In an article by Geoff Thomas entitled “Justification is Free, by God’s Grace, through Christ’s Redemption” he writes:
Romans 3:24 ‘And are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.’
Some sentences are packed with meaning and this is a prime example. These words are a forceful explanation of what the wonderful truth of God’s justification is all about. Virtually every word in the sentence is important, even the word ‘and’ that begins the text, ‘and’ linking justification with the universality and guilt of sin that Paul has set out in the famous previous verse. We are unrighteous sinners in the sight of God. There seems to be no hope for us, yet Paul says ‘and,’ not ‘but.’ Never stop with man’s depravity for that leads to despair. Depravity must be joined to the offer of the extraordinary grace of God that freely justifies every favoured sinner who believes. You might have come here today as low as you’ve ever been in your life, feeling your sin and guilt, conscious you have sinned against much blessing and knowledge, thinking that there can be no hope for you. God has brought you here to hear these words: ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:23, 24). Let’s examine these words . . .
1. JUSTIFICATION IS FREE
To justify does not mean to make someone righteous; it is not about changing the actual substance and character of a person. It is not that. It means to declare that someone now has a new status, a righteous status. It is a forensic and legal term. A criminal is accused of a wrong-doing. The magistrate hears the evidence, takes every factor into consideration, the provocation of the event and so on, and comes to the conclusion that he will find him not guilty, that he will declare him to be righteous as far as this case and this particular charge is concerned. He is not making him a good man; he is not changing his personality. He is removing him from the status of being the accused to a sinner being declared innocent. He is the same person leaving court as the one who walked to the court that morning, but what has changed is this, he no longer carries the guilt of what he was said to have done.
Of course with us the situation is different. It is not that we are alleged to have done wrong things; we’ve done them, many of them, really bad things, but we have come to God in our guilt and shame and acknowledged that to him. ‘Here I am Lord, guilty in my eyes let alone in your sight. I have erred and strayed from your ways like a lost sheep. I have not done the things I ought to have done and I have done the things I shouldn’t have done. There is no health in me. Have mercy, Lord; O Lord, forgive. Pardon me freely. Wash me, cleanse me, declare me to be righteous. Justify me, Almighty God. I confess my sins to you and your word says, “If we confess our sins you are faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The publican in the Temple cried to you, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” and Jesus said that the man walked out of the building justified. May I leave this building justified today! The dying thief asked Jesus to remember him when he came in his kingdom. “Remember me O Lord,” I pray today. There are millions in need of you now, praying to you now. You are in charge of the galaxies of space and you satisfy the needs of every living thing. Please hear little sinful me and declare me to be righteous. While on others you are casting the garment of the righteousness of Christ do not pass me by. Naked, I come to thee for dress; helpless look to thee for grace. Justify me, Saviour.’ So you pray like that, in your own words, and persist in praying. You will not let him go away; you keep speaking to him until he blesses you with his justification.
It is free, the apostle says. We are justified freely. We do not pay something or give something to be justified. We do not do anything to be justified. It is a free act of God which we simply receive. There is no barter, and no exchange. It is not that we offer something to God and he then checks it out and sees if it passes muster and then responds by declaring us righteous. It is nothing like that. There is nothing in our hands that we bring to the God who justifies to get imputed righteousness. Do we read that the 3,000 on the Day of Pentecost took an offering and because of that they received forgiveness for crucifying the Son of God? Were they told to fast and to crawl around the Temple seven times on their hands and knees? No. Did the Ethiopian do something to receive pardon, or Lydia to have her heart opened by God? Or there was the Philippian woman possessed with a spirit of divination; what was she asked to do to be delivered? Nothing at all. Or the Philippian jailer? He was asked not to do something, not to harm himself, and that is all. Paul insists that this word from God about a justification that changes our status for ever and declares us to be righteous is given without money and without price.
Is there a religious ceremony that obtains an alien righteousness? Does baptism get it? No. The dying thief was not baptized and yet that day he went to paradise. Does speaking in tongues get it? No. Paul says categorically that not all Christians were given the gift of speaking in a language they didn’t know. Do the hands of a bishop on your head give you free justification? No, they do not, because many who were once confirmed have long given up any desire to believe in God. You can give all your gifts to the poor and give your body to be burned and yet be a nothing, Paul tells the Christians in Corinth. Continue reading