How Are Men Justified – Works Or Atonement – Spiritual Reading

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How Are Men Justified – Works Or Atonement – Spiritual Reading.

In general there are two opposing views of justification: one that men are justified by their own works, i.e., on the ground of something which they do themselves. This view may be variously expressed.

The good works that men speak of as a ground of their justification may be their good moral conduct, or their keeping the Golden Rule, or something of that sort. Or they may be works of religion, such as doing penance, saying prayers, joining the church, going to church, being baptised, or partaking of the Lord’s Supper, or the performance of some other religious duties.

But these all amount to the same thing: it is something that we ourselves do that brings justification, some works of our own, some works that we do, are taken as the ground of our justification.

The other view of justification is that we are justified, not by our own works in any sense, but entirely by the work of another, i.e., by the atoning death of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary, that our own works have nothing to do with our justification, but that we are justified entirely by Christ’s finished and complete work of atonement, by His death for us on the Cross, and that all that we have to do with our justification is merely to appropriate it to ourselves by simply trusting in Him who made the atonement. Which is the correct view? We shall go directly to the Bible for the answer to this all-important question.

1. The first part of the answer we will find in:

Rom. 3:20, “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for through the law cometh the knowledge of sin.” It is here very plainly stated that we are not justified by keeping the law of God, either the Mosaic law or any other law, and that the law is given, not to bring us justification, but to bring us a knowledge of sin, i.e., to bring us to the realisation of [our need of justification by grace. It is plainly stated here that no man is justified by works of the law.

The same great truth is found in Gal. 2:16: “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, save through faith in Jesus Christ, even we believed on Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” 

Justification by any works of our own is an impossibility. It is an impossibility because to be justified by works of the law, or by anything we can do, we must perfectly keep the law of God. The law demands perfect obedience as a ground of justification. It says, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them.” (Gal. 3:10.).

But not one of us has perfectly kept the law of God, and the moment we break the law of God at any point, justification by works becomes an absolute impossibility. So as far as the law of God is concerned, every one of us is “under the curse,” and if we are justified at all we must find some other way of justification than by keeping the law of God.

God did not give man the law with the expectation or intention that he would keep it and be justified thereby. He gave them the law to produce conviction of sin, to stop men’s mouths, and to lead them to Christ.

Or, as Paul puts it in Rom. 3:19, 20, “Now ye know that what things soever the law saith, it speaketh to them that are under the law; that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may be brought under the judgment of God: because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for through the law cometh the knowledge of sin.” 

As plain as these words of God are, strangely enough there are many to-day who are preaching the law as a way of salvation. But when they so preach they are preaching another way of salvation than that laid down in God’s own word.

2. The second part of the answer to the question as to how we are justified we find in:

 Rom. 3:24. “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” The word translated “freely” in this passage means, as a free gift, and the verse tells us that men are justified as a free gift by God’s grace (i.e., God’s unmerited favour) through (i.e., on the ground of) the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

In other words, justification is not on the ground of any desert there is in us, not on the ground of anything that we have done, we are not justified by our own doing nor by our own character. Justification is a free gift that God bestows absolutely without pay. The channel through which this free gift is bestowed is the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. We shall see later that this means through the purchase price that Christ paid for our redemption, i.e., the shedding of His blood on the cross of Calvary.

3. This leads us to the third part of the answer to the question, how men are justified. We find this third part of the answer in:

Rom. 5:9, “Much more then, being now justified by his blood, shall we be saved from the wrath of God through Him.” 

Here we are told in so many words that we are justified, or counted righteous “by,” or more literally, “in,” Christ’s blood, i.e., on the ground of Christ’s propitiatory death. We were all under the curse of the broken law of God, for we had all broken it, but by dying in our stead on the cross of Calvary our Lord Jesus “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us; for it is written, cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” (Gal. 3:13.)

Or, as Peter puts it in 1 Pet. 2:24, “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body upon the tree.” Or as Paul puts it again in 2 Cor. 5:21, “Him who knew no sin he (God) made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 

We shall have occasion to come back to this passage later. All that I wish you to notice in it at this time is that it is on the ground of Jesus Christ becoming a substitute for us, on the ground of His taking the place we deserved; on the cross, that we are reckoned righteous. The one and only ground of justification is the shed blood of Jesus Christ. 

Of course, this doctrine is entirely different from the teaching of Christian Science, and entirely different from the teaching of much that is called New Theology, and entirely different from the teaching of New Thought and Theosophy, and entirely different from the teaching of Unitarianism, but it is the teaching of the Word of God.

We find this same teaching clearly given by the prophet Isaiah seven hundred years before our Lord was born, in Isaiah 53:6, where he says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord hath laid(literally, made to strike) on him (i.e., on the Lord Jesus) the iniquity of us all.” 

Get this point clearly settled in your mind, that the sole but all-sufficient ground upon which men are justified before God is the shed blood of Jesus Christ, offered by Jesus Christ as an atonement for our sins and accepted by God the Father as an all-sufficient atonement.

4. The fourth part of the answer to the question how men are justified we find in:

Rom. 3:26, “For the showing, I say, of his (i.e., God’s) righteousness at this present season: that he (i.e., God) might himself be just, and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus.” Here we are taught that men are justified on the condition of faith in Jesus.

If possible, Rom. 4:5 makes this even more plain, “But to him that worketh not but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness.” Here the Holy Spirit, speaking through the Apostle Paul, tells us that to those who believe in Jesus their faith is counted for righteousness. In other words, faith makes ours the shed blood which is the ground of justification, and we are justified when we believe.

All men are potentially justified by the death of Christ on the cross, but believers are actually justified by appropriating to themselves what there is of justifying value in the shed blood of Christ by simple faith in Him. In other words, the shed blood of Christ is the sole and all-sufficient ground of justification: simple faith in Jesus Christ who shed the blood is the sole condition of justification. 

God asks nothing else of the sinner than that he should believe on His Son, Jesus Christ, and when he does thus believe he is justified. When we believe we are justified, whether we have any works to offer or not; or, as Paul puts it in Rom. 3:28, “We reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” 

Or, as it is put in the verse already quoted, Rom. 4:5, “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reckoned for righteousness.” A man is justified entirely apart from works of the law, i.e., he is justified on condition that he believes on Jesus Christ, even though he has no works to offer as the ground upon which to claim justification.

When we cease to work for justification and simply “believe on Him who justifieth the ungodly,” that faith is reckoned to us for righteousness, and therefore we are counted righteous. The question then is not, have you any works to offer, but do you believe on Him who justifies the ungodly.

Works have nothing to do with justification except to hinder it when we trust in them. The blood of Jesus Christ secures it, faith in Jesus Christ appropriates it. We are justified not by our works, but by His work. We are justified upon the simple and single ground of His shed blood and upon the simple and single condition of our faith in Him Who shed the blood.

So great is the pride of the natural heart that it is exceedingly difficult to hold men to this doctrine of justification by faith alone apart from works of law. We are constantly seeking to bring in our works somewhere.

5. But we have not as yet completely answered the question of how men are justified:

There is another side to the truth and if our doctrine of justification is to be complete and well-balanced, we must look at that other side. You will find part of this other side in Rom. 10:8, 10, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thy heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved; for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” 

God here tells us that the faith that appropriates justification is a faith with the heart, i.e., a faith that is not a mere notion, or opinion, but a faith that leads to action along the line of that faith, and it is therefore a faith that leads to open confession with the mouth, of Jesus as our Lord.

If some one has some kind of faith, or what he calls faith, that does not lead him to an open confession of Christ, he has a faith that does not justify; for it is not a faith with the heart. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself tells us that heart faith leads to open confession; for He says in Matt.12:34, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” 

Faith in Jesus Christ in the heart leads inevitably to a confession of Jesus as Lord with the mouth, and if you are not confessing Jesus as your Lord with your mouth you have not justifying faith and you are not justified.

6. The rest of the other side of the truth about being justified by faith, you will find in:

Jas. 2:14, 18-24, R. V. “What doth it profit, my brethren, if a man say he hath faith but have not works? Can that faith save him?” 

We see here that a faith that a man merely says he has, but that does not lead to works along the line of that which he claims to believe, cannot justify, but to go on, verses 18-24, “Yea, a man will say, thou hast faith, and I have works, show me thy faith apart from thy works, and I by my works will show thee my faith. Thou believest that God is one; thou doest well: the devils also believe and shudder. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son, upon the altar? Thou seest that faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect (i.e., in the works to which Abraham’s faith led, faith had its perfect manifestation); and the scripture was fulfilled which saith, and Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness; and he was called the friend of God. Ye see that by works a man is justified, and not only by faith.” 

Some see in these words a contradiction between the teaching of James and the teaching of Paul, but there is no contradiction whatever. But James here teaches us an important truth, namely, that the faith that one says he has, but which does not manifest itself in action along the line of the faith professed, will not justify.

The faith that justifies is real faith that leads to action accordant with the truth we profess to believe. It is true that we are justified simply upon faith apart from the works of the law, but it must be a real faith, otherwise it does not justify. As some one has put it, “We are justified by faith without works, but we are not justified by a faith that is without works.”

The faith which God sees and upon which He justifies, leads inevitably to works which men can see. God saw the faith of Abraham the moment Abraham believed, and before there was any opportunity to work, and counted that faith to Abraham for righteousness. But the faith that God saw was a real faith and led Abraham to works that all could see, and these works proved the reality of his faith. The proof to us of the faith is the works, and we know that he that does not work has not justifying faith.

We must not lose sight on the one side of the truth which Paul emphasises against legalism, namely, that we are justified on the single and simple condition of a real faith in Christ; but on the other side we must not lose sight of the truth which James emphasises against antinomianism, namely, that it is only a real faith that proves its genuineness by works, that justifies.

To the legalist who is seeking to do something to merit justification we must say, “Stop working and believe on Him that justifieth the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5). To the antinomian, i.e., to the one who thinks he can live a lawless, careless, unseparated, sinful life and still be justified, the one who boasts that he has faith and is justified by it, but who does not show his faith by his works, we must say, “What doth it profit, if a man say he have faith, but have not works? Can that faith save him?” (Jas. 2:14, R. V.) We are justified by faith alone, but we are not justified by a faith that is alone, but a faith that is accompanied by works.

Excerpt From – The Fundamental Doctrines Of The Christian Faith By Reuben Archer Torrey.


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