Through sin man becomes separated from God the Father and thus becomes orphaned. The doctrine of adoption describes how God has adopted us back to being His sons and daughters. Once the thing separating us (sin) has been taken away by Christ's sacrifice, we become free. This freedom comes with a new life breathed into us by the Holy Spirit. As free and spiritually living beings, we are now worthy to be adopted by God to become His sons and daughters.
In this chapter we will look at the doctrine of justification and how this doctrine explains God's plan from the perspective of legality and justice.
Justification as a doctrine is based primarily on the idea that God is the final judge of what is ultimately right or wrong, good or bad. For example, the creation remained neutral until God proclaimed that it was "very good" (Genesis 1:31). The commandments given in Exodus 20:1-ff codified the standards that God established so that the Jews would know without a doubt what was good or bad, acceptable or not. What this means is that God has a right to judge because He has the wisdom to establish the rules and the power to enforce the rules. (i.e. In a democracy the people give the government this right.)
With God, however, the ability to establish, enforce and judge is based on His absolute wisdom and power (we do not give Him authority by consensus). God does not give up any of this authority, but He does reveal in His Word what are His standards, and guarantees that He will enforce them in judgment.
5 But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who will render to each person according to his deeds: 7 to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; 8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.
- Romans 2:5-8
In this context we begin our study of the sub-doctrine of justification.
To understand justification, we must first understand that it is explained against the backdrop of an absolute standard of what is right and wrong, established by an all-powerful God who will judge the entire world against the standard that He has established. This is the ultimate reality proclaimed by the gospel and espoused by Christians.
The problem today is that many people promote the idea that there is no absolute standard, in the Bible or anywhere. For some, right or wrong is what is right or wrong for you personally. The 9/11 bombing in New York City has had a sobering effect on these people because they cannot condemn this act without violating their personal philosophy about the relativism of morality.
Until recently it has been challenging to preach the gospel because people refuse to accept the absolute nature of God's standard. If there is no standard, then there is no judgment; if there is no judgment then there is no need for salvation. The 9/11 attack, however, showed the weakness of this thinking because America justified its response based on the notion that what was done was morally wrong, and there needed to be a judgment and punishment as a result.
This new awakening to the presence of absolute standards helps us press the case for the gospel and also clarifies the meaning of the doctrine of justification.
A Personal Need
In this context of absolute standards, we begin to understand that one of man's greatest needs is the knowledge and assurance that he lives up to God's standards and thus, God's approval. We have learned that sin deprives us of God's approval because it causes us to live below His standard. This situation causes fear, guilt, anger and despair because we are created to be happy when we obey, and unhappy when we do not.
Those deprived of God's approval but not conscious of it still suffer the symptoms of a soul separated from God and will suffer the final consequences brought on by this condition.
- Now – anxiety, fear, dread
- At judgment – condemnation, punishment
Some believe that ignorance of these things will save these people at the judgment. The Bible, however, says that ignorance is present within men's hearts because they purposefully suppress the very truth that would guide them to God, if they would let it.
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures
- Romans 1:18-23
No one is saved by default because they do not know the truth. The Bible says that everyone can know, but willingly suppresses this knowledge.
In addition to this the Bible also claims that even those people who do know the truth (that they do not measure up to the standards of God) are helpless to change this sad reality.
18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.
- Romans 7:18-19
9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10 as it is written, "There is none righteous, not even one; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
- Romans 3:9-10, 23
This, then, is the cruel paradox of human sinfulness: if you do not know the truth, you are condemned; if you do know the truth, you are powerless to save yourself and remain condemned. This is the problem that the doctrine of justification addresses in explaining God's plan of salvation.