“Salvation is from our side a choice; from the divine side it is a seizing upon,
an apprehending, a conquest by the Most High God. Our accepting and willing are
reactions rather than actions.” -A.W. Tozer
Reformation Arminianism strongly believes in the doctrine of justification by faith. The reason for this belief lies in the heart of the New Testament, that man cannot save himself by his own good works (Titus 3:5-7). In fact, all our righteous deeds are but filthy rags in the presence of a holy God (Isaiah 64:6). Justification is more than merely being declared legally that we are free from the curse of sin and death. The old cliche of “just as if I never sinned” seems to weaken the nature of justification rather than support it. Justification involved the death of the Son of God in my place! God could not merely declare me “just as if I never sinned” apart from the Lord Jesus Christ dying in my place for my sins. Someone had to pay the price for my sins against God and the Lord Jesus did just that: He died for me (Isaiah 53:11-12; John 1:29). While the word “justification” is a legal term in the Greek, the Person who bore my punishment so that I could stand in the grace of God is the Lord Jesus (Hebrews 9:22, 27-28).
Before I discuss what justification is, let me first state what justification is not.
1. It is not merely belief in Jesus. James 2:19 says, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble” (NKJV). By justification by faith we do not mean that one has faith (or believes) that Jesus is the Son of God or that He died for our sins. To merely believe is not enough. [Editor’s note: i.e., faith as mere mental assent is not enough. What is required is faith as trust.] Faith has to be demonstrated (James 2:14-26). Hebrews 11:30 says, “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days” (NKJV). Notice that the children of Israel did more than believe the promise of God to take down the walls of Jericho (Joshua 6:2), but they had to demonstrate their faith by obeying the Lord. Obedience, however, flows from faith (Romans 1:5). True faith results in obedience (John 3:36; 1 John 2:3-6).
2. It Is Not Passive. Justification by faith does not mean that the believer sits in faith without a radical transformation (2 Corinthians 5:17). The entire life of the Christian is transformed by the Spirit of God (John 3:3-7) as He translates us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son (Colossians 1:13). The life of the believer can best be described not as passive but active. Active in the transformation that God accomplishes in the soul. Active in obedience to the Son (Acts 5:32). Active in the life of the Church (1 Peter 4:10). Active through the power of the Spirit leading us, indwelling us, filling us, and empowering us (Acts 1:8; Romans 8:14-16).
3. It Is Not Against Good Works. Martin Luther best described the nature of justification by faith when he said, “It is not against good works that we contend but faith in them.” Our good works will never save us. The transformation that we need is one in our hearts and minds and not just with our outward appearance (Ezekiel 36:26-27; Romans 2:25-29). In our depravity, even our good works are often tarnished by our own pride, self-righteousness, and religious fervor. Good works are not to earn salvation but they are a direct result of salvation (Ephesians 2:10). Contrast Romans 4:5 with Titus 3:8 and you’ll see that while the Scriptures do condemn faith in good works for salvation, the Scriptures call God’s people to good works because of our salvation.
The Biblical View of Justification
Justification is first and foremost found in God alone. The Church does not justify us. Baptism in water does not justify us. Other disciples can not justify us. We ourselves can not justify us. Only God can justify us as the righteous Judge (2 Timothy 4:8). Paul’s excellent treatment of justification is found in Romans 3:19-30 as Paul demonstrates that only God can justify us since we have sinned against Him and yet in His grace He has chosen to save us through His Son. But what is the biblical basis for justification?
1. Justification Is By Faith in God – Genesis 15:6 says, “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (NIV). Romans 4:5 says, “However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness” (NIV).
2. Justification Is By Faith in Christ Jesus – Passages such as Isaiah 53:12; Acts 13:38-39; Romans 3:21-26; 4:24-5:20; 8:1-2; 10:3-4; 1 Corinthians 6:11; 15:17; 2 Corinthians 1:21, 24; Galatians 2:16-21; 3:1-25; 5:1-6; Philippians 3:7-10 all demonstrate that justification is through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only way we can be saved (John 14:6). Without Jesus, we will pay the price for our sins by ourselves (Hebrews 9:22).
3. Justification Is By Grace Through Faith Apart From Our Boasting – We don’t save ourselves. Justification does not come through our strength but justification only comes through the power of God given to us in His Son by His grace through faith (Romans 3:21-26; 4:16; 5:15-21; 1 Corinthians 1:28-31; Galatians 2:21; 5:4; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7).
The Key To Our Justification: Jesus
In conclusion, it is important that we bear in mind that the source for our justification is in a person and His name is Jesus. The purpose of the Bible is to reveal God’s gift of eternal life given to us in Jesus (John 20:31; 2 Timothy 3:15). The key to our justification is not our faith, our works, or our merit but the person and work of Jesus Christ. If Jesus had not bore our sins, we would be still dead in our sins separated from God (Ephesians 2:1-3). 1 John 5:13 reminds us of this thought when John wrote, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God” (NKJV).
May we keep our faith on Jesus and not our own goodness or even our faith but let us fix our eyes on Jesus who is the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2).
[Link to original post and comments on Roy Ingle’s blog, Arminian Today]