Today we pick up again our series on Gospel Convergence concerning the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith; each week I will reflect on a chapter of the Confession. I would encourage you to pick up a copy of the confession and read along with me.
Justification – almost every time I hear this word used it is then defined as ‘Just-as-if-you-had-never-sinned’. In some respects this is a helpful way to think about it, but in other respects it is woefully inadequate. So what is justification, and what is it not?
The Confession begins to build a multifaceted picture by asserting that justification is: freely given by God, a pardoning/overlooking of sins, an accounting and accepting (on God’s part) of people as righteous, of Jesus Christ due to his obedience to and fulfilling of the Law, and the imputing of the righteousness of Christ to people. In other words, because of what Jesus has done individuals can be declared right before God. On the other hand it claims that justification is not: infused into people by God, earned by people through anything they do, and caused by faith, belief or obedience in any respect (pg. 62). In other words it is a gift of God.
What we find then, is that the concept of justification is a much richer tapestry than ‘Just-as-if-you-had-never-sinned’. The Confession is able to mention all of the subtle nuances while keeping the central thread of justification.
As Paul asserts, so agrees the Confession; ‘one is justified by faith’ (Rom. 3:28). However, have we not just noted that the Confession claims that justification is not caused by faith? Yes we have, but as it clarifies, faith alone is the ‘instrument of justification’ (pg. 62-63). Faith is receiving and resting on Jesus and his righteousness – therefore justification remains something achieved by Jesus alone, but applied to individuals by the instrument of faith.
The evidence that this has taken place is then displayed in that faith is never found alone – it is always accompanied by ‘all other saving graces’ (pg. 63). Faith is the instrument by which we receive and rest on Jesus’ righteousness; this in turn leads to a new life demonstrated by the exercising of all other saving graces.
Therefore, as the Confession proceeds to clarify, justification is not because of faith but rather is found in Jesus Christ. By his obedience and death Jesus has discharged the debt which lay against those who are justified. By his sacrifice and shedding of blood Jesus endured the justified person’s penalty, thus making a proper, real and full satisfaction of God’s justice. So, justification is in Christ – freely given by grace, executing full justice and ultimately for the glorification of God’s name.
Justification is not ‘Just-as-if-you-had-never-sinned’ – it is ‘even though you are a sinner, the perfect Jesus has won salvation for you and gifted it to you’. And so you are now declared right before God.
At a particular Time, and for all Time
Justification, according to the Confession, then takes place at a particular time and for all time.
Even though, as we noted a couple of weeks ago (Effectual Calling), God has chosen and predestined those whom he will glorify (Rom. 8:29-30) his people are not justified personally ‘until the Holy Spirit doth in due time actually apply Christ unto them’ (pg. 64). In other words, there is a particular time in history at which individuals are justified – otherwise known as conversion.
Yet, justification is not constrained to the temporal. It is for all time; although justified individuals may ‘fall under God’s fatherly displeasure’ they can never ‘fall from the state of justification’ (pg. 64). This is something we will return to in future weeks, and so we won’t dwell on it here. However, suffice to say that once justified, always justified. Indeed, the Confession closes this chapter by suggesting that the Old Testament believers are justified in all respects with the same justification as New Testament believers (pg. 64).
The book of Galatians is a great rallying cry from Paul for the churches of Galatia to hold tight to this doctrine of justification as presented in the gospel he preached to them. At the heart of the letter Paul reminds them that:
No one can justify themselves, nothing we do can make us right before God. Rather, it is by faith, in Jesus, that we can be declared right before God, by God, in perfect justice. (Gal. 2:16 – my loose paraphrase)