Justification by Faith: Justifying Many.
Edited transcript of a sermon preached December 7, 1997
We have been studying the atonement in Isaiah 53:11. By “the atonement” we mean that Christ became a penal substitute for us. Christ took upon himself the punishment that was due to us for our sins and thus became a sin offering for us. Jesus Christ (the just) was sacrificed for us (the unjust) that He might bring us to God. (1 Peter 3:18)
There are other theories of the atonement. We need not spend much time on those errors. We maintain that the atonement is not merely a moral influence (Abelard). Christ did not merely set for us an example of sacrifice. Nor is the atonement governmental in that the sacrifice of Christ sets retribution before the eyes of the human race such that they will understand what it means for God to be angry with sin, yet relax the requirements of it (Grotius). We do not believe in the moral influence theory. We do not believe in the governmental theory. We believe in a vicarious atonement — that Christ actually died in the place of elect sinners.
It is important for us to understand that if Christ died in the place of sinners, and if the debt of those sinners has been paid, then no debt remains. That debt has been wiped clean. That is why we reject a governmental theory of the atonement. The doctrine of the atonement, as it is found in part one of verse eleven, “He shall see the travail of his soul and be satisfied,” indicates that the knowledge that justifies is tied to the atonement. I want you to see that if there is no substitutionary atonement, there is no justification. And if there is no justification, then there is no gospel.
The justification of the elect is based solely upon the cross work of Christ. We say it this way: our justification is grounded in the righteousness of Christ, both in his active obedience and in his passive obedience. His active obedience means he obeyed the law perfectly in all the things he did on earth. His passive obedience is his actually dying in the place of his people. He suffered and died for us. Therefore, justification is found in the second and the third parts of this verse. The second part is, “By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many.” That is, his righteousness is imputed to us. The third part is, “He shall bear their iniquities.” That is, the punishment and guilt of our sins will be laid upon him. When God sees us, he sees us in Christ, and because he sees us in Christ — who is the justified Man — he sees us as righteous. He imputes the righteousness of Christ to us.
Justification may be illustrated by a ledger in which one owes a debt that he cannot pay. God crosses that debt out of his ledger. Is that a mere fiction? Does God “pretend” that we do not really owe this unpayable debt? No, we really owed it. But it has truly been paid! Christ has really paid our debt.
The justification of sinners is connected in Scriptures directly to the mediatorial work of Christ as a satisfaction to the justice of God. Consider Romans 3:25, “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.” This verse is central for our understanding of how God sets forth Christ to be a propitiation through faith in his blood. He declares his righteousness for the remission of sins. Sins are remitted by the righteousness of Christ. What we see here is that there is a declaration of righteousness and mercy. Psalm 85:10 refers to the righteousness and mercy of God “kissing;” being brought together. God’s righteousness requires the punishment of sin; yet his mercy passes by sin. How can these seemingly contrary ideas be reconciled? Only in the doctrine of justification by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.
How do we understand the righteousness of God? How can we comprehend the fact that God is a righteous God who demands retributive punishment for our sins? Note carefully that he does not punish for the purpose of reforming us or making us better people, but because we deserve to be punished. Our breaking of the just requirements in God’s Law — “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me,” etc. — requires punishment. That just punishment is death. In Roman 3:24 we read that elect sinners are “being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” How is it then, that we can say that God is righteous if he is freely justifying sinners? How can God be both just and a justifier of the ungodly? We often say that God will forgive sins. But taken without a context that statement can imply that God does not take sin seriously. What is sin? “Sin is any want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God.” (WSC #14). If we were to transgress the law of God and then there were no punishment, we might believe that God does not take his law seriously.
Children, you understand this idea. If your father said, “Do not go into the barn” and then you went into the barn and were never punished, you would believe that your father did not really mean that you could not go into the barn. Why? Because a law without a sanction is nothing more than suggestion. In order for a prohibition to be a law, there must be a sanction for those who trespass against it. God does take his law seriously. He is a righteous God. Then, how can he forgive sinners? Only by exacting the punishment on another. But this “other” who is punished for sinners cannot deserve punishment himself. He must be righteous in himself. And the only “other” who meets this standard is Christ. And this “other” has to be a person who is infinite in value. He must die not one for one, but one for many.
It would be one thing to justify the godly. God could say, “that man was righteous all his life. He deserves no punishment.” But God cannot say that about any of us; none of us are in that condition! All of us are ungodly; all of us “have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Therefore, how can God justify us ungodly people and remain righteous? How does he set forth or declare his righteousness? He sets forth his righteousness in this way; his wrath against sin must be propitiated. His justice must be satisfied. There must be one who takes upon himself the wrath of God for our sin. If God did not punish sin, he would not be a righteous God; he would not be just. This paradox can be resolved only by the substitution of Jesus Christ for the ungodly. He is both a righteous man (that is to say, he is not taking any punishment upon himself for his own sins — because he had no sin) and a public person (he is the covenant head of all those who are in him). He can take upon himself not only the punishment for one person’s sin, but also the punishment for many persons’ sins.
Justification includes right standing with God. Justification and condemnation are antonyms; Scripture uses these terms as opposites. Condemnation is a courtroom term — a forensic term — that has to do with standing before a judge. Its antonym, justification, then, also is a forensic term; a term having to do with a courtroom setting and also having to do with standing before a judge. Reconciliation, justification and remission of sins are all tied together and all are dependent upon the atonement of Christ.
We shall detail four heads that tie the atonement, and therefore justification, inextricably to Christ. Remember the doctrine: the justification of sinners is directly dependent in Scripture upon the mediatorial work of Christ, as satisfaction rendered for our lawbreaking and to the justice of God.
1. Christ’s Death
Romans 5:10, “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son…” When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of Christ. Enemies being made friends is called reconciliation. We were considered enemies to God. How is it then that we are reconciled to God? By the death of Christ. We are brought into a favorable relationship of friendship with God by the death of Christ. One can see then how reconciliation — justification and the remission of sins — is tied to the death of Christ. In Colossians 1:21-22, we read, “And you, that were sometime” [in the past] “alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death…” Those who used to be alienated, who used to be enemies, against whom God used to have an indictment, have been reconciled to God by the body of Christ’s flesh through death. This relates also to Hebrews 2:9 where the author said, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” Justification and reconciliation are tied to Christ’s death.
2. Christ’s Blood
By way of synecdoche, the term “blood” stands for Christ’s death or for “shedding of blood.” A synecdoche is a figure of speech in which a part stands for the whole. It is not just that Christ had blood; it is that he shed his blood — that he died. We are not talking about “blood” as though it were a magical substance. When we refer to Christ’s “blood,” we refer to his death. We refer to the fact that he shed his blood! It is not just the substance of blood; it is his blood shed that redeems. In Ephesians 1:7 we read, “In whom we have redemption through his blood.” What price has Christ paid to redeem us, to buy us back, to reconcile us, to justify us? He paid his blood. It is a fact that he not only was broken in body, but that he also shed his blood. Matthew 26:28, “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” Romans 5:9, “Much more then, being now justified by his blood.” Acts 20:28, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”
3. Christ’s Obedience
In Romans 5:19 we read, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made” [constituted] “sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made” [constituted] “righteous.” I translated the Greek word “kathistemi” [in the King James translated as “made”] as “constituted.” Do not be confused as though Christ’s obedience somehow infused righteousness into us. That is not what is in view in Romans 5:19. What is in view is that God looks at us as though we were obedient. “Constituted obedient” is a better understanding of Romans 5:19. “By one man’s disobedience.” Adam is the one man who was disobedient. Did we eat of the fruit of the garden? We were not there. We were not personally disobedient; it is by his one act that we were constituted sinners. God regards us as fallen; he regards us as corrupt; he regards us as guilty because of that one sin. So it is by parity of reason or analogy at Romans 5:19, that because of one man’s obedience we are now constituted righteous. Christ is the one man who was obedient. By that one man who was obedient, we are now constituted righteous. We are not made righteous in the sense that everything we do from now on is a righteous act. We are not personally righteous. We are not able to obey the law perfectly. We are constituted righteous in the sense that God sees us in Christ. We are counted as righteous. Just as we were counted as sinners in Adam, we are counted as righteous in Christ. We are counted as righteous on the account of one man’s obedience. Our righteousness is thus tied to Christ’s obedience. Hebrews 5:8-9, “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.” He, by his obedience, constituted all those who obey him righteous.
The righteousness that we have is not a righteousness of our own. Even though justified, we do not live by our own righteousness. The righteousness in which God sees us is always Christ’s righteousness. Theologians often characterize this as an “alien righteousness.” “Alien” in this context means “from outside ourselves.” It is a righteousness not from within, but from outside, ourselves. At what point, then, does justification become dependent upon the works that we do after our justification? Never! Some teach that God justifies us for Christ’s sake and then after that we persevere in our own righteousness by our own works. That is a mistaken notion. It is a notion that leads right back to Rome. Christ’s righteousness is the only righteousness which God sees. Proverbs 21:4 teaches that an unbeliever plows the ground over here and a believer plows the ground over there: in one case it is sin and in the other it is a righteous act. What is the difference? It is not in the act of plowing! It is because God sees one of them in Christ and not the other.
We must understand that even our works of thanks, even our law-keeping out of gratitude toward God, is only acceptable to God because of the righteousness of Christ. Isaiah 45:24-25, “Surely, shall one say, in the LORD have I righteousness and strength: even to him shall men come; and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed. In the LORD shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.” Let me say, children, that if you grab hold of those two verses, you will know more theology than 90% of evangelicals today know. “In the LORD shall all the seed of Israel be justified.” It is only by his righteousness; it is only by the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to us that we are justified. 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For he hath made him” [the “he” is God the Father; the “him” is Jesus Christ] “to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” Christ has himself borne our iniquities. God has laid our guilt and the punishment due to us upon Christ. But he does not stop there. He “who knew no sin” has been made sin for us. He has been made a sin offering for us with the result “that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” What righteousness do we have? We have an altogether alien righteousness; a righteousness that is not ours by nature. It is not infused into us. It is a righteousness that is credited to our account. It is a righteousness that does not belong to us. It belongs to Christ, but we have been made — constituted or accredited — the righteousness of God in him.
This forensic transfer reconciles the fact that God is still a righteous God; he can still be just; he can still punish sin and yet at the same time justify the ungodly. We try to justify the ungodly. We sometimes say that it does not matter if you are a murderer. We have some awful judges in this country who do that quite a lot. But we cannot do that and still be just. God is still just, because he is punishing sin, but he is punishing our sin in the person of Christ. That is why I have emphasized so much the voluntary nature of Christ’s undertaking in the covenant. For God just to drag someone else out and punish him for us would be unjust! There has to be a voluntary undertaking on the part of Christ, the Lamb of God, who became sin for us, and then his righteousness is imputed to us. Not as a result of faith! As soon as we make justification a reward for faith, we have completely thrown off the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith. In Philippians 3:8-9, Paul had just given a list of all the things that he had in his favor. He had every thing the world has to offer. Yet Paul said, “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” Notice “not having my own righteousness.” The righteousness that God imputes to us has nothing to do with our personal righteousness! Thus our righteousness is not our own righteousness anymore than Paul’s righteousness was his own. Paul said, “not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” Our righteousness is an alien righteousness; it is a righteousness from outside ourselves. It is how God sees us. It is the righteousness of Jesus Christ; it is the righteousness of God, and that means that it is not our own! Paul said he counted everything else as dung. Some of you children live in the country and know what a dung heap is. It is a rubbish pile. It is the compost heap! It is refuse; it is trash. Paul said that all these things that the world counts as good, all the things that the Pharisee counts as righteousness — being from the right family, going to the right schools, belonging to the right nation — he counts them as nothing, as dung, as worthless because they cannot establish true righteousness. If we count on our righteousness even a little bit, then we do not count entirely on Christ’s righteousness. Our righteousness has to be completely Christ’s. It is only as we are found in him; only as his righteousness is imputed to us, that we have right standing before God.
4. Christ’s Name and Knowledge
Children, do not belittle the fact that Christ’s name has been placed upon your forehead in your baptism. Christ’s name is the name by which all those who are justified shall be justified. In 1 Corinthians 6 Paul gave a list of very wicked sins. Then he said at verse 11, “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” We are justified in or by the name of Jesus Christ. Not by our own name, not by Paul’s name, not by Apollos’ name, but only by the name of Christ can we be justified. We must recognize that our justification is altogether tied to the mediatorial work of Christ, which is what is intended by this term. In Luke 24:47, Christ sent his disciples into all the world, “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations...” That is the great commission. The great commission is to go forth and preach repentance and remission of sins in his name. Acts 10:43 reiterates, “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” That reconciliation, that taking away of the guilt and punishment due to us for our sins is through the blessed name of Christ.
Isaiah 53:11, “…by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many.” This is not only a knowledge that Christ has; it is a knowledge that we have of him. This is a genitive of content, not a genitive of source. Although the knowledge is from him (John 1:11), that is not what is in view in this verse. What is in view in this verse is that the content of our knowledge, the content of the teaching that we must have, is a knowledge of Christ. Our justification does not come because we are good five point Calvinists; there may be many lost Calvinists. It is because we know Christ! We have cast ourselves upon him! In John 17:3, as Jesus prayed his great High Priestly prayer, he said, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” If we are to have life eternal, we must know Christ. Do we have to know Calvin’s Institutes? No! What do we have to know? “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” It is not just that we know about some person that we have invented in our imagination that we call Jesus. We have to know Jesus Christ who is the Jesus Christ revealed to us in the Bible; the one God the Father sent and no other. We must know the true and living God; the only true God, and the living Christ whom he sent — not some other Jesus Christ of our own imagining. It is by his knowledge, by the knowledge of him, by casting ourselves upon him alone that we are justified. It is not merely an acknowledgment that there was a man named Jesus who walked along the shores of the sea of Galilee. It is a knowledge that is of a personal, intimate, and friendly nature. We have cast ourselves upon him and have determined to know him through the pages of the Bible. We read Isaiah chapter 53 for the purpose of knowing Christ; for the purpose of understanding him who is the lover and friend of our souls.
In the previous sections I have tried to show that our justification is
always connected to Christ and
to his work. He is our life.
Galatians 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet
not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh
I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for
me.” Christ alone is the life of the believer! Christ is also our peace.
Ephesians 2:14, “For he is our
peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of
partition between us.” Peace with God is not just a commodity. Peace
with God comes from trusting in
Christ alone. The peace of God increases and decreases. We find that
peace from God does often wax and wane. In fact, chapter 18 of the
Westminster Confession does not say that this is normal but it does
say that we ought not to be surprised if it happens. We are told in the
previous article that assurance of salvation can be ours; we can have it.
It is not the brass ring that you are never quite able to reach. This
assurance can be ours! It is an infallible
certainty that we are God’s and that he is ours. But article 3 of
chapter 18 tells us “This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the
essence of faith,” [that is to say, to the being of faith itself] “but
that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties,
before he be partaker of it: yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the
things which are freely given him of God, he may, without extraordinary
revelation,” [not revealed to us by some inner light, or special
revelation] “He may, without extraordinary revelation, in the right use
of ordinary means, attain thereunto.” What are “the ordinary means?”
The ordinary means are the Word, sacraments and prayer. We must make use
of those ordinary means of grace to have the infallible assurance of peace
with God. We find in Romans 5:1, “Therefore being justified by faith, we
have peace with God.” The normal fruit of justification is peace with
God. The Westminster Confession continues, “And therefore it is the duty
of every one to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure;
that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost,
in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the
duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance: so far is it
from inclining men to looseness.” That last phrase is the answer to the
fallacy that if I know that I am saved I can live any old way I want. That
is far from being true. In fact just the opposite is true. The more
assured I am of God’s love, the more thankful I am and the more stirred
up I am to the duties of obedience.
Christ is our righteousness. In Jeremiah 23:6, Christ is characterized
as “Jehovah Tsidqenu.” —
“THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” — Christ is our righteous Jehovah. But
he is not just our righteous Jehovah. He is also Jehovah
our righteousness! Christ is our hope. As Christ is formed in us, Paul
characterizes him as our hope of glory. Colossians 1:27, “…which is
Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Christ is our joy. John 15:11,
“These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you,
and that your joy might be full.”
As we look at the various affections of the Christian life, we find them centered in and sourced from Christ, not in ourselves. We do not — and we must not — look to ourselves. We must always look to Christ. His righteousness is ours; his joy is ours; his life is ours; his peace is ours! In the righteousness of God displayed and declared in the punishment of Christ — as God is both just and the justifier of the ungodly — the very flaming sword of justice that hung over our heads becomes a shield and buckler to us. The very righteousness of God is displayed in Christ’s punishment for us. Christ has been punished; he has poured out his life unto death; his blood has been shed; his obedience has been accepted by God; he was raised again for our justification! God accepted Christ’s sacrifice! We need not wonder if God accepted his sacrifice or not. In being raised from the dead, God’s acceptance is displayed and declared. Know this fact: God is impressed with only one man who ever lived, and that man is Christ! Therefore, if you would have peace with God, if you would have assurance of salvation; if you would be justified in his eyes, you must be found in Christ. You must fly to him. You must rest altogether upon Christ. If you are trusting in anything else, then you are yet in your sins. I can say that without fear of contradiction from God’s Word. If you are trusting anything but Christ, you will not know the peace of God. You will not know his assurance. There is nothing in you that can give you that kind of assurance. It is impossible.
Our justification is also directly connected to the glory of God in Christ. This is a marvelous thing. God has declared that he will not share his glory with another; yet our justification is tied to the manner in which God has chosen to glorify himself in Christ. He is glorifying both his justice and his mercy. His attributes are seen to harmonize in his plan of salvation. He demonstrates himself as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: the Father who plans our salvation and who justifies the ungodly; the Son who takes upon himself the punishment due to us for our sins; the Holy Spirit who brings us to God and sanctifies us through belief of the truth. All three persons of the Godhead are glorified in our justification. If we look to ourselves for any part of our justification then we are asking God to share his glory.
The majesty of God’s love is glorified in justification. God could not wink at our sins. God would not merely say that we simply needed more love. On the contrary, our sins required punishment. Our sins required that God’s wrath be poured out. But Jesus Christ has taken the punishment due to us for our sins. And because Christ has taken the punishment due to God’s holy law away from us, God’s law is set forth before us, not as something that we can properly neglect, but as something that is glorious. It is shown forth as the holy standard by which God will in fact judge the world.
You must throw yourselves upon Christ. He alone can save. In Matthew 11:28-29, Christ said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” Jesus said, “Come unto me” — not “Come unto Pastor Bacon,” not “Come unto the church,” not “Come unto your baptism,” not “Come unto your own law-keeping,” but “Come unto me.” “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Would you have rest for your souls? It is only found in one place, and that is in Christ. It is not found in your law-keeping. It is not found in an imparted righteousness. Rest is only found in the righteousness of Christ of which Paul spoke in Philippians 3:8-9 not having his own righteousness, but rather having the righteousness of Christ.
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