We continue to march through Grudem's Systematic Theology and today we come to a topic of highest importance, justification. Why is it of the highest importance? Because a right understanding of justification is the difference between Heaven and Hell. And this is why.
God created us for His purpose, which was to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. Love then produces obedience. Unfortunately, because of the Fall, we are all sinners and we naturally do not our Creator, but love created things instead, therefore we do not obey, we transgress. Therefore, all humanity is guilty before God in that we have rebelled against His purpose, and instead pursue our own purpose. God will not allow this rebellion to go unpunished. He is a good Judge, and good judges hold the guilty accountable. This is the essence of justice. This is a problem, for the punishment for rebelling against an eternal God is eternal punishment, otherwise known as Hell.
So how can we, sinners, stand before a just Judge and have any hope to avoid our due and just punishment of Hell? The Apostle Paul said this in Romans 7:24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” There is only one answer to the sin problem, Jesus Christ.
But how does this work? It is through faith? Faith is the means by which we can receive the grace of Christ. In Romans 3:28 it says that “one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” It is through trusting in Jesus' sinless life and his death upon the cross to pay for all of your sins (past, present, and future) that justifies you before God. To be justified is to have a status change. One goes from the status of guilty to the status of not guilty. This is the idea of justification.
Grudem defines justification as follows: “Justification is an instantaneous legal act of God in which he (1) thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ's righteousness as belonging to us, and (2) declares us to be righteous in his sight.”
Therefore, at the moment of repenting and believing in Jesus to save you from your wretchedness, you are, at the moment of faith, not guilty before God our Judge. It is not something that you can earn and it is not something that you have to wait for. It occurs instantaneously. This is why in verse 28 the past tense “justified” is used. It already happened for those with faith in Christ. Later on in Romans 8:1 Paul reinforces this important truth when he states, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Now means now. It does not mean later. When a person is “in Christ” God does not hold our sins against us, for he has already held them against Christ.
Isaiah 53:5 prophecies about the coming Messiah by saying, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” The chastisement that we deserve because of our transgression falls completely and entirely upon Jesus, if...and this is the key...if you have faith. Therefore we can described the cross as the FINISHED WORK OF CHRIST, and what is left for us is to accept it by faith alone.