In prepping to teach on justification this Wednesday night in my church’s children’s catechism ministry, I have spent some time in J.I. Packer’s 18 Words. I recommend this book to new believers more than any other. Yesterday, I re-read his chapter on justification and was reminded of Packer’s great insight and clarity.
I am so eager to introduce the doctrine of justification to the kids of First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt tomorrow night because of the peace and joy that accompany it. Justification is the path to joy in the face of suffering. Justification is the door to freedom from guilt. Justification is the road to peace amidst worry and fear.
I wanted to take some time here to share Packer’s thoughts on the meaning of justification. He later unfolds the ground, means, and centrality of justification. What follows are some of the most complete and thorough statements on the meaning of this precious doctrine. So, if you do not know what the doctrine of justification is or are not sure how to communicate it, this post is for you.
1. Justification means to Paul God’s act of remitting the sins of, and reckoning righteousness to, ungodly sinners freely, by his grace, through faith in Christ, on the ground, not of their own works, but of the representative righteousness and redemptive, propitiatory, substitutionary blood-shedding of Jesus Christ on their behalf.
2. To ‘justify’ in the Bible means to ‘declare righteous’; to declare, that is, of a man on trial, that he is not liable to any penalty, but is entitled to all the privileges due to those who have kept the law.
3. Justification is a judgment passed on man, and a work wrought within man; God’s gift of a status and a relationship to Himself.
4. Justification is God’s fundamental act of blessing, for it saves from the past and secures for the future.
5. Justification brings peace with God (because sin is pardoned) and also hope of the glory of God (because the rights of the righteous are bestowed on the believer).
6. The gospel which proclaims God’s apparent violation of his justice is really a revelation of his justice.
7. The gospel shows a just God can justly justify believing sinners.
8. The only way in which justification can be just is for the law to be satisfied so far as the justified are concerned.
9. Sinners are justly justified on account of the obedient law-keeping and blood-shedding of Jesus Christ; and it is on this that their assurance of present and future salvation must rest.
10. Faith is not the ground of justification…Faith is rather the outstretched empty hand which received righteousness by receiving Christ.
11. Certainly, faith is the occasion and means of our justification, but Christ’s obedience, His righteousness, His propitiation for our sins, is its ground.
12. The reason why the doctrine of justification is central to the gospel is that God’s basic relationship to us as His rational creatures is that of Lawgiver and Judge, so that our standing before Him is always determined by his holy law. The sinner’s first problem, therefore, is to get right with God’s law, for until he is right with the law he cannot be right with the God whose law it is. As long as the law condemns him, true worship and fellowship with God are impossible for him. The gospel of justification, however, solves this problem by showing him how, through faith in Christ, the condemning voice of the law against him may be silenced for ever. Now he may draw near, unafraid, to worship his Maker.
–All quotes taken from Packer, 18 Words, pp. 135-142
Mathew Gilbert is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church East Bernstadt. He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.