, death and resurrection of His Son for our sakes. As you receive these elements, think about what God has done for you; consider the loud accusation of God's Law, a voice that could not be silenced by any man or any effort; then consider the One who delivered us from the curse of the Law and silenced forever that condemning voice by becoming a curse for us. Eat this bread and drink this wine in remembrance of our Savior.

TOPICS: General Discusssion
Threads for previous sermons:
  1. The Foundtation
  2. The Absolute Sovereignty of the Creator
  3. The Absolute Dependence of the Creature
  4. The Absolute Necessity of a Mediator
  5. The Covenant of Works (pt. 1)
  6. The Covenant of Works (pt. 2)
  7. The Covenant of Grace (pt. 1)
  8. The Covenant of Grace (pt. 2)
  9. The Covenant of Grace (pt. 3)
  10. Effectual Calling

1 posted on 02/09/2004 9:24:51 AM PST by sheltonmac
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To: drstevej; OrthodoxPresbyterian; CCWoody; Wrigley; Gamecock; Jean Chauvin; jboot; jude24; ...
2 posted on 02/09/2004 9:26:57 AM PST by sheltonmac
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To: sheltonmac
I'm glad you're posting all of the past ones. It helps me keep track. Sometimes I think I've missed one and have to go back and reread it. It certainly lays out the doctrine very nicely.

I was interested in this verse:

"Once in a while, you should examine your heart to see just how well you are expressing your gratefulness, your thanksgiving and your humility."

So true. There's always a danger to take our faith for granted when it is such a precious gift given to us by God.

3 posted on 02/09/2004 5:16:20 PM PST by HarleyD (READ Your Bible-STUDY to show yourself approved)
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To: sheltonmac
Very good sermon.You stated what was done,but not how on some points, lacking a few points that need futher explaining.
The fullfillment of the Law is Love. Greater love hath no man than this,That a man lay down his life for his freinds. John 15:13
Therefore Jesus died upon the cross for all. Therefore if we be dead in Jesus Christ, we are free(not dead) from the law.
And on The Lord Supper. It is written "Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day." John 6:(53),54
Also it is written "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us," which refers to Jesus.
Therefore if the Word of God was made flesh, and Jesus command us to eat. Therefore when I read, meditate, or study the Word of God, I am entering into the Lord's Supper. The bread(of life) represent Jesus, and the true bread(of life) is the Word of God, which was made flesh, Jesus himself. Just though you should know this.
4 posted on 02/09/2004 9:30:46 PM PST by Warlord David
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To: Penny1
PING (note the sermon author)
5 posted on 02/11/2004 7:26:57 PM PST by irishtenor (If animals weren't meant to be eaten, why did God make them out of meat?)
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