I so enjoyed my time today with the teachers of Salem Baptist Church! What an exciting group of teachers! The people of Salem are blessed richly to have so many people interested in becoming better expositors of the word of God.
As we worked our way through Romans, I was reminded of just how significant Christ’s work of justification is for us, especially in 3:21-26.
Justification is the forensic act by which a sinner comes to stand before God as righteous both actually and declaratively. The righteousness God provides is an alien righteousness—it comes from outside of the sinner rather than from within. By “actually,” we mean the Scriptures teach that the sinner is constituted righteous by having Christ’s righteousness imputed to him. By “declaratively,” we mean that Scripture teaches that the sinner is declared righteous before God as a judge in a courtroom declares the status of a criminal.
In declarative justification, the Judge makes a declaration: The sinner is declared righteous although the sinner is guilty.
Declared righteousness differs from judgment in the Western judicial system in the following: It is not simply an (1) acquittal (to rule not guilty), (2) a pardon (to forgive someone of an offense), (3) an exoneration (to free someone from accusation, blame, or responsibility), and that (4) it is based upon absolute truth. This stands in contrast to the Roman Catholic view, in which justification includes the expulsion of indwelling sin, the positive infusion of divine grace, and the forgiveness of sin. For Rome, justification is the infusion of new virtues after the pollution of sin has been removed in baptism. In Catholic teaching, the grace of justification can be lost, but also can be regained by the sacrament of penance.
Imagine walking into a courtroom in an orange jumpsuit with your hands and feet shackled, and with two Federal Marshals flanking you, because you are guilty of crimes. There is fingerprint and video surveillance evidence, eyewitness and your possession of tools used to commit crimes, and you have made an uncoerced confession. You are guilty. Yet, with all of the evidence stacked against you, the judge renders a verdict: “I declare you righteous [even though you are guilty.]” God, the Judge of all the earth, makes this declaration for sinners on the basis of the righteousness of his Son alone. This is the work of justification; this is mercy; this is reason to shout and to praise our Savior.