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A Systematic Theology Of Justification

– by Andrew David Naselli

1. Justification is judicial, not experiential.

Justification means to declare righteous, not to make righteous (in the sense of transforming one’s character to be righteous). It is a metaphor from the law court, where a judge pronounces someone as either guilty or not guilty. Paul contrasts condemning (pronouncing guilty) and justifying (pronouncing not guilty but righteous) in Romans 8:33–34: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?” (cf. Rom. 5:18; 8:1). God “justifies the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5) in that he legally declares ungodly people to be innocent and righteous—not in that he transforms ungodly people into godly people.1

2. Justification includes forgiveness (Rom. 4:6–8).

When God justifies believing sinners, he forgives those sinners’ “lawless deeds” and covers their sins and no longer will count their sins against them.

3. Justification includes imputation (Rom. 4:1–8; 5:15–19).

Justification is a blessing because God imputes Christ’s righteousness to the believing sinner. God does not merely cancel a sinner’s guilt and declare that the sinner is innocent (neutral). God imputes Christ’s righteousness to the believing sinner’s account and declares that the sinner is righteous (positive).2 That is why “the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works” experiences a “blessing” (Rom. 4:6; cf. Rom. 4:7–9): “As by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made [i.e., have the status of] righteous” (Rom. 5:19).

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A Systematic Theology of Justification

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