Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Gospel in Genesis Abram: The Doctrine of Justification

How do you know God actually enjoys your company? How do you know that the heavenly Father sings over you with joy? How can you be confident that no matter your personal failures, or no matter your earthly struggles, God absolutely delights in your presence before Him?

We saw yesterday that propitiation opens the gate into the presence of God, but I desire to show you from the life of Abram that justification opens for you the warm embrace of God.

I. A definition of justification

Justification is a big word. Let me give you some descriptive ideas to help understand the concept of justification. The word itself carries as its root the word "just" or "justified." If you type on the computer you have an option that allows you to "justifiy" the margin --- this means to make straight. To be justified means to be straight as opposed to crooked (see Phil. 4:15 for the use of "crooked" in terms of evil).

To be justified also means to be right. If I were to say to you that the Dallas Cowboys will win the Super Bowl because of their deep talent, you might say I was dreaming. But if the Cowboys actually won the Super Bowl next January you would say I was "justified" in what I said last October. To be justified means to be right.

To be justified also carries with it the idea of being as you ought to be. Justification is intimately connected to righteousness and the Puritans used to use "oughtness" as a synonym for the word righteousness. 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 considered perfectly righteous before Him.

When speaking of God justifying His people, Baptist theologian Dr. Gill used to say, "God sees no sin in His people because of the righteousnesss of Christ." Dr. Gill did not mean that God's people have no sin experientially, because we all do, and he that says he does not sin deceives himself (I John 1:8). Gill also was not saying that God doesn't see sin with His omnisciencent eyes and takes disciplinary steps to correct or discipline His children because of it. In fact, if any man is without this chastening from God, he is none of His. But according to Gill, this discipline of God's children has not one ounce of God's judicial or righteous wrath in it --- it is always full of love and joy, and always corrective in nature, never punitive, hateful or condemning.

Gill was simply saying that a holy God absolutely delights and enjoys the presence of His people because they have been connected to the righteousness of Christ by faith. The wrath of God has been propitiated, and for those who are "in Christ" a righteousness that is outside of them (Christ's righteousness) is given to them as a gift. This is what enables God to declare them "justified;" believing sinners are "righteous" in the eyes of God, and He relates to them with the same joy and acceptance as He relates to His eternal Son.

Until people can come to the place that they give up ALL HOPE of being right with God by their own personal obedience, they 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 it is impossible for me to fully obey Him, but when I believe in the God who justifies the ungodly, I am connected to a perfect righteousness that is outside of myself.

Let me illustrate.

II. A description of justification

Abram is called by the Apostle Paul "the father of all them that believe" (Romans 4:11). In essence, what happened to Abram when he believed God, is exactly the same thing that happens to us when we believe God.

In Genesis 15 the Bible tells us that Abram was childless and hopeless. He lacked any natural descendents or heirs. One day the Lord took him outside, showed him the stars, and then told him that he would have a child and his descendents would eventually number like the stars he could count in the night sky.

Then the Bible says . . .

“Abram believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness(Genesis 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), and “faith is credited as righteousness” (Romans 5:3). What does this verse, repeated several times in Scripture, mean?

Does it mean your faith in God becomes your righteousness? Absolutely not. Our righteousness, as we have already seen is Christ's righteousness. We have none of our own.

Does it mean the kind of faith you have in God determines the amount of your righteousness? Heaven's no. Then you would have different levels of "spirituality" in the church (by the way, this is exactly what happens in 'works' oriented congregations).

This verse "Abram believed in the Lord and he credited it to him for righteousness" means that my faith in God is my connection to God’s righteousness which is in Christ.

And when I am connected to the righteousness of Christ, or to put it in Biblical terms, when I am "in Christ" or clothed with his righteousness, I am justified by 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 the blessing. Righteousness is the blessing, but it is the believing that connects you to the righteousness.

Suppose I say to my son Boe, "You must have a clean room, or you won't be able to go play in the game tonight." Suppose he plans poorly and leaves for school without cleaning the room. I discover the messy room and clean it myself. He gets home just before it's time to leave for the game and realizes what he’s done and feels terrible. He apologizes and humbly accepts the consequences. I then say, “Boe, I am going to credit your apology as a clean room.” The apology is not the clean room. Nor did Boe clean his room. I cleaned it. It was all of grace, but Boe received the blessing.

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" and it is sometimes shortened to "justification by faith." But one must never forget that it is not faith that justifies --- God justifies.

Faith only connects you to that which God has declared and accomplished through Christ.

III. Some delights of justification

Doctrine should make a difference in our lives. For doctrine 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 an understanding of 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?

(A). It gives to 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).

(B). It gives to believers 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 is not dependent upon my temperament, my faithfulness, or my good works. It is found "in Christ."

Some ridicule justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ by calling it "imputed nonsense" (John Wesley), and come up with "methods" or "methodical" ways (methodism) that people can become more righteous. The great Methodist George Whitefield opposed this understanding of progressive righteousness and preached the gospel of the righteousness of Christ and the doctrine of justification by God's grace all along the colonial seaboard in the 18th Century. His preaching led to what we know as The Great Awakening, and until Southern Baptists begin to preach the gospel in terms described above we will never see another great awakening in our denomination.

(C). It gives to believers 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 that 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 loves to say, "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, effeciently 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 just taught, I'd live like the devil." You did not understand then what was just taught. No man ever fully grasps the eternal love of God for His people in Christ Jesus and comes away unmoved. It is the love of God for us through Christ which constrains from sin internally.

Of course, this is the danger of modern legalism. Rather than trust the work of God in the justification, regeneration and sanctification of His children, the legalist will place emphasis on extrabiblical and external rules out of fear that one might possibly end up doing something that is 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 in order to be "holy," or maintain "righteousness" in the eyes of God.

In addition, 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 him where he is --- because this is exactly 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).

I am a child of Abraham. I believe in the Word of God, and my faith "is credited to me as righteousness."

I rest in Him.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson


Rex Ray said...

There’s a movie where the head ranger always ended heated discussions by saying “Enough said.” But his exact words were: “Nuff said.” That’s the way I feel about your wonderful post.
Rex Ray

Alycelee said...

Great reminder about what wonderful things God has done for us. I'm ready for more and it was a welcome relief.

Scott Dollar said...

Thanks for sharing. Your love for the Lord, His people and His Word are evident in your posts. This series has been a blessing.

Writer said...


This post has my unqualified agreement and support! Good job!



WTJeff said...


As I've read through this series, I've been encouraged, challenged, and have had to dig into the scriptures for perspective. I haven't thought about conformists or any name that's been hung on those who don't agree with a particular stance. It's been refreshing and I hope you will continue to use your blog to teach as well as inform.



Bob Cleveland said...


I've asked a question a few times but nobody has ever addressed it directly. How does justification by faith alone play against James 2:24, which states man is justified by works, and not by faith alone?

It's not that I've been struggling with it, as I resolved it in my own mind some time ago. But the answer's not pretty. I'd like to know yours.

wadeburleson.org said...


Paul told the Ephesians that they were chosen by God and "ordained unto good works."

I believe James is saying that those who are justified by the grace of God ending up living life differently than those who are not justified.

And when you see how James describes the justified life it rings like a clarion bell in our day . . .

"The tongue is tamed by the power of God"

"There is no preferential treatment of people based upon their position or status."

"The emphasis is upon treating people with love and kindness."

So, I guess I would simply say James is descibing the life of the person who is justified by God's grace. This kind of life is impossible to live apart from the grace of God within you.

A good word for those who will lie about others, preach with hearts full of hate, and say all manner of evil against people.

Real grace that justifies the heart will also change the heart.

Laura said...

Thanks, Wade. There are tears in my eyes as I type this. May I never lose sight of God's sovereign grace and Christ's perfect righteousness on my behalf!

wadeburleson.org said...


Use them as you see fit!


davidinflorida said...

Pastor Wade, I really enjoyed mondays and tuesdays post, but today was the best. I have many friends at church that think God constantly wants to beat them up because of sin. The quotes of Dr Gill on Gods discipline should be read by all. Thanks.......

Bob Cleveland said...


Thanks. I agree.

My answer still isn't as pretty as yours.

Rex Ray said...

I thought I was going to get a ‘rest’ on this good post of Wade’s, and you go and drop a bomb on our wonderful party.
Not pretty, huh? I never thought of expressing the ‘problem’ that way. The largest division ever among Christians is recorded in Acts 15. It made our differences look like mole hills.
I’ve spent over 20 years trying to solve your “not pretty”. That’s why I named my article and my blog “Truth of Acts.”
The answer to your question is found in that chapter by knowing the character of the percipients as brought out by the Bible and history.
Over the protest of Peter and Paul, their BFM letter to the Gentiles laid the roots for the Catholic Church.

Is the last thing a man writes the most important or sums up his letter? I’ll try to answer your question if you will answer the last two verses in James:
(Old Living Bible) “Dear brothers, if anyone has slipped away from God and no longer trusts the Lord, [stopped doing works?] and someone helps him understand the Truth again, [started doing works?] that person who brings him back to God [saved twice?] will have saved a wandering soul from death, [hell?] bringing about the forgiveness of his many sins.” [saved again?]
Rex Ray

Rex Ray said...

I meant to say, that the Book of James is much needed to learn how Christians are to act and love one another. He was an expert on the law. His Book is not needed for people to learn how to become a Christian or remain one. Luther summed up that department best as being a book of straw.

John Moeller said...

I would say; to live a life worthy of the high calling! Faith without works is dead.... If you really believe it, then you will live it out in everything you do, just like a football fan.

You can tell a REAL dedicated fan when you see that their car is covered in flags, stickers and license plates of the team; they fly a flag in front of their house, have all the trinkets inside the house from the team and arrange their life to insure they don't miss a minute of the Game on Sunday, standing in the stadium in 10 degree weather without shirts. They then dominate every conversation with facts, figures, and opinions of the team and how they will surely beat the next foe. They recruit from the ranks of the non-believing to build support for the team.… They are friends with anyone who also loves the team, covers that friends back, pays for his beers, takes him to the games too, and finds favor in him for his faith in the team. They may differ in who is the best on the team or what play should be executed next, but no big deal, they both love the team… and when the play is a good one, they jump, smashing their bellies together and toast the accomplishment with a swig of beer.

True followers of the team…

Unknown said...


Do you think this book of straw we have in the Bible is God breathed?

Bob Cleveland said...


My "not pretty" answer is that, when the works don't match the faith, the faith is questionable. James had comments on that.

The ugly part is that I see the gathered church as the training and equipping grounds for the saints, for the work of service. Given congregations within which an overly large percentage never witness, tithe, or participate in spiritual activities, I'm "frightened" for the status of many who look to the church for salvation. And I said that on purpose, as opposed to looking to Jesus in Person.

One reason I refer to it as "ugly" is the enormous responsibility it puts on preachers and teachers.

My calling in all this is to teach, in my church setting, the whole counsel of God .. at least as much as I can (a) comprehend, and (b) get to. Including the part that says faith without works is dead, with the explicit question as to whether that faith can save someone.

And to challenge those who listen to me, to consider it all and be very, very sure of their salvation, in the fullest context of what God has said.

And sure, I believe Ephesians 2:8-9.

Rex Ray said...

This is like old times. Once again you do not attack what I said, but ask if I want a blindfold before the firing squad. I wish you would answer my questions.
But to answer yours—all truth in the Bible is God breathed. Any lie in the Bible is NOT God breathed since it is impossible for God to lie. (Hebrews 6:18) That also goes for ignorance, confusion, and stupidity—“...there are people who are deliberately stupid…” (2 Peter 3:16)

All truth in the book of James is God breathed. Any untruth is not.

One of the most quoted and misunderstood verses in the Bible is: “Faith without works is dead.”
Bob is correct with Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace you are saved through FAITH, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s GIFT.”
God does not give junk. The faith that he gives produces WORKS. The definition of Faith is Works. You cannot have faith without works. Faith is belief in action. James’ statement would be true if he had said, ‘BELIEF without works is dead.’

Nuff said,
Rex Ray

wadeburleson.org said...


Good point.

I had not thought about it in those terms.

I was trying to show that the removal of sin (either through pardon or "expiation") makes a person "innocent," but full obedience makes a person righteous.

Justification makes a person righteous in the eyes of God