The essence of justification is the restoration of justice in man's character, the reform of personality to complete conformity with God's principles. This is a definition that is fundamentally different from the prevailing view, which locates justification within the discretionary powers of the Lord. In this way, justified, i.e. recognized as righteous, is the man who believes. What it means to believe is subject to discussion and views on this issue are also quite disparate, but in principle the basic sense is preserved: God recognizes sinful man as perfect. But for what purpose?
The teaching of the Scripture on God's requirements for justice is clear: " the soul that sinneth, it shall die ... But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right ... Hath walked in my statutes, and hath kept my judgments, to deal truly; he [is] just, he shall surely live, saith the Lord GOD" (Ezek. 18:4-9 KJV). On the basis of reckoning justice no one will receive the gift of life. And even if one did enjoy such justification for a time, he would have to prove unworthy at the end. This does not mean, however, that the Bible does not speak of reckoned justification, but it would be worth investigating what is reckoned, to whom and for what purpose. Similar is the case with remission and forgiveness of sins. It is easy to imagine God sitting on his heavenly throne and thinking who else to be angry at, and who can be forgiven, but it has nothing to do with the teachings of the Bible.
The aim of the lecture is to show that justification has a very practical dimension. Whatever statements of the Scripture there are on this subject, they all lead in this direction, and they all concentrate on the actual reform of man's character.
The lecture consists of three main parts. Part I provides an overview of the process of justification and its essential elements. Part II is a discussion of the concepts of justification: forgiveness of sins, remission of sins and reckoned justification. Part III offers an analysis of Biblical texts on the subject of justification.
PART I. THE CONDITIONS OF JUSTIFICATION
Justice is in essence obligatory love. By doing what is righteous, we give to everyone their due - "the things that are Caesar's to Caesar and the things that are God's to God" (Mt 22:21 RV). From our forefather Adam we have inherited a poor idea of what is truly right, hence the mission of our Lord Jesus who comes to "testify to the truth," i.e. to give an example of perfect justice to an imperfect man (Jn 18:37 RV). The first condition of justification must therefore be to know the Gospel and to believe it, that is, one must agree with the fact that indeed in Jesus Christ there is the pattern to be followed. The knowledge and recognition of this pattern in Jesus Christ by a sinful man must lead to the recognition of one's own imperfection, i.e. understanding where one's conduct is incompatible with the pattern. Thus, there comes condition no. 2, i.e. repentance (Gr. metanoia - literally 'change of mind').
So by repenting we literally change our thinking and decide that certain things in our lives are not in line with the example we have in Jesus Christ, and we decide to give them up. The mirror image of metanoia, and at the same time the third condition of justification, is epistrofe, or conversion. Just as in repentance we have rejected certain things that are not in accordance with the example, so in conversion we accept those that we have missed so far. In doing so, we are able to make certain progress in our lives, but it will not be a complete reform because to overcome human weaknesses, compulsory love is insufficient. Necessary here is the agape love - the power of the spirit which forces us to abandon our worldly will and instead accept God's will as our own by following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ and making the sacrifice of our bodies in the image of his sacrifice (Rom. 12:1; 2 Cor. 5:14,15).
That is why the Mosaic Law was not effective in justification (Heb. 7:18, 8:7). The Mosaic Law also showed the pattern of justice, but it did not require self-sacrifice. The sacrifice as such did exist under the Old Covenant - the Jew sacrificed doves, lambs, bulls, etc. He did not sacrifice himself, his body. Meanwhile, Jesus comes to the Father and says, "You do not want sacrifices and offerings, but you have prepared a body for me. You are not pleased with animals burnt whole on the altar or with sacrifices to take away sins. Then I said, 'Here I am, to do your will, O God'" (Heb. 10:5-7 GNB). The meaning of our Lord's sacrifice was the testimony of justice, of which he himself assures (Jn. 12:46, 18:37). But the tool of this sacrifice was the body - the body that had to be used in service until the very end, to death itself. In the Law this information is provided, but not in the form of an obligation, but rather in the typical form. In this sense, the sacrifice of the animal under the Old Covenant typifies the sacrifice of the human body under the New Covenant. And not only the body of a man Jesus, but also everybody who believes in Jesus.
We can accept Jesus Christ; we can repent and convert; but the agape love we do not have by ourselves. Therefore, speaking of the weaknesses of the Mosaic Law and the New Covenant that replaced it, the Apostle Paul quotes the prophet Jeremiah's words: "I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts" (Heb. 8:10 GNB). Because we do not have the power to offer ourselves to God, He pours out his sacrificial love into our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). And he does so to those whom he had previously recognized and predestined to 'be conformed to the image of his Son' (Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:3-6). Therefore, although repentance and conversion begin the process of justification, the complete justification is the work of God, who by his sacrificial love leads to the abandonment of the 'old self with its habits', and putting on of 'the new being which God, its Creator, is constantly renewing in his own image, in order to bring you to a full knowledge of himself' (Col. 3:8-11).
Thus, just as repentance has its 'other side of the coin' in conversion, consecration has its continuation in the birth of the spirit, i.e. the initiation of a new character in Jesus Christ. Still, looking from another point of view, one can see that the notions of repentance and consecration are closely linked, except that repentance works in the area of obligatory love and causes the renunciation of sin, whereas consecration works in the area of sacrificial love and causes self-denial for the Lord's cause. Similar parallels occur between the concepts of conversion and birth of the spirit. Conversion works in the area of obligatory love (justice) and motivates one "to give to each one what belongs to him"; spiritual birth is our new character modelled on the character of our Lord in the attitude of sacrifice to God.
To finish off this part of the lecture it would be worthwhile to refer to the notion of faith. There is no agreement among Bible researchers as to the source of faith - can we believe by ourselves, or is faith a gift from God? The above analysis should make this issue clear: we have the power to believe in Jesus Christ and on this basis to repent and convert. The elect who have been predestined by God for participation in the Body of Christ (i.e. participation in Christ's spirit) receive faith that is no longer just a belief in God and salvation in Christ, but it is sacrificial faith that makes man a sacrifice to God. This twofold sense of faith is also highlighted in the Bible languages, where both the Hebrew emun and the Greek pistis signify both faith and trust. On the one hand, we have the conviction that leads to the acceptance of God's principles, and on the other hand, we have the trust that leads one to become "a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God" (Rom. 12:1).
PART II. TERMS RELATED TO JUSTIFICATION
The Bible uses a number of terms related to justification. Many of them appear in the Old Testament, where God is portrayed in a manner strongly marked with anthropomorphism. Transposed to the New Testament and read literally, these terms represent God Yahweh as a judge who is constantly occupied with judgment, forgiveness, and coloring of reality in which the sinner is considered to be just. However, when placed in the context of the definition of justification proposed in the first sentence of this lecture, they take on a completely new, practical sense.
Remission of sins
In Ps. 32:1 cited later by the Apostle Paul in Rom. 4:7 the psalmist cries: "Blessed [are] they whose iniquities are forgiven" (OGIB). How then does God forgive sins? Hebrew language throws some light on it, where nassa is translated as 'to forgive', but it also means 'to take away' or 'to carry off'. The sins of believers are taken from them when they repent and convert to God. Such a 'change of mind' opens man up to the operation of the holy spirit of God that leads away from sin and towards the practice of justice. The proper meaning of nassa is therefore remission of sins. Even though in Rom. 4:7 we find nassa translated as aphiemi and further as 'to forgive' in English Online Greek Interlinear Bible, there are occurrences of aphiemi in the New Testament translated as 'to remit' (e.g. in John 20:23 OGIB), which further supports the above view.
What is important, remission of sins takes place without participation of the sinner's own actions, but solely on the basis of the repenting faith (Rom. 4:6). This is confirmed in the same Psalm 32, where in verse 5 we read: "I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin" (KJV). The same teaching is also found with our Lord Jesus, who declares: "If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive [Gr. aphiemi] him" (Luke 17:3,4 KJV). Thus, the basis for the remission of sins is not that deed or the other, but the very decision of the will of the repentant person to forsake sin. Such a decision, though not a deed in itself, creates space in the mind and heart of man for the operation of the divine spirit, which remits our sins, leading away from conduct contrary to the principles of God.
The same principle applies in the case of consecration. Repentance itself is not a deed, but an act of will, and so is consecration effected by the action of the divine spirit in the heart and mind of man, subduing one's human will in favor of doing God's will. The result of metanoia is the opening of man to the spirit and the work of obligatory love; the result of consecration is the commencement of the process of self-sacrifice and operation of the sacrificial love agape. In each case the basis for the remission of sins (liberation from sin) is the change of heart and mind of the person accepting the conditions of obligatory love by repentance or sacrificial love by consecration.
Forgiveness of sins
In the same verse where we read about remission of sins, we also read about covering of sins: "Blessed [are] they ... whose sins are covered" (OGIB). In the Psalm we find here the Hebrew kasah, which is also translated as 'to forgive' (as in Neh. 4:5), but it primarily means 'to cover' or 'to put on clothes'. Clothes in turn bring to mind the robes of justice which the Bible speaks of in many places, e.g. in Job 29:14; Ps. 132:9,16; Is. 61:10; Zech. 3:4; Rev. 19:8. Of this robe we read both that we receive it from God, and that we put it on by ourselves. Complete justification is possible only by the operation of God who through baptism in the spirit pours his sacrificial love into our hearts (Phil. 3:8-11). But the process of justification as such begins outside the state of spiritual birth, if only by repentance one rejects sin (remission of sins) and by conversion accepts the principles of righteousness - covers one's weaknesses with the robe of righteous deeds.
Therefore, the use of these two expressions together - remission of sins and forgiveness (covering) of sins - both in Ps. 32:1 and Rom. 4:7 is not accidental. Just as conversion results from repentance and birth of the spirit from consecration, so covering up of our sins with the robe of justice must be the consequence of their remission - elimination from the lives of believers. The justification we have access to in this way, however, does not take place on the condition of works - the only condition that must be fulfilled in man is the change of mind. However, while every human being has the capacity and even the obligation to repent, consecration is made by grace of God's election by giving the elect the spirit of the sacrificial love agape.
The Greek dikaioo, which we translate as 'to justify', has three basic meanings: 1) consider sb/sth to be just, 2) proclaim sb/sth to be just, and 3) to make sb/sth just. Definition no. 3 best suits the definition of justification provided at the beginning of the lecture, but can it apply in each case? In the case of the present and future tense, the answer could be provided in the affirmative, but dikaioo appears in the New Testament also in the past tense, which seemingly requires the definition no. 1. It appears that this thread is directly responsible for the view that justification is based solely on God's recognition of a believer as a just man. Thus, to repeat after the Apostle Paul, "being justified by faith, we have peace with God" (Rom. 5:1 KJV).
However, a few verses earlier Paul explains what he had in mind by writing about Abraham: "For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath [whereof] to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness" (Rom. 4:2,3 OGIB). So Abraham was not considered a righteous man, but his faith was considered to be "for righteousness", or "into justice", as OGIB puts it. In Rom. 4:23,24 we read that "it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised uo Jesus our Lord from the dead" (OGIB).
We believe not in just the sense that there is Jesus Christ, but in the sense of faith leading to the 'change of mind' (metanoia). Such faith is considered by God to be "into justice", i.e. as a sufficient basis to begin the process of actual reform (justification) of character. In this process we are led by God's spirit, which is a divine gift for the called, "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do" (Phil. 2:12-16; 1 Cor. 12:3). In the case of the elect, this faith will be the basis for baptism in the spirit, as it is stated by the Apostle Peter in Acts 2:38. Just as the chosen Jew had to repent first so that his choice could materialize, so the non-Jewish elect must fulfill the same condition in order to receive the spirit of consecration and new birth (Acts 3:19, 17:30; 2 Cor. 5:20). In this way, their faith outside consecration is "into justice" because its positive evaluation by God triggers the process of actual justification in the character enlivened by the sacrificial love agape.
PART III. ANALYSIS OF TEXTS RELATED TO JUSTIFICATION
The final part of the lecture contains an analysis of the Bible texts on justification in the order in which they appear in the Bible. Comments on verses are given in brackets.
Rom. 3:21-24 (OGIB) - "But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God [which is] by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" [the Apostle Paul provides six characteristics of justification: 1) it is "the righteousness of God", as it is provided through the operation of the divine consecrating love (Gal. 5:6,22); 2) it is attained "by faith of Jesus Christ" - not "in Jesus Christ" - because the reform of man's character may be effected only according to the principles of consecration manifested in our Lord; 3) "unto all and upon all them that believe" - all that have the faith of Jesus Christ (i.e. that are consecrated) participate in justification (i.e. reform their characters in Jesus' image); 4) "Being justified by his grace" - justification may fully take place only in the believers who have been consecrated by God and born of his spirit, for which purpose they had also been elected and predestined (Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:3-6); 5) "Being justified freely" - God's election is without prior conditions, one cannot achieve it through works (Rom. 9:6-16); 6) "through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" - redemption consists in our Lord providing the equivalent price for man, which is the price of obedience (see Bible lecture "The sacrifice of Jesus Christ"). We draw on this price in the process of justification by looking at the example that Jesus left us and reforming our characters accordingly]
Rom. 3:25,26 (OGIB) - "Whom God hath set forth [to be] a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, [I say], at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" [the apostle Paul shows that justification of faith was shown in the Mosaic Law, where "God hath set forth /Jesus to be/ a propitiation through faith in his blood", i.e. animal sacrifices under the Old Covenant represented the sacrifice of our Lord. Paul, however, points out that at that time justification was also "through faith". The sacrifice of an animal in itself was of no value unless it was accompanied by faith of the person offering the sacrifice (1 Sam. 15:22, Ps. 51:16,17), and likewise under the New Covenant the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ is effective only by faith of those who accept it. The purpose of animal sacrifices was also "the remission of sins" - the need to offer the sacrifice made the Jew aware of his sinfulness, and thus also aware of the need to reject injustice and live according to the principles of God. But that happened with the "sins that are past" - now the Old Covenant has been replaced by the New Covenant in which faith in Jesus Christ's sacrifice justifies us, i.e. it leads us to the remission of sins (by rejecting them) and covering of our characters with the robe of righteous deeds]
Rom. 4:25 (KJV) - "Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification" [the apostle Paul writes literally that Jesus let himself to be offered in sacrifice (paradidomi) when he approached John at the Jordan. There he experienced baptism in the spirit through which his human life was sacrificed - dedicated to the fulfillment of God's will. Jesus "was delivered for our offences" because his sacrifice resulted from human sin. He was, however, also "raised again for our justification" because he also experienced spiritual new birth in the Jordan so that during his 3.5-year service he could provide a model of perfect conduct that serves to justify the characters of those who follow him]
Rom. 5:1,2 (KJV) - "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God" [in verse 1 we find dikaioo in past tense, which points to reckoned justification, i.e. God's acceptance of repentance as the basis for justification. Such faith is our reconciliation with God, and at the same time it is a necessary condition of consecration and spiritual birth, by which we "rejoice in hope of the glory of God" - resurrection to the divine nature (1 Pet. 1:3,4)]
1 Cor. 6:11 (OGIB) - "And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God" [the Apostle Paul mentions three elements of justification. First, washing in the active - we wash ourselves when we 'change mind' through repentance and cleanse ourselves of sin. Then we have hagiazo and dikaioo in the passive - further elements are the work of the Lord God on behalf of his elect who are consecrated and justified by the spirit of the divine love agape - the seed of new character committed to the fulfillment of God's will. Analogous three elements, but formulated in a slightly different way, are found in Phil. 3:10]
Phil. 3:10 (OGIB) - "not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith" [the complete justification process must include the four elements listed in Phil. 3:10, of which two - consecration and birth of the spirit here addressed as death and resurrection - are the exclusive action of the Lord God who gives his elect the spirit of sacrificial love. That is why Paul says that it is God's justice - justice "which is of God by faith". The Pharisees, and among them also Paul, practiced different justice - that "which is of the law" and consisted in meticulous observance of figurative rules. And in that Saul was impeccable, as he himself attests in Phil. 3:6. But it was his own justice, achieved with his own effort and conscientiousness. It was not God's justice because observance of the law is not identical with the fulfillment of the norm of law, which can be properly realized only by the influence of God's spirit. The spirit was not there and could not be because the basic condition of repentance that opens man to God was not met. That is why the Jew was left with his own justice and his own efforts to achieve it. The Pharisean righteousness was severely reproved by our Lord who accused the Pharisees in Mt. 23:23-28 of 'straining at a gnat' in the form of taking care of the least of the literal rules while 'swallowing a camel' because they "have omitted the weightier [matters] of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith"]
Phil. 3:10,11 (OGIB) - "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead" [the Apostle Paul mentions the conditions of justification that he wrote about a verse earlier: 1) the knowledge of Christ is on the one hand listening to the Gospel and its reception, but on the other hand also repentance and conversion as the necessary conditions of faith; 2) "being made conformable unto his death" means continuation of consecration, making a sacrifice to God of oneself; 3) resurrection is the birth of the spirit - the death of our human will accompanies the rebirth of character in the image of Jesus Christ through accepting the will of the Lord God as one's own, 4) "the fellowship of his sufferings" is quite literally - experiences related with our consecration]