A previous post defined Regenration; this post will define Justification.
Justification by Faith
Martin Luther declared that justification by faith alone is the article on which the church stands or falls. The cardinal doctrine of the Protestant Reformation was seen as the battleground for nothing less than the gospel itself. Justification may be defined as the act by which unjust sinners are made right in the sight of a just and holy God. The supreme need of unjust persons is righteousness. It is this lack of righteousness that is supplied by Christ on behalf of the believing sinner. Justification by faith alone means justification by the righteousness or merit of Christ alone, not by our goodness or good deeds.
The issue of justification focuses on the question of merit and grace.
Justification by faith means that the works we do are not good enough to merit justification. As Paul puts it, “By works of the law will no human being be justified in His sight” (Romans 3:20). Justification is forensic. That is, we are declared, counted, or reckoned to be righteous when God imputes the righteousness of Christ to our account. The necessary condition for this is faith.
Why the Reformation?
Protestant theology affirms that faith is the instrumental cause of justification in that faith is the means by which the merits of Christ are appropriated to us. Roman Catholic theology teaches that baptism teaches that baptism is the primary instrumental cause of justification and that the sacrament of penance is the secondary, restorative cause. (Roman Catholic theology views penance as the second plank of justification for those who have made shipwreck of their souls – those who have lost the grace of justification by committing mortal sin.) The sacrament of penance requires works of satisfaction by which human beings achieve congruous merit for justification. The Roman Catholic view affirms that justification is by faith, but denies that it is by faith alone, adding good works as a necessary condition.
The faith that justifies is a living faith, not an empty profession of faith.
Faith is a personal trust that clings to Christ alone for salvation. Saving faith is also a penitent faith that embraces Christ as both Savior and Lord. The Bible says that we are not justified by our own good works, but by what is added to us by faith, namely the righteousness of Christ. In a synthesis, something new is added to something basic. Our justification is a synthesis because we have the righteousness of Christ added to us. Our justification is by imputation. God transfers to us, by faith, the righteousness of Christ. This is not a “legal fiction” because God ascribes to us the real merit of Christ, to whom we now belong. It is a real imputation.
From, The Reformation Study Bible, R.C. Sproul, General Editor