The title of this post is silly, but the concept it illustrates is essential.
How do you know God likes you?
Do you feel your Creator sings with joy over you as He thinks of you every moment of the day? (see Zechariah 3:17)
Are you confident that no matter your failures or struggles, God DELIGHTS in your prayers, worship, and, most importantly, you as a person?
Can you ever be convinced of God’s pleasure in you?
ANSWER: Yes, you can.
Justification ensures that God always delights in you.
A Simple Definition of Justification
Justification is a big word. I’ll describe it before I define it.
The root word is “just” or “justified.” If you type on the computer, you have an option that allows you to “justify” the margins or “to make straight” the lines you type.
To be justified means “to be straight” instead of crooked.
We’re living in a “crooked” world.
But God, who is at work in and through you, has made you “blameless and innocent, a child of God, without blemish amid a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as a light in the world” (Philippians 2:15).
If I told you that the Dallas Cowboys would win the 2024 Super Bowl because of their deep talent, you might say I was dreaming.
But if the Cowboys won the 2024 Super Bowl next January, you would say I was “justified” in my prediction. I was right.
To be justified means you are straight or right. Just as you “ought to be.” The Puritans used “oughtness” as a synonym for justification.
So, combining all the descriptive ideas from above, let’s give a working definition for justification.
Justification is the declaration of God that you are as you ought to be, that you are straight in a crooked world,
and that you are perfectly “right” in His eyes.
When speaking of God justifying His people, Baptist theologian Dr. Gill used to say:
“God sees no sin in His people.”
Dr. Gill did not mean that God’s people have no sin experientially because we all do. Anyone who says he has no wrong in his life deceives himself (I John 1:8).
Dr. Gill also was not saying that God doesn’t see sin with His omniscient eyes and takes disciplinary steps to discipline His children. If any man is without discipleship from God, he is none of His.
According to Gill, the discipleship of God’s children (by God Himself) has none of God’s judicial or righteous wrath in it.
God’s work at correction of His child is always full of love, purpose, and JOY over His kids. Yes, He corrects His justified child, but the correction is never punitive, hateful, or condemnatory.
God delights and enjoys the presence of His children because we’ve been connected to the righteousness of HIs Son, by our faith.
The wrath of God has been appeased. For those of us “in Christ,” we’ve obtained a righteousness that is outside of ourselves (e.g. Christ’s righteousness), a rightesouness that God gives to us as a gift.
This enables God to declare us “justified.” We are believing sinners who are “righteous” in the eyes of God. He relates to us with the same joy and acceptance as He relates to His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Until sinners can come to the place that they give up ALL HOPE of being right with God by our obedience, we will never fully enjoy the benefits of being justified by God,
The Apostle Paul put it like this:
“Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more I consider everthing a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ, and be found in him, not have a righteousness of my own that comes from my obedience to the law, but a righteousness that comes from God and is by the faith of Christ. . . ” (Phil. 3:7-9 NIV).
Some Baptists are fond of saying justification is God treating me “just-as-if-I-never-sinned.”
But it’s much more than that. Justification is God always viewing me and treating me “just-as-if-I-fully-obeyed.”
I know – as does God – that I can’t obey Him fully. But when I trust in the gracious God who justifies the ungodly, I am connected to perfect righteousness outside of myself.
Let me illustrate.
A Beautiful, Biblical Description of How to Obtain God’s Justification
The Apostle Paul calls Abraham “the father of all people who believe God.” (Romans 4:11).
God blessed Abram when he trusted the LORD, just as God blesses you when you trust HIM and not yourself.
In Genesis 15, the Bible tells us that Abram was childless and hopeless. He lacked any natural descendants or heirs, a condition deemed a curse in Abraham’s day.
One day the Lord took him outside, showed him the stars, and then told him that he would have a child and his descendants would eventually number like the stars he could count in the night sky.
Then the Bible says . . .
“Abram believed the LORD; and the LORD counted it to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6).
This one verse is repeated several times throughout the Bible:
- “Therefore, it [faith] was credited to him [Abraham] as righteousness” (Romans 4:22).
- “Abraham believed God, and it [his believing] was credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3),
- “Faith is credited as righteousness” (Romans 5:3).
What does “faith is credited for your right(ness) before God” mean?
Does it mean your faith in God becomes your righteousness? No.
Does it mean the kind of faith you have in God determines the amount of your righteousness? Heaven’s no.
If that were true, there’d be different levels of “spirituality” in the church. People would measure themselves compared to others. Sadly, this ‘measurement of spirituality’ is precisely what happens in a works-oriented congregation.
“Abram believed in the LORD and the LORD credited it to him for righteousness” means that faith is the connection to righteousness separate from me.
Trust in God (faith) connects me to the righteousness God provides believers in Christ.
When I am connected to the righteousness of Christ, or to put it in Biblical terms, when I am “in Christ,” God clothes me with Christ’s righteousness.
I am justified by God, just before God, and a “just-as-if-fully-obeyed” child of God.
As the Apostle Paul states in discussing the life of Abram:
“But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5).
Believing is not God’s blessing to me. Righteousness is God’s blessing to me.
It is the belief that connects me to Christ’s righteousness.
Suppose you tell your child: “Sweetheart, you can’t go to the game tonight unless you clean up your room before you go.
Suppose your child plans poorly and leaves for school without cleaning the room.
You discover the messy room and clean then clean it yourself. Your child gets home just before it’s time to leave for the game and realizes what’s not been done. Your child sincerely apologizes and humbly accepts the consequences.
You then say, “Sweetheart, I am going to credit your apology as a clean room.”
The apology is not the clean room. Nor did your child clean the room. You cleaned it. The cleaning of the room was all of pure grace, but your child received the blessing by coming to you humbly and putting faith in you and your word.
Justification is an act of pure grace.
This is why the Bible says we are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).
But what connects us to this grace gift of righteousness is faith. Thus the Bible teaches “justification by grace through faith,” sometimes shortened to “justification by faith.”
One must never forget that it is not faith that justifies. It is God who justifies.
Faith only connects you to what God has declared and accomplished through Christ.
A Few Delights from Understanding Justification
Doctrine should make a difference in our lives. For biblical principles to never translate to a change of life is to be plagued with what the old Puritans used to call “numbness in the extremities.”
How does understanding being right before God at all times because we are in Christ, covered by His righteousness, and connected to Him by faith, change our lives?
Understanding justification gives us incredible PEACE.
Luther said understanding justification was like entering a paradise of peace with God. He called it the foundational doctrine of the church. Paul said, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God” (Romans 8:1).
Understanding justification gives us SECURITY.
“He [God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Corinthians 5:21).
My righteousness does not shift like the sands of the seashore. It does not depend on my temperament, faithfulness, or good works. It is found “in Christ.”
Some ridicule justification by calling it “imputed nonsense” (John Wesley). They devise “methods” or “methodical” ways that people can become more righteous.
The great Methodist George Whitefield opposed John Wesley’s understanding of progressive righteousness and preached the gospel of the righteousness of Christ and the doctrine of justification by God’s grace. Whitfield’s preaching led to what we know as The Great Awakening.
We will never see another great awakening in our denomination until we preach the gospel in the abovementioned terms.
Understanding justification gives us FREEDOM.
“You will not need the approval of others. You will not need the ego-supports of wealth or power or revenge. You will be free. You will overflow with love. You will lay down your life in the cause of Christ for the joy that is set for you. Look to Christ and trust him for your righteousness” John Piper.
John Bunyan, the writer of Pilgrim’s Progress, struggled terribly before he came to a settled faith in Christ. Here’s what he wrote:
“One day as I was passing into the field . . . this sentence fell upon my soul. Thy righteousness is in heaven. And methought, withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God’s right hand; there, I say, was my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, God could not say of me, he wants [lacks] my righteousness, for that was just before [in front of] him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, “The same yesterday, today and, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
“Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed. I was loosed from my afflictions and irons; my temptations also fled away; so that from that time those dreadful scriptures of God left off to trouble me; now went I also home rejoicing for the grace and love of God.” (John Bunyan, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, [Hertfordshire: Evangelical Press, 1978, orig. 1666], pp. 90-91)
Those without faith in Jesus Christ must realize there is no hope to ever be right with God apart from the person and work of Christ Jesus on behalf of sinners.
If you die without faith in Christ, you will experience the righteous indignation of a holy God for your sins against Him. Turn to Christ today and receive the righteousness only God provides — and trust Him who justifies the ungodly.
But for those of us who have come to a settled faith in Christ alone, cheer up! Do not let the world, the flesh, or the devil seek to convince you that the anger or wrath of God abides on your head.
God warmly embraces the sinner who trusts Him. God enjoys the presence of the ungodly who are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. As my father says, “God has your picture on His refrigerator door.” You are as you ought to be in His eyes.
But some will object by saying, “But I still experience sin in my life — surely God despises me because of my sin.”
No, my friend in Christ, He embraces you. He will always gently, efficiently, and eventually remove you from your sin with Divine tenderness — because sin is a destructive and deadening influence in your life — but He warmly embraces you and sings over you with joy.
Others might say, “If I believed what you taught, I’d live like the devil.”
If you say that, you do not understand God’s love.
No man ever fully grasps God’s eternal love for His people in Christ Jesus and comes away unmoved. The love of God for us through Christ constrains sin.
The danger of modern legalism is teaching others to trust in themselves and not the work of God in the justification, regeneration, and sanctification of His children.
The legalist will emphasize extrabiblical and external rules out of fear that one might do something offensive to God. But the believer who enjoys his justification by God’s grace is quite comfortable in the righteousness of Christ and will resist any attempt to add duties or laws to the sufficient and inerrant Word of God to be “holy” or maintain “righteousness” in the eyes of God.
The believer who enjoys his justification before God by the righteousness of Christ will end up living a life that models Christ by loving His fellow man — accepting others where they are — because this is precisely what God does for us through Christ.
“By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another” (John 13:35).
So, does God place your photo as His screensaver?
He enjoys you because He justified you.