Justification By Faith, Part 5

In this discussion on justification by faith, we have talked a lot about faith, but not a lot about justification. In the Bible, the word translated as justification comes from the Greek word dikaioó (δικαιόω):

I make righteous
defend the cause of
plead for the righteousness (innocence) of
hence: I regard as righteous.

Justification carries the basic sense of “to show to be righteous, declare righteous.” It can have a judicial sense (as in a judicial declaration) or simply mean being justified as in being shown to be right, correct, or vindicated.

Justification is closely related to the adjective dikaios (δίκαιος) which means “correct, righteous, innocent, just, elect.”

When it refers to the righteousness, salvation, or sanctification of a Christian, justification is always given within this sense (regardless of tense or context):

You will be justified on the Day of Judgment because you have already been justified by faith apart from works.

Recall in “Changing Language” that Jerome had translated the Greek dikaios (“to declare righteous”) into the Latin justificare (“to make righteous”). It is this change in language that is the ultimate source of most of the subsequent doctrinal confusion. We’ll highlight this by examining every instance of the word used in the New Testament outside the gospels.

Romans 2:13
For all those who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all those who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law, for it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but those who do the law will be declared righteous [dikaiōthēsontai | δικαιωθήσονται | fut pass ind 3 pl]—for whenever Gentiles who do not have the law do by nature the things required by the law, they are a law to themselves even though they do not have the law,  since they demonstrate that the work of the law is written on their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, while their conflicting thoughts either accuse or else excuse them— on the day when God, through Jesus Christ, will judge what people have kept secret, just as I proclaim in my good news.

Paul mentions justification in Romans in 14 different verses and in 9 verses in his other letters. He uses the future tense only four times (once in Romans 2, twice in Romans 3, and once in Galatians 2), so it is especially notable here.

In order to understand what Paul is saying, we must first note what he is not saying. He isn’t saying that the doers of the law—the Gentiles—will be justified by doing the law.

Paul is contrasting the Jews—who heard the law—with the Gentiles—who did the law without hearing. What did the Gentiles do that made them different than the Jews? They believed. The Jews were merely “hearers” of the law because they attempted only to do the Law, and so failed. The Gentiles were “doers” of the law because they believed and so did.

By “doing the law” Paul refers to believing, for that is what “doers of the law” means.  As we saw Jesus do in Part 3, belief is being contrasted with disobedience. Belief and obedience are inextricably linked. Unbelief and disobedience are one in the same. The Jews (“hearers”) were disobedient and full of unbelief, while the Gentiles (“doers”) believed:

Romans 9:30-33
What, then, are we to say? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, obtained righteousness, that is, a righteousness that is by trust, but Israel, pursuing the law as a way of obtaining righteousness, did not succeed in attaining the righteousness of that law.  Why is that? Because they did not pursue righteousness by trust, but as if they could obtain it by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone,  as it is written: Look, I am placing in Zion a stone that will cause people to stumble—a rock that will cause people to fall—but the one who believes in him will not be put to shame.

How did the Gentiles obtain justification, that is, righteousness? By faith. How did the Jews fail to be justified? By failing to perform the law: by being disobedient. As we will see next in Romans 3, justification is given without respect for deeds.

Why does Paul use the future tense here and not the past tense if the believing Gentiles were already justified in their belief? Because Paul is trying to make the Jews jealous. He wants to emphasize that on the Day of Judgment, the Jews will be rejected for their deeds while the Gentiles will be accepted for their belief. Being believers already, their justification is already accomplished in the past. Paul almost immediately makes this point:

Romans 3:4
What then? If some did not believe, will their unbelief nullify God’s faithfulness? Absolutely not! Let God be true, even though every person is a liar, as it is written: so that you will be declared righteous [dikaiōthēs | δικαιωθῇς | aor pass subj 2 sg] in your words and will prevail when you are judged.

The aorist passive subjunctive tense indicates, without respect to time, a definite outcome. It is used when one does not wish to indicate that an action is ongoing.

Justification is about proving God’s faithfulness, that one’s belief in Christ is justified. Even if one had no works at all they would still be declared righteous for their words—their belief—at the Day of Judgment. The tense used here indicates that justification is “a done deal.” It doesn’t matter if the justification is past, present, or future. What matters is that the outcome is certain, due to the reason for the justification: faith.

Romans 3:19-31
Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth is silenced and the whole world is held accountable to God, because by the works of the law no flesh will be declared righteous [dikaiōthēsetai | δικαιωθήσεται | fut pass ind 3 sg] in his sight, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. But now a righteousness from God has been revealed apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets testify to it, namely, the righteousness from God that comes through trust in Jesus Christ to all those who believe, since there is no distinction between Jews and Gentiles, because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But they are declared righteous [dikaioumenoi | δικαιούμενοι | pres pass ptcp nom pl masc] freely by his grace through the redemption that is accomplished by Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as an atoning sacrifice through trust in his blood. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in God’s restraint he passed over the sins previously committed, planning to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so that he can be righteous and declare righteous [dikaiounta | δικαιοῦντα | pres act ptcp acc sg masc] the one who trusts in Jesus. Where, then, is there room for boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By one of works? No, but by a law of trust. For we maintain that a person is declared righteous [dikaiousthai | δικαιοῦσθαι | pres pass inf] by trust apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since there is only one God, who will declare righteous [dikaiōsei | δικαιώσει | fut act ind 3 sg] the circumcision by trust and the uncircumcision through the same trust. Do we then nullify the law through trust? Absolutely not! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

Paul, as before, uses the future tense to refer to the final declaration of righteousness at the Day of Final Judgment. Justification here refers to being found not guilty in the court of law. Even though each person is already saved, the Day of Judgment has not yet come, so that final declaration cannot yet be made.

But Paul makes it perfectly clear that a person is—already—declared righteous by faith apart from works. Their faith is what makes them righteous, but they won’t be fully justified until the end of time.

Lastly, Paul makes clear that faith alone does not nullify the law, but rather keep the law as a thing to be upheld. It simply isn’t what determines justification.

Romans 4:2-5
For if Abraham was declared righteous [edikaiōthē | ἐδικαιώθη | aor pass ind 3 sg] by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? And Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Now to one who works, his payment is not credited to him as a gift, but as something owed. But to the one who does not work, but believes in him who declares the ungodly person righteous [dikaiounta | δικαιοῦντα | pres act ptcp acc sg masc], his trust is credited to him as righteousness.

Abraham was justified—declared righteous—because he believed. For the one who does not work, his faith in the justifier—Christ—is credited to him as righteousness.

Romans 5:1-2
Therefore, since we have been declared righteous [dikaiōthentes | δικαιωθέντες | aor pass ptcp nom pl masc] by trust, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have also obtained access by trust into this grace in which we stand, and so we boast in the hope of the glory of God.

Again, we are justified—declared righteous—by faith in Christ.

Romans 5:9-11
Therefore, since we have now been declared righteous [dikaiōthentes | δικαιωθέντες | aor pass ptcp nom pl masc] by his blood, we can be much more certain that we will be saved from the wrath through him. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, we can be much more certain that, since we have been reconciled, we will be saved by his life. And not only that, but we also continue to boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received this reconciliation.

We are justified—declared righteous—by the blood of Christ.

Romans 6:7
For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that our body of sin would be rendered powerless, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin, because anyone who has died has been set free [dedikaiōtai | δεδικαίωται | perf pass ind 3 sg] from sin.

We are justified—set free—by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

Romans 8:30,33
And those whom he decided in advance would be conformed to the image of his Son, he also called, and those whom he called, he also declared righteous [edikaiōsen | ἐδικαίωσεν | aor act ind 3 sg], and those whom he declared righteous [edikaiōsen | ἐδικαίωσεν | aor act ind 3 sg], he also glorified. [..] Who can bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? God is the one who declares us righteous [dikaiōn | δικαιῶν | pres act ptcp nom sg masc].

We are justified—declared righteous—by Christ.

1 Corinthians 4:1-5
People should regard us in this manner: as of ministers of Christ, and stewards of the sacred secrets of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. But with me, it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you, or by man’s day of judgment. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself—but I am not declared righteous [dedikaiōmai | δεδικαίωμαι | perf pass ind 1 sg] by that. The one who judges me is the Lord. So then, do not pass judgments before the proper time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and reveal the motives of people’s hearts, and then each one will have his praise from God.

Paul notes that he isn’t justified on the basis of having no proof of unfaithfulness counted against him. Paul notes that final judgment takes place on the Day of Judgment.

1 Corinthians 6:11
And such were some of you, but you were washed, but you were made holy, but you were declared righteous [edikaiōthēte | ἐδικαιώθητε | aor pass ind 2 pl] in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the spirit of our God.

We were justified—declared righteous—by Christ.

Galatians 2:15-17
We who are Jews by birth and not “Gentile sinners,” knowing that a person is not declared righteous [dikaioutai | δικαιοῦται | pres pass ind 3 sg] by the works of the law but through trust in Jesus Christ, even we believed in Christ Jesus so that we are declared righteous [dikaiōthōmen | δικαιωθῶμεν | aor pass subj 1 pl] by trust in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no flesh will be declared righteous [dikaiōthēsetai | δικαιωθήσεται | fut pass ind 3 sg]. But if, while seeking to be declared righteous [dikaiōthēnai | δικαιωθῆναι | aor pass inf] in Christ, we Jews are ourselves also found to be sinners, is Christ a servant of sin? Absolutely not!

We are not justified based on works of the law, but on the basis of faith in Jesus. By works, no one is justified, nor will any man ever be justified in the future based on their works.

Galatians 3:6-12
Just as Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Know then, that those who rely on trust, they are children of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would declare the Gentiles righteous [dikaioi | δικαιοῖ | pres act ind 3 sg] by trust, proclaimed the good news to Abraham ahead of time, saying, In you all the nations will be blessed. So then, those who rely on trust are blessed along with Abraham, the man of trust. For as many as rely on the works of the law are under a curse, for it is written, Cursed is everyone who does not continue doing everything that is written in the book of the law. But it is clear that no one is declared righteous [dikaioutai | δικαιοῦται | pres pass ind 3 sg] before God by the law, because the righteous will live by trust, and the law is not based on trust, but the one who does them will live by them.

Just as Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness, so too the Gentiles are justified by their faith. No one is justified—righteous—by the works of the law.

Galatians 3:23-25
But before the coming of the trust in Christ, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the trust that was about to come was revealed. So then, the law has been our guardian-tutor until Christ, so that we could be declared righteous [dikaiōthōmen | δικαιωθῶμεν | aor pass subj 1 pl] by trust. But now that trust has come, we are no longer under a guardian-tutor.

Paul contrasts works of the law with faith. Only by the latter are we justified in Christ.

Galatians 5:4
You have cut yourselves off from Christ, you who are seeking to be declared righteous [dikaiousthe | δικαιοῦσθε | pres pass ind 2 plby the law. You have fallen away from grace.

You can try to become justified by the law, but if you do so you will be cut off from Christ who already justified you by faith.

1 Timothy 3:16
And, beyond all question, great is the sacred secret that leads to godliness: he was revealed in the flesh, vindicated [edikaiōthē | ἐδικαιώθη | aor pass ind 3 sgin the spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed in throughout the world, and taken up in glory.

Christ was justified.

Titus 3:7
Since we have been declared righteous [dikaiōthentes | δικαιωθέντες | aor pass ptcp nom pl masc] by his grace, we became heirs with the hope of life in the age to come.

We were justified—declared righteous—by grace and so have eternal life.

James 2:21-25
Was not Abraham our father declared righteous [edikaiōthē | ἐδικαιώθη | aor pass ind 3 sg] by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his trust was working together with his works, and his trust was made complete by his works, and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, And Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is declared righteous [dikaioutai | δικαιοῦται | pres pass ind 3 sgby works, and not by trust alone. And in the same way, was not also Rahab the prostitute declared righteous [edikaiōthē | ἐδικαιώθη | aor pass ind 3 sgby works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by a different route?

Recall what we said in the opening:

Justification carries the basic sense of “to show to be righteous, declare righteous.” It can have a judicial sense (as in a judicial declaration) or simply mean being justified as in being shown to be right, correct, or vindicated.

When Paul speaks of justification, most of the time he means it in terms of a judicial declaration before God. It is the reason why he used the future tense in Romans, because every Christian is declared justified on the Day of Judgment on the basis of their faith.

But when James speaks of faith, he is talking about being justified in the sense of being shown to be right, correct, or vindicated before men:

Show me your trust without your works, and I will show you my trust by my works.

To explain this relevance, we will look at this thread by Timothy Kauffman:

When a New Testament writer or speaker provides two Old Testament witnesses to support his teaching, it is best to go find out what his two witnesses said and did. James calls Abraham (Genesis 22) and Rahab (Joshua 2) to the stand to testify of his meaning.

We learn from Genesis 22 & Hebrews 11:18 that Abraham’s work of offering his son Isaac (James 2:21) was founded entirely upon his belief that God would keep His Word to give him the land as an inheritance—even if Isaac died, for He was able to raise him up (Hebrews 11:19).

We learn from Joshua 2 that Rahab’s work of cooperating with the spies was founded entirely upon her belief that God would keep the very same promise He made to Abraham: “I know that the LORD hath given you the land” (Joshua 2:9). Both “works” responded to the same promise.

As Abraham, Rahab too, believed the whole of it. God promised Abraham that He would deal with “the iniquity of the Amorites” through the Hebrews (Genesis 15:16). Of this Rahab readily confesses: “we have heard … what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites” (Joshua 2:10).

Both Abraham & Rahab believed the same covenantal promise and accordingly adjusted their behavior to align with their conviction. It is James’ point—”So speak … so do” (2:12). So convinced were they of God’s Word that they acted without hesitation as if His promise was true.

The challenge to Abraham was, if you believe God will give the land to Isaac, “Take now thy son … and offer him” (Gen 22:2). He did. And the spies’ test of Rahab: If you really believe God has given the land to Abraham’s offspring, then act accordingly (Josh 2:14). She did.

It was their profession of faith that was tried, so it is their profession of faith that was justified. James uses “justify” here as Jesus did in Matthew 11:19: “Wisdom is justified of her deeds.” Deeds do not make wisdom wise. They only demonstrate the fruit of actual wisdom.

Here justification is simply proof that a man’s claim turned out to be true. God’s promises are justified the same way, for He is “justified in thy sayings” (Romans 3:4). Do you say you have faith? “I will shew thee my faith by my works” (James 2:18). “So speak ye, and so do.”

Deeds do not make faith saving. They demonstrate saving faith. Jesus was made perfect by suffering (Heb 2:10, 5:19). His suffering did not make Him into Someone He wasn’t. They demonstrated Who He was. This is how James described the perfection of faith by works (James 2:22).

All this is to say that if Abraham’s & Rahab’s professions of faith were justified by works (as James used the word), then it is proof that Abraham & Rahab were truly justified without works (according to Paul’s use of the word), for Paul calls two witnesses to attest to it:

Abraham who “worketh not” is the one who is justified by faith (Romans 4:5); David too was justified by faith “without works” (Romans 4:6). Here Paul uses “justified” to mean “counted righteous” whereas James used it to mean “proved true in what a man professed to believe.”

So, Abraham’s & Rahab’s works proved true their profession of faith in God’s covenant promise, and thus attested that Abraham and Rahab were justified (counted righteous) by their professed faith alone, entirely apart from their later works. James 2:24 can mean nothing else.

Thus, I say I wish Roman Catholics would by their works show that they believe James 2:24, instead of just saying so. After all, by their works Abraham & Rahab showed they believed the Gospel the Scriptures preached beforehand: that they were counted righteous without works.

Unfortunately Roman Catholics in unbelief take James 2:24 to mean they will be counted righteous by their works—the very opposite of the gospel to which Abraham’s & Rahab’s works attested. It is not Protestants but Catholics who are terrified of what James 2:24 really means.

Clement took this very position [that “justified” means “vindicated”]: after citing James: “justified by our works, and not our words” (ch30). Citing Paul, we “are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own … godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by … faith” (ch32).

Thus, in the first century, what is essentially the Protestant position (James used justification to mean proved truthful, and Paul used it to mean reckoned righteous) was being taught by the Church while some apostles were still alive.

In all these cases, justification refers to being counted as righteous both now and on the Day of Judgment on the basis of the words of faith that one has confessed apart from their works.

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