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Justification: God, the Divine Arbiter
If you would, please take out your Bibles and turn in them in the New Testament to the book of Galatians, chapter 2. If you don’t have a Bible with you, there should be one under a chair in front of you, and you can turn in that Bible in the back portion to page 148, and you would find yourself at Galatians 2.
Now I know that for many of us, we have one hour less of sleep
[due to daylight saving time]
than we might normally have. But despite that, I want to start with a question today, and that question is this…Where were you in 1977? Think about that. Where were you in 1977? Now some of you are saying “I wasn’t born in 1977.” So I understand that. But you’ll know what I’m talking about.
It was in 1977 that the very first Star Wars movie came out. Amazing, isn’t it? And then three years later, in 1980, the second movie, The Empire Strikes Back, came out. And then three years after that, the third movie came out in 1983, The Return of the Jedi. And it would be some decade and a half later before anymore of the series came out.
I can remember those first movies that came out and how intriguing and captivating and exciting they were. And now there is a whole new generation learning about them. Aiden, my 6-year-old grandson, is very much into the Star Wars thing and Jedi knights and all of that. And I remember it was a few years back where they chose to release that original trilogy of movies in a set of DVDs, and their advertising line with that was this: “See it again for the first time.”
And in some ways that spirit reminds me of the series we’re involved in right now when we’re looking at Our Great Salvation. And we’ve been looking at the fact that as sunlight goes through a prism and it refracts colors that tell us the elements that make up light, so our great salvation, when it goes through the lens of Scripture refracts out elements and concepts of salvation. And those elements would include things like redemption and propitiation and reconciliation and justification and imputation.
Now for some of us, those elements are very, very new. We maybe haven’t ever heard them broken out before. For some of us, we have seen them before and if you have, I just want you to think about approaching this little series along the spirit of “See it again for the first time.” Because the things and the elements we’re looking at in our great salvation are truly intriguing and captivating and exciting. In fact, I’m very, very excited about what we’re going to cover today.
We’ve so far looked at redemption. Remember that? Where we see God as the Divine Emancipator where He purchases us out of the slave market of sin. How did He do that? He purchased us through the Cross. And then we’ve looked at propitiation when we see God as the Divine Provider, and He provides the full satisfaction required of God’s wrath that was demanded by His holiness and His righteousness. And how did He do that? He did that through the Cross. And then we’ve looked at reconciliation when we see God as the Divine Restorer. And He responded to our estrangement and alienation and separation from Him, and He moves to remove the hostility that comes from our rebellion and restore the harmony of a relationship with the living God. And how did He do that? He did that through the Cross.
And so today we come to another element of our great salvation. And this is the element of justification. And here we’re going to see today God, the Divine Arbiter. And you say, “What do you mean by arbiter?” Well we’re going to define that as we go through our morning. But we have our Bibles open to Galatians, chapter 2. And what I want to do this morning is read, as we begin, from verse 16. Now verse 16, just so you know, is the only verse in all of the New Testament where the words for justification and justify occur three times in one verse. This is the only place it happens.
So notice what Paul writes in verse 16. You can follow along in your Bible as I read this. He writes, “Nevertheless knowing 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, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.”
There is an age-old question that was uttered way back in around 2000 BC by a guy named Job, and you can see that in Job 9:2. Here’s the question…”How can a man be righteous before God?” And that question gets at the very heart of what justification is all about. I want to remind you that this subject matter of justification was at the center of the Great Reformation. So we’re going to go back over some of the passages that fed the Great Reformation. What does it mean to be justified?
Now the plan of attack we have for today as we look at justification involves four things.
First of all, we’re going to look at the common idea of what it means to justify. We will hear that word actually used in our culture. The second thing we want to look at is the biblical idea of what it means to justify. And then the third thing we’re going to look at is the anatomy of justification. We’re going to take it apart and look at some of the elements of it. And then we’re going to conclude with the reality of justification.
And I want you to know the reality of justification is awesome. In fact just anticipating it gives me goose bumps [bumps on arms]. So we’re going to look at the common idea of what it means to justify, the biblical idea, the anatomy of justification and then we’re going to celebrate the reality of justification as we close today.
So let’s begin by looking at…
1. The common idea. When you’re at school or you’re at your job, you might hear the word justify. How would you hear that? What context would it be in? And I want you to give me some feedback. If you’re going to hear the word outside of a church context, a theology context, if you’re going to hear the word justify, where might you hear it and how would it be used? Somebody tell me.
Okay, in court. That’s exactly right. What other ways might you hear that term justify? When you’re trying to reconcile with someone. Yeah. How about the idea of justifying your text in word processing, right? Or here’s another way we might hear justify. Someone wanted to justify their actions. How about that? Or how about the little phrase we’ve all heard over the years?”The end does not always justify the means.” Right? All those are ways we may hear that word.
And let’s just understand the English concept for a moment. If you were going to look it up in an English dictionary, one meaning of the word justify is to properly align or space. That’s this word processing idea where we justify the words to the right or we justify the words to the left. And when we do that, we want them to be straight, right? From top to bottom.
And then there is another basic definition in English of to justify and that means to vindicate as warranted or as useful. And we may hear the word used in this way: “Oh he just tried to justifyhis rude behavior to the teacher. He wanted to vindicate as warranted what he did when he was rude. There was a reason why he did that.” Or you might hear it used in this way: “That cat justifies its existence by catching mice. It vindicates itself as being useful because it catches mice.” Now that’s the English idea of the common idea we have.
And there are some parallels in the biblical idea with that. There are some parallels behind the idea of vindicating. There are some parallels behind the idea of lining up straight from top to bottom. But as we transition into looking at the biblical idea, I want you to understand this. There are some heavily distinct elements in the biblical idea of justification compared to the common idea in our day.
So let’s begin looking at…
2. The biblical idea of justification by looking at the main verb. And the main verb is the verb dikaioo in the original language. It’s d-i-k-a-i-o-o with a long mark over the second o…dikaioo. And it means to pronounce righteous. It can also mean the idea of to vindicate as right, but the primary meaning of the word, the core meaning is to pronounce righteous.
I want you to turn with me to the Gospel of Luke, chapter 16. And what we see here is a non-salvation context. We see the use of the word dikaioo used in a non-salvation environment. Now look at Luke 16, verse 14. It says, “Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things [talking about what Jesus was teaching] and were scoffing at Him.” And so Jesus says to the Pharisees, verse 15, “You are those who [dikaioo] justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts.”
So let’s take the core meaning of the word and we’ll just translate it in here. “You are those who declare yourselves righteous in the sight of men, but God knows your heart.” You see that’s the core idea of the word…to declare or pronounce yourself as righteous. By the way, this is a legal term. Dikaioo is a legal term. It was used of making a legal declaration. It was used of pronouncing a formal ruling. And in order for us to get a good handle on the biblical idea, I want to give you a definition of justification. Here’s the definition of justification: a judicial pronouncement of God by which a sinner is declared righteous on the basis of Christ’s work on the Cross. That’s what justification means biblically. It is a judicial pronouncement of God by which a sinner is declared righteous on the basis of Christ’s work on the Cross.
Now when I was growing up over the years, and I was in and out of several different churches, I don’t know where I first heard it, but I heard this little, sort of, definition you can have in English that’s a play off [definition based on sound of the word] of the word justification. And it would say this. “What is justification? Well justification means just as if I never sinned.” How many people have ever heard that definition? Yeah, quite a few of you have. “Just as if I never sinned.” You know, like, “I’ve been pardoned.”
But I want you to understand this, biblically. Justification is way more than “just as if I had never sinned.” If you can imagine I committed robbery, and I was convicted of committing robbery and later on, I was pardoned. My slate was wiped clean. Even in that case, in one sense, I’m still a criminal. I’m just a pardoned criminal.
Now let me illustrate this for you. Now most of you don’t know this, but my right hand here…I haven’t washed it for a week, and I’ve been busily shaking many of your hands as you came in, all right? And some of you are thinking, Yuck. He hasn’t washed his hand for a week and I was shaking… Listen, I’m really just kidding there. I haven’t done that. But then again I have been shaking hands with a lot of you, and I don’t know whether you were washing your hands or not.
But what I want you to do for this illustration is just imagine that, indeed, my right hand here that I’m holding up is truly dirty. And I want you to imagine that this hand is symbolic of me. This really is me here. And as I trust Christ, part of what God does for me is He cleanses me. He cleanses my hand. You say, “Well, isn’t that what justification is?”Oh no! It’s far more than that. It’s far more than having a hand that’s been cleansed.
The idea of justification is that when God now looks at my life as I take this white cloth and put it over my hand, this is what He sees. And the white cloth stands for the righteousness of God. That’s really what justification means. It means that when we are declared righteous, what God sees when He looks at you and me is the very righteousness of Christ.
In Philippians 3:9, it says this, that we have a righteousness that’s not our own, derived from the Law, but we have a righteousness that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness of God. That’s what is now on our lives. Second Corinthians 5:21. God made Jesus, “who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Do you see the idea? When you have justification, we have now a totally new legal standing before God. It’s way more than some neutral position. When He looks at your life and my life, because we’ve been declared righteous, He sees the righteousness of Christ.
Now that just leads us to the next thing we want to look at, which is…
3. The anatomy of justification. We want to take it apart. We want to see parts of what puts the whole concept together and in order to do that, we need to turn to the book of justification in the New Testament, which is the book of Romans. So turn with me to Romans, chapter 3. Romans is all about the concept of justification. And I want you to see again in Romans, chapter 3, verse 10, what our predicament was apart from Christ.
Verse 10 says, “‘There is none righteous, not even one.'” You want to talk about the righteousness we need? None of us measures up. No one measures up. In fact the situation is so dire, if you look down in verse 19, he says, “Whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law…” It really ends up condemning us. “…so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God.”
Listen. When it comes to what we need, in terms of righteousness, we have no defense. There is not even any debating about it. We are in a judicial dilemma apart from Christ. And what’s the reason why? Well look at verse 20. “Because by the works of the Law [doing good things and obeying the Law] no flesh will be justified [declared righteous] in His sight.” That’s a problem. It’s saying we cannot earn the legal declaration of righteousness. We cannot do it.
In fact in verse 23, notice what it goes on to say there. It says, we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” I mean we’re just here. We’ve come up totally short, and there is no defense. There is no debate about it. And not only that, we earned something because of that. Romans 6:23 says we’ve earned death. If you were back in the early 70’s, you might hear someone in California go, “Whoa! That’s heavy, dude.” And it’s true. That’s our dire situation.
But I want you to see there is good news. It begins in verse 24, “Being justified [declared righteous] as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.” Now do you notice, in those verses there, the intertwining of some of these elements of salvation? It mentions justification. It mentions redemption. It mentions propitiation. It’s because they’re not stand-alone elements, but taken together, you see, they make up our great salvation. And the good news is that we can be declared righteous as a gift by His grace.
So what I want to do, as we look at justification, we’re going to break it down a little bit, all right? So first of all, we are justified by God. Now this becomes vitally critical. We are declared righteous by God. Romans 8:3 says that God is the One who justifies. He is the One who declares righteous. He is the Divine Arbiter.
And you say, “What’s an arbiter?” An arbiter is one who is empowered to judge. An arbiter is one who is empowered to pronounce a formal, legal opinion. An arbiter is one who is empowered to give a judicial ruling. And we go back to our definition of justification. It is a judicial pronouncement of God by which a sinner is declared righteous on the basis of Christ’s work on the Cross.
How are we to understand justification? Well we are first justified by God. And we’re going to see later, when we look at the reality of this, that’s awesome. Secondly, we are justified, declared righteous, by grace. You see that right there in verse 24 of Romans 3, “…being justified [declared righteous] as a gift (as it says in the New American Standard, or freely, as it says in the NIV and the New King James) by His grace.” We are declared righteous as a gift, or freely, by His grace.
What is grace? Grace in the Bible simply communicates unmerited favor. It means we didn’t deserve it. We did not deserve it. We are declared righteous by grace and that is, as it says in verse 24, as a gift, or as some other translations say, freely. That little word that’s translated as a gift or freely is the word dorean in the original, d-o-r-e-a-n. Dorean means freely or undeservedly or amazingly, without reason. Dorean is used in John 15:25, when Jesus says, “They hated me dorean.” They hated me without a cause. They hated me without a reason.
And that’s the way we are declared righteous. We didn’t deserve it. We didn’t earn it. In fact it was without a reason. It wasn’t because I was so wonderful. It wasn’t because you were so wonderful. It was unmerited. It was unearned. It was without reason. It was only because He loved you that He did it. So how are we… When we’re justified, we’re justified by God. We are justified by grace. And then, third, we are justified, declared righteous, by faith. And this became the key element, by the way, of the Reformation.
Look at Romans, chapter 3, and verse 28. He says, “For we maintain that a man is justified [declared righteous legally] by faith apart from works of the Law.” The thrust here is no one is justified by works of the Law. We are declared righteous by faith. And if you know the story of the Reformation, you’ll know that one of the cries of the Reformation was “Justification by faith alone.” By faith alone. And you say, “Well why did they add the word alone?”
Well you have to understand that, in that day, the organized church said we are justified, declared righteous by faith, yes, but also by works. The church of the day taught that we are declared righteous, justified, by faith plus by works. But what does the Bible really say? I want us to go back to that verse we read at the very beginning. Remember, the only one that mentions justification three times. Galatians, chapter 2, verse 16, where it appears three times and what I want you to notice, these are the passages that fueled the Reformation because they’re so clear.
And I want you to notice in Galatians 2:16, I want you to notice again the repetition here. “Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified [not declared righteous] by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified [declared righteous] by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be [declared righteous].” Do you see the thrust? We are justified, declared righteous, by faith alone, not faith plus the good things we do.
Turn with me a little bit to the right, several books to the right, to the book of Titus, chapter 3. And in Titus 3, we see this same thing being emphasized. Titus 3, verses 5 to 7. It says that God saved us. Notice how clear this is, “…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.” Now notice verse 7, “So that being justified [declared righteous] by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
Now it’s important we understand this because there is a lot of misunderstanding that goes on in the Christian world about faith. Faith is not magical. There is nothing magical about faith. Faith is only as good as the object in which it is placed. For example, let’s say I know an airline pilot. This airline pilot doesn’t take care of himself. He often is up all night. He gets blind drunk every single night, but I decide I’m going to have faith in him to fly me someplace. On the other hand, let’s think about another pilot whom I may know and I know he takes care of himself. He always gets all of his rest. He’s never getting bombed out of his mind, and he’s going to fly me and I have faith in him. There is nothing magical in the faith; it’s the trust you put in something. It’s all about the object of the faith.
We are justified, declared righteous, by God, by grace, by faith and then, fourth, we are justified, declared righteous, by blood. Turn back with me to the book of Romans, chapter 5, where it mentions this in verses 8 and 9. I don’t know about you, but I find this stuff overwhelmingly captivating and exciting. Romans 5: 8 says that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Now notice verse 9, “Much more then, having now been justified [declared righteous] by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.”
How are we declared righteous? By blood. How did that come about? We’re back to the Cross again. How did God declare Bruce Alfred Hess righteous? And I’m talking about the one who was born in Montgomery, Alabama. I’m talking about the Bruce Alfred Hess who said and did and thought…and we could make a long list of those things. How did He declare Bruce Alfred Hess righteous? He did it by the blood of Christ. Now I don’t know about you, but that’s worth getting excited about. That is worth getting excited about.
Now oftentimes people at this point are saying, “Wait a minute now. I’m a little confused about this. I don’t quite understand this. You’re saying if I’ve trusted in Christ’s death on the Cross for me that He pronounced me legally righteous with His righteousness. Yet I know my own life. There are still things I do and say and think that are not righteous. So how does all of that work?”
Well even when we think and say and do things that are not righteous, that does not change the legal declaration of the Divine Arbiter. When He looks at us, even when we think and say and do things that are not righteous, what does He see? As I hold up my hand again with this cloth, representing His righteousness, here’s what He sees. He sees the righteousness of Christ.
See a lot of people don’t understand some of these biblical terms. Do you know that justification in the Bible is a declaration that is made? There is another word. It’s the word sanctification. And sanctification is not a declaration; it is a process, you see. Justification is a declaration that we are righteous. Sanctification is the process. This is what the Christian life is all about, where we go through the process of becoming…listen here…what we’ve already been declared to be. See that part is sanctification, but this is justification.
And so here’s the idea. When you turn to Christ by faith, when you trust in His death on the Cross, the Divine Arbiter declares us righteous with the righteousness of Christ. But I want you to see the last thing we need to look at today and that is the reality of this. This is what gets me excited…
4. The reality of our justification. Look at Romans, chapter 5 and look at verse 1. It says, “Therefore, having been justified [declared righteous] by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Now just think about this. When you fail to live correctly, if you think your standing before God is in jeopardy, what’s going to happen when you fail to live correctly? You’re going to start to have some anxiety because your standing before God could be in jeopardy. And in fact if you live incorrectly long enough, then you’re going to start to fear what? Some rejection and possibly some judgment. In fact you could become a nervous wreck. We don’t have to be because the Divine Arbiter declared us righteous.
Look at verse 2. He says, “Through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.” That’s incredible reality! We can just rejoice in all of this. And by the way, this picks up full steam in Romans, chapter 8. I want to go over to Romans, chapter 8, for a few moments, because the whole idea of the reality of justification just gets to be almost an avalanche of incredible truth.
And in Romans, chapter 8, what you have in the last part of the chapter is a whole series of arresting questions that are thrown out. And I want you to look at verse 30 of Romans 8. It says, “And these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also (What does it say?) justified [He also declared them righteous]; and these whom He [declared righteous], He also glorified.
Then notice verse 31. Here’s the first question then. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” If the Sovereign Ruler of the universe ruled in my favor and declared His declaration that He sees me as righteous, who can be against us if God is for us? By the way, it would be good to put your own name in there. If God is for Bruce, who can be against me? And the questions get even more powerful if you look down in verse 33, “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies [who declares righteous].” I mean who is going to overrule the sovereign declaration of the King of the universe? Nobody.
Verse 34, “Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.” Who is going to condemn you when you’ve been declared righteous by the King of the universe, the divine Arbiter? Is God going to condemn one who He has legally declared to be righteous?
What if someone wants to get to us? What do they have to go through? They have to go through Christ. He’s actually interceding for us, representing us. Think about that for a moment. If someone wants to condemn you, they have to go through Him. They have to get past Christ Jesus in order to condemn you, and if you want to know what He’s like, just go to Revelation, chapter 19, and look at what the resurrected Christ is really like. They have to get past Him in order to condemn you and that isn’t happening.
Verse 35, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” Well none of the difficulties of life can ever do that. He has declared us righteous. And by the way, Paul experienced what he was talking about in verse 35. He’s not just giving theory there.
“Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” Verse 38, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I mean what he’s saying is this. When God has declared us righteous, time is irrelevant. God’s declarations go beyond time. He’s saying there are no spiritual foes who can undo what God has done when He has declared us righteous. He’s saying there are no earthly powers that can stand up and refute God’s declarations. There are no cosmic alien forces out there that are going to overrule what God has declared. There is nothing in any of the unknown parts of the universe. There is nothing that resides in heaven or hell or anywhere that can nullify the legal pronouncement of God whereby we are declared righteous.
What does this all mean? Well it means, men and women, that when we make the life decision to trust in the work of Christ on the Cross, we are declared by God Himself to be righteous. And when He sees you or sees me, as I hold up my hand again with the cloth, this is what He sees, the righteousness of Christ.
You know, when I’m teaching through this, as we have today, I really think, What more is there to say? When I look fully in the face of this, really what I want to say to you is, I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to see these things again for the first time. I greatly, greatly appreciate it. And what I want to do today is a little bit of a detour, but I don’t want to end the normal way we would end. As we would normally talk about some life application and we would normally…we had planned to finish with a song, but I just want to close by praying and just have us leave today in a spirit of worship.
So let’s just pray together: Father, really, what more can we say? I mean we are humbled when we look at the fact that by grace and without really any reason, and by faith and by Your blood, You, when we trusted in You, declared us to be righteous. And all we can say is we are grateful for that. We thank You. And it makes us, it motivates us to want to present our lives to You as a living sacrifice of gratitude. And as Paul says in Romans 12, that is our spiritual service of worship, which really ultimately means it’s the only reasonable thing we can do in light of the declaration You have made for us.
And we would pray that we would remember, as we go through our week, the importance of, by Your power, by the energizing of the Holy Spirit, we would pray that we would become more of what we’ve already been declared to be and that is to be righteous with the righteousness of Christ. Thank You for the great privilege of knowing the living God. And we pray these things in Jesus’ name, Amen.
We thank you again for coming today. We just pray you would leave worshipfully, thanking Him for all He’s done for you. You have a great week.