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Covenant Theology: Justification (Part 2)
Westminster Presbyterian Church ^ | Dr. James E. Bordwine

Posted on 02/10/2004 6:31:39 AM PST by sheltonmac

Covenant Theology: Justification (Part 2)

(Sermon Number Twelve)


James E. Bordwine, Th.D.


We are studying the doctrine of justification under three points. In the last sermon, I covered the first point, which is: The Nature of Justification in the last sermon. I talked about the fact that justification involves a declaration by God concerning the sinner's standing before Him. 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 has to do 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 and we have considered passages in which the condemnation of fallen man is taught plainly. We learned from these texts that fallen man, when measured against God's standard, is found wanting; he lacks that righteousness that the Law of God embodies; moreover, fallen man bears a measure of guilt which he inherited from his father Adam and which has been compounded by his own acts of lawlessness. The sentence of condemnation that we find in Scripture is God's declaration regarding how the sinner is related to Him.

I also showed that just as fallen man's condemnation is a matter of God's judicial declaration, so is his justification. We looked at Rom. 5 where Paul comments not only upon Adam's transgression and its effect upon his descendants, but also upon the work of Christ as the representative or head of a new humanity. Adam's transgression resulted in all of his descendants being found in a state of condemnation. By contrast, the second Adam's obedience resulted in a change of status for those belonging to Him. In Christ, the condemned sons of Adam become the justified sons of God; we have attributed to us whatever He earns. God's original declaration of condemnation is replaced by a new declaration of justification. 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.

We are ready now to continue with the second point in this study of the doctrine of justification.

2. The Ground of Justification

As we turn to the matter of the ground for the sinner's justification, I want to begin by explaining what is meant by the term “ground.” When I speak of the “ground” of justification, I am referring to that which serves as the basis for God's declaration that a formerly condemned sinner is now acceptable in His sight. The “ground” of justification is that which allows God to make such a pronouncement; it is that whereby the sinner comes to have an upright relation to God and His holy Law.

The ground of justification, therefore, must be a righteousness that satisfies God's justice; and it must be a righteousness that permanently constitutes the sinner acceptable to God. The ground of justification must be a perfect righteousness; the ground of justification must be one that can secure remission for past sins as well as future sins. Only a perfect, complete and uncorruptable righteousness can secure a perfect, complete and irreversible justification.

We can quickly eliminate one source for this perfect righteousness; we can quickly eliminate the sinner himself. We've seen previously that Scripture teaches that all men are guilty before God and liable to His wrath due to the original sin inherited from Adam and due to their particular sins which give evidence of their corruption. Under no circumstances, therefore, can the ground of our justification be our own righteousness. As sinners, we have no righteousness, but stand before God dependent upon His mercy for deliverance from eternal death.

Consider what Paul says in Titus 3: “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior...” (vv. 5, 6) Paul teaches that the basis or ground of our justification is not “deeds which we have done in righteousness.” It is not the sinner's good intentions or the sinner's occasional obedience to which God looks when declaring the sinner justified. The sinner's righteousness, such as it is, is thoroughly polluted. Whatever the sinner presents as the basis for his justification falls hopelessly short of the mark established by God's character, and that mark is absolute perfection. The sinner cannot deny the certain judgment of his Creator that he is justly condemned and, therefore, the sinner cannot plead his own person and efforts as the ground for his justification.

At this point, I want to emphasize that not only does the condition of fallen man mean that he has no righteousness of his own to serve as the basis for his justification, but the nature of justification also precludes the possibility of the ground being an infused or progressive righteousness in the sinner. Since, according to Scripture, justification is a determination made by God that indicates an immediate and unalterable change in the sinner's relation to Him, the righteousness to which God looks must be perfect, complete and uncorruptable. An infused or progressive righteousness in the sinner, by the very definition, would never meet these criteria.

Therefore, having eliminated from our thinking the idea that the righteousness to which God has respect in the declaration of justification is to be found in us, the question remains: What righteousness, then, does God impute to the condemned sinner? If the ground of our justification is a perfect, complete and uncorruptable righteousness and if that righteousness is not and cannot be located in the sinner himself, where does it come from?

In answering these questions, I want to make the observation that if there is nothing in the sinner to commend him to God for justification, if the sinner has no ground for his justification within himself, then when the sinner is justified, it must be viewed as an act of grace, it must be viewed as a gift from God. This is, of course, precisely what the Bible teaches:

Rom. 3:23 [F]or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.

With respect to their merit, with respect to their personal righteousness, all men are put in the same category by the apostle: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” How, then, are sinners justified? How, then, are sinners declared righteous? The sinner is justified, in spite of his lack of merit, in spite of his condemnation, by God's grace wherein God supplies the needed righteousness in His Son and accepts what is supplied in His Son on the sinner's behalf. In justification, both the justice and the mercy of God are maintained and wonderfully displayed. His justice is upheld in the perfect life and substitutionary death of His Son for sinners; and God's mercy is extended when He credits to the condemned sinner that perfect life and substitutionary death.

Earlier, I asked: What righteousness is the ground for the sinner's justification? It is the righteousness of Jesus Christ; His perfect obedience is given to the sinner, as it were, and His death on the cross is accepted by the Father as payment for the sinner's debt. Paul's personal testimony in Phil. 3 is instructive. In this chapter, the apostle writes about his many accomplishments and zeal as a Jew prior to his coming to the knowledge of Christ. Paul certainly excelled in the matter of keeping the Law for self-justification; but his conversion brought a new perspective. This perspective is explained in these words:

7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, 9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.

What is it that Paul is rejecting and what is it that Paul is embracing? The apostle is rejecting the idea of self-justification, the idea of achieving a righteousness on the basis of keeping the Law of God, the very idea that had governed much of his life. Paul is rejecting the notion that the sinner can merit God's declaration of justification; Paul is dismissing as erroneous the doctrine that God's pardon and God's acceptance can be earned through the efforts of the sinner. If ever a man were to earn God's pardon and acceptance, Paul seems to be saying, then I am that man. But, he came to understand that this is not the way a sinner gains that righteousness that he lacks.

On the contrary, the apostle is embracing the idea, the doctrine, I should say, that the righteousness that the sinner must have to dwell comfortably with God is not his own, but is a righteousness of Another, namely, Jesus Christ; and this righteousness comes from God who gives it to those who place their faith in the finished work of His Son. Paul is teaching that even though the sinner cannot win God's favor, God Himself gives what the sinner lacks and accepts what He gives as the sinner's own. Paul is saying that all of his almost super-human efforts at perfecting the life of a Pharisee amounted to so much rubbish and were fit only to be discarded.

Paul could say such things once he realized that God requires absolute, complete and permanent perfection, not just a “good try” or a “noble attempt.” Those who “try” to be righteous don't dwell with God; those who make a “noble attempt” to keep His Law are not accepted by Him. Sin stains such efforts and only when that sin is paid for and only when that sinner has on his account a balance that indicates complete righteousness, can the sinner know peace and freedom from that awful sentence imposed upon him by his Creator and Judge.

To be justified in the sight of God, the sinner, who has been justly condemned, must have a righteousness that meets every one of the requirements indicated in God's holy Law; the sinner's only hope is a gift of righteousness that will be counted as his own in the eyes of God. This is what happens in justification.

I mentioned under the first point that in the act of justification, God declares the sinner pardoned and righteous; He does so, not on the basis of the sinner's merit, but in regard to a righteousness that is “outside” the sinner. As we have seen, this is necessary if the sinner is to be declared acceptable before God for the sinner is in a state of condemnation and has no righteousness of his own. God has respect only for the work of Christ. The sinner is pardoned based upon Christ's atonement and the sinner is declared righteous based upon the perfect life of Christ. In both cases, God imputes, or credits to, the sinner what Christ provided. The ground of our justification, therefore, is the finished work of Jesus Christ.

One other matter which must be covered under this second point is how the righteousness of Jesus Christ, which God imputes to the sinner, is apprehended. Thus far, we've studied those matters in justification that are objective to the sinner. The declaration of God is objective; the righteousness that is the ground of our justification is objective to the sinner. The appropriation of justification, however, involves the sinner's response. As has been stated before, we are justified by faith. This faith is not faith in the justifying act, but is faith directed toward Christ; it is accepting, receiving and resting upon Christ alone for salvation.

In Gal. 2:16, we read: “[We know that] a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.” Faith is the instrument of justification; that is, faith, or belief of what God says about Christ and our redemption in the Scriptures, is what brings together the sinner and his Savior. In response to the desperate cry of the Philippian jailer, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”, Paul and Silas gave the answer so familiar to us: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household.” This is the common refrain of the New Testament as the gospel was being preached to every creature under heaven. Sinners were called to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, to trust in His provision for their salvation, to receive and rest upon Him and Him alone for their redemption. Faith in Christ is, once again, the instrument whereby the sinner apprehends justification.

A few verses later, Paul illustrates the nature of saving faith in Gal. 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.” Paul believed that Christ was his Substitute; Christ died and Paul viewed that death as his own. Christ was raised from the dead and Paul viewed that resurrection as his own; the apostle even saw his life on earth as an extension of the resurrected Savior's life. Paul's faith in Christ meant the extinction of his own efforts to justify himself before God; it meant that he had no identify apart from Christ because Christ had delivered him from eternal death.

Before considering some application, it is appropriate to ask why faith, and not repentance, for example, is the instrument of justification. The answer is that faith alone bears the quality and function of resting completely upon Another; faith corresponds to the character of justification. The only ground of our acceptance with God is the finished work of Christ. Faith is believing that this is true; faith is trusting this truth for our salvation. We hold to the doctrine of justification by faith alone. We deny that justification is apprehended by any means other than the Spirit-generated exercise of belief and trust in the completed work of the Savior.


In the application, I want to return to a thought mentioned earlier. In light of what we have learned about the ground of our justification, I want us to think in greater detail on the notion that in the act of justification, we have a wonderful expression both of God's absolute justice and His incredible mercy. The justice of God and the mercy of God meet in the doctrine of justification; or, I could say, the justice and mercy of God meet in the Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ.

God is a God of truth and uprightness; He operates according to His character and His character is thoroughly holy. Anything that is out of accord with the character of God is unacceptable to Him. God's holy character does not allow Him to tolerate, overlook or ignore that which is contrary to His disposition. And because God is God, His disposition is the standard of morality. Fallen human beings, therefore, have an immediate problem. They are constituted as violators of God's standard; by their behavior, they prove themselves to be incapable of maintaining that standard. What must happen in such a situation? Fallen man's failure to meet the standard established by God's character leaves him subject to the demands of God's justice. God's justice is that element in His being that requires satisfaction for every infraction of that code which His own character requires.

These truths are not good news for us. The payment for those many infractions was ours to make. Can you even begin to imagine the staggering debt which we owed because we are sinners? God's justice would not be satisfied short of recompense for our many transgressions; and the only recompense we could make was eternal death. Death, being the wages of sin, was unavoidably our destiny; eternal death, in fact, awaited us due to the magnitude of our sins in the eyes of a sinless Creator. This was our lot, this was our position before God. Not a man, woman or child could hope to escape the payment due. God's immutable character guaranteed that the end of sin, the end of rebellion against Him, would be an equitable and full payment.

Make sure that you understand that what I'm saying was true of your personally. Too often we read of sin and its horrible consequences in the Bible and fail to take those statements personally; too often we study those passages that describe our lost condition and insulate ourselves with a group mentality that lets us escape the individual and personal implications. Do you have the ability, even this morning, to drop your hands to your side and stand still while the Law of God is read without wincing as those holy commandments ring out? You and I stood condemned before God with no way, no hope, no plan of escape; you and I were rightly judged for the guilt we inherited from Adam and rightly judged for the guilt of our own transgressions. We could not raise a voice of protest and complain that God had erred; we could not make an appeal to another Judge. The justice of God guaranteed that you and I would face an eternity of separation from God in unending torment.

Into this frightening picture comes One who knew no sin, One who was pure and holy and blameless. And the satisfaction demanded by the justice of God is extracted from Him; and the deafening accusation of the Law is made to fall on His ears; and the terrifying wrath of heaven is poured out upon that sacred head; and the darkness of eternal death becomes His grave. This One is despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And like One from whom men hide their face, this One is despised and He is not esteemed. This One bears our grief and carries our sorrows. This One is pierced through for our transgressions and is crushed for our iniquities. (cf. Isa. 53:2 ff.)

The testimony of Scripture is that the Son of God emptied Himself and took the form of a bondservant and was made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, this Savior humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death. When He was hanging upon that cruel cross, He uttered the words, “It is finished.” There, on a hill outside the city of Jerusalem, as some mocked and others wept, as the sky grew dark and the earth trembled, the justice of God found its unavoidable satisfaction. The life, the suffering and finally the death of Jesus Christ answered the demands of God's character.

And then there was peace. Our freedom was purchased by the innocent One who took our place. We who stood condemned were given life in the place of death; we were given an eternity of blessedness with God instead of an eternity of damnation. Those who deserved death were pardoned.

Here, then, is the wonderful, astounding and humbling mercy of God. He did not require you to pay for your sin. He did not require you to face the unavoidable satisfaction of His justice. He spared you, He freed you, He extracted from His own Son what you owed and welcomed you into His arms. Surely we see how the justice of God is present in the doctrine of justification; let us see just as clearly that the undeserved mercy of our heavenly Father also is portrayed in the doctrine of justification. And let us meditate on this truth, let us rejoice in it, and let us give unceasing thanks to God for it.

Conclusion (preparation for the Lord's Supper)

The sacrament that we are about to receive displays the meeting of God's justice and mercy before us in a way that aids our understanding and builds our faith. This sacrament is a demonstration of what I've just said, it is a demonstration of God's justice and God's mercy. In this sacrament we commemorate the satisfaction of God's justice in our Savior and we commemorate the granting of God's mercy to those who deserved what the Savior received. As you receive these elements, offer a prayer of thanksgiving; consider the sin that remains in you and abandon it.

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
  11. Justification (pt. 1)

1 posted on 02/10/2004 6:31:39 AM PST by sheltonmac
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To: drstevej; OrthodoxPresbyterian; CCWoody; Wrigley; Gamecock; Jean Chauvin; jboot; jude24; ...
2 posted on 02/10/2004 6:34:44 AM PST by sheltonmac
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To: sheltonmac
archived as usual for later reading. thanks for posting!!
3 posted on 02/10/2004 7:03:07 AM PST by Frumanchu (semper ubis sub ubis)
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To: sheltonmac
You say or rather the article says "those who make a “noble attempt” to keep His Law are not accepted by Him."

Can you explain:
1 John 3
4 Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.

Romans 6
1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?
2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
14 For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.
15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.
23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Also, please explain this in reference to God's ten commandments.
James 2
8 If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:
9 But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.
10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.
11 For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.
12 So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.
17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

Romans 13
8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.
9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Matthew 19
17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

Revelation 22
14 Blessed are they that do his "commandments", that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.

Revelation 14
12 Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the "commandments" of God, and the faith of Jesus.
13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their "works" do follow them.

4 posted on 02/10/2004 7:22:23 AM PST by Jimmy Simon
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To: Jimmy Simon
Here's the full context of that statement:
Paul could say such things once he realized that God requires absolute, complete and permanent perfection, not just a “good try” or a “noble attempt.” Those who “try” to be righteous don't dwell with God; those who make a “noble attempt” to keep His Law are not accepted by Him. Sin stains such efforts and only when that sin is paid for and only when that sinner has on his account a balance that indicates complete righteousness, can the sinner know peace and freedom from that awful sentence imposed upon him by his Creator and Judge.

To be justified in the sight of God, the sinner, who has been justly condemned, must have a righteousness that meets every one of the requirements indicated in God's holy Law; the sinner's only hope is a gift of righteousness that will be counted as his own in the eyes of God. This is what happens in justification.

His is pointing out the fact that in order to be acceptable to God, we must be perfectly righteous. Because of our fallen nature, however, this is impossible - even if we make a "noble attempt" to keep the law. That's why we need Christ's righteousness. If we are covered by the blood of Christ, then his righteousness is credited to us, making us acceptable to God.

Remember, he is only focusing on the topic of justification in this sermon. He may address the other issues in later sermons.

5 posted on 02/10/2004 8:20:25 AM PST by sheltonmac
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