“But when the benevolence and philanthropy of God our Savior appeared, not because of works of righteousness which were produced by us, but according to his mercy, he saved us through the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, in order that, being justified in that grace, we became heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
“Being justified in that grace…” What an amazingly significant statement that the Apostle Paul makes here in these words. We are justified not in our works, we are justified not in our heritage, we are justified not in our church memberships, and we are justified not in our profession of faith. We are justified in the grace of God alone, which is the reason that God the Father brought us from death to life, regenerating and renewing us by His Holy Spirit attained for us by the completed work of Jesus Christ. We are justified by grace alone and we cannot remind ourselves of that enough because it is that realization that produces in us the gratitude to live a life in obedience to our God and Savior.
Yet, along with this affirmation, we must understand what is meant by “justification,” for indeed, as there are always those who will seek to draw people away from the Scriptural Truth, there are those in the world today that would have you believe that justification is something other than what the Bible declares it to be.
In principle, it is a legal term that reflects a judge’s declaration that we are guiltless in the eyes of the law. In a typical legal case, charges are brought, evidence is presented, and then the Judge (or in some cases, a Jury) determines whether you are innocent or guilty. In America, you are always presumed innocent in a court of law. Such has not always been the case, but what always has been the case is that it is the declaration of the judge that determines your status before the law. It is his (or her) declaration that essentially determines whether you will be treated as innocent or guilty (regardless of whether you really are!).
Thus, when we see Paul using the term “justification,” we must recognize this in a legal context. We are being declared innocent of breaking the law not because we have not broken the law, but because Christ has interceded for us as our Mediator — our Paraclete — and has fulfilled the demands of the law on our behalf. Thus, the law no longer hangs over our heads or binds us to punishment, but we have been (in Christ) declared innocent by God…once and for all times. In Christ, God looks at us as he looks at his faithful Son — innocent and undefiled — once again, not because of what we have done, but because of what Jesus has done for us — all flowing out of God’s grace.
Does that mean we can live how we want, seeing that we are justified before God? No. We have been raised from death to life; how can we live with such ingratitude toward our Savior (Romans 6:1)? To do so would be as if we were saying to God, “I wish you had left me to my sin and under your wrath…I am spiteful of the work of Christ.” No one who is genuinely born again can say such a thing. Yet, even so, sometimes we live that way, sinners that we are. And if that is the case, you need to repent. And when churches make up their own standards, either of legalistic standards or a rejection of the law and expectations of God on his people, the church too needs to repent as it is raising its hand in rebellion against God and turn away from its man-made idolatry.