Justification: Just Declared Right or Made Right?

While working as a supervisor for a world-wide delivery company, I had an employee who was just a few minutes late every morning. I asked my supervisor what I should do to get him to be on time. His answer shocked me. “Change his start time a few minutes so he will be on time.”

At first that did not seem right to me. Why change the standard to make a wrong person look right? My boss explained to me that since the employee is quite productive, he still gets his work done on time, so the company would actually be saving money by having him come a few minutes later. By moving his start time back a few minutes, there would not be any tardiness on his record, we would be saving money, and all the work would still be done on time. That made sense. We changed the rule to make him right.

Image © Steve Creitz from GoodSalt.com

Image © Steve Creitz from GoodSalt.com

In Gethsemane Jesus was asking the Father if there was another way to save the human race, other than drinking the cup He was about to drink.

O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. Matthew 26:42

This time changing the rules or the laws was not an option. How much easier it would have been for God to just change His Law or get rid of it so Jesus would not have to go to the cross.

If the law could be changed, man might have been saved without the sacrifice of Christ; but the fact that it was necessary for Christ to give His life for the fallen race, proves that the law of God will not release the sinner from its claims upon him. It is demonstrated that the wages of sin is death. When Christ died, the destruction of Satan was made certain. But if the law was abolished at the cross, as many claim, then the agony and death of God’s dear Son were endured only to give to Satan just what he asked; then the prince of evil triumphed, his charges against the divine government were sustained. The very fact that Christ bore the penalty of man’s transgression is a mighty argument to all created intelligences that the law is changeless; that God is righteous, merciful, and self-denying; and that infinite justice and mercy unite in the administration of His government. –Ellen White, Patriarch and Prophets, Page 70.

Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. 1 John 3:4

Today many preachers are preaching themselves out of a job when they say the Law has been done away with. If the Law is done away with, then, according to John, we can’t sin, for sin is the transgression of the law. If we can’t sin then we don’t need grace. After all the wages of sin is death. (See Romans 6:23) Sin is transgressing God’s law. If there is no law for us to break then we can’t sin, and if we can’t sin then we don’t deserve death, and if we don’t deserve death then we don’t need grace. If we don’t need grace, then we don’t need a preacher telling us about grace. The fact that we need grace is proof itself that there is still a law.

The good news is that by faith God’s grace makes us right, not by changing the law, like we did for my employee at the delivery company, but by changing us by faith. Many people look at justification as being declared right, but look at how these reliable translations define justification.

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Romans 5:1 NLT

Therefore, since we have been made righteous through his faithfulness combined with our faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 5:1 CEB

Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: Romans 5:1 KJV

The King James Version calls it justification. The CEB and NLT and several other versions translate justification not as just being declared right, but being made right. After all, Romans 1:17 says, the just say shall live by faith. That is because the just have been made right by faith.

Faith does not replace reality. Faith is what makes it real. Jesus did not pretend to heal people. The healing was real. Jesus does not pretend to forgive people. The forgiveness is real.

I often hear people say, “Oh we are justified by faith” as if to suggest that the “being made right” does not make an actual difference in the life. As if Jesus only considers us “just” and “right,” but it.s all just pretend, and we just go on sinning like before. This is not the case though. Faith makes being right a reality, and not pretend. Jesus does not pretend to justify people by only declaring them right. The justification, like the healing and forgiveness are real. We are made, recreated, right.

Jesus could have just pounded a gavel on the desk to declare us right, but it took the cross to actually make us right.

God could not change His law. Jesus did not die to change the law. He died to change us, and bring us into harmony with His law and character.

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

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Justification: Just Declared Right or Made Right? — 74 Comments