The Doctrine of Justification
“For 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” (vv. 23–24) - Romans 3:21–26.
Our justification before God is apart from any good works we have done. This is because any good works done without faith are not good at all in God’s sight. Such outwardly good works are really assertions of our own self-righteousness. For us to be justified, Jesus must pay the penalty for our sins, and we must receive that payment by faith in His completed work, His death and life.
Justification is forensic, which means that it is legal. We are declared just in God’s courtroom because Jesus lived an obedient life and paid the penalty for our sins. We receive this justification by faith alone, because there are no good deeds we can do to earn it. Because justification is wholly by faith, apart from any good works of ours, we are simultaneously just and yet sinners. Sinfulness still resides in us, yet we are cleared in God’s courtroom.
Justification is also synthetic and not analytical. What does this technical language mean? Synthetic means that two things are added together to form a synthesis. Synthetic justification means that we are justified only because of the work of Jesus Christ added to us. If we stand alone before God, without this synthesis, we can only be condemned.
The Roman Catholic doctrine of justification is analytic. It says that we must cooperate with the grace of Christ and do good work to be saved. The finished work of Jesus Christ enables us to become better people, and God declares us saved based on the fact that we have become better. When we stand before God, God does not judge us based on what Christ did for us, but based on whether we became personally good by appropriating the grace of Christ. If we are not good enough, we may have to spend time in purgatory getting better before we can be admitted to heaven.
The Protestant synthetic doctrine says that we are saved for heaven apart from any good works and change of character. We are saved for heaven exclusively based on the work of Christ added to us. Now, anyone who is truly saved will do good works, and the degree of his heavenly reward will be related to his life of obedience. But his salvation is based solely and completely on Christ’s work done outside of him, but given to him synthetically.
Which doctrinal perspective gives a firmer basis for assurance of salvation? Which more magnifies Christ’s work? Which more accounts for human depravity? Do you truly appreciate the biblical and Protestant doctrine as much as you should? Thank God for giving us the Reformation.
Passages for Further Study
- John 5:24
- Acts 13:39
- Romans 4:1–25
- 2 Corinthians 5:19–21