Theme: Justification by Grace
This week’s lessons teach us what justification is, and how a proper understanding of grace and faith are necessary for it.
Scripture: Romans 3:22-24
I have called this study “Justification by Grace Alone.” But to start at the beginning, let me ask right off whether that title seems exactly right to you. If I had called it “Salvation by Grace Alone,” the title of the last chapter, there would be no problem. We all know (or should know) that people are saved by God’s grace only; it is what Ephesians 2 says clearly. Again, there would be no difficulty if I had called the chapter “Justification by Faith Alone.” We know that phrase. It was the rallying cry of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther having called it the doctrine by which the church stands or falls. But “Justification by Grace Alone”? Is that really right? Isn’t it a confusion of terms?
The answer, of course, is that it is right. Salvation by grace alone, justification by grace alone, and justification by faith alone are really only three ways of stating the same great doctrine. A full statement of the doctrine would be: “Justification came by the grace of God alone received by faith alone, which is salvation.”
What is justification? Justification is an act of God as judge by which he declares us to be in a right standing before him so far as his justice is concerned. We are not just in ourselves. So the only way in which we can be declared to be in a right standing before God is on the basis of the death of Jesus Christ for our sins, Christ bearing our judgment, and by the application of Christ’s righteousness to us by God’s grace. This grace is received through the channel of human faith, but it is nevertheless by grace. It is the work of God, as we saw in our study of Ephesians 1.
The text for this study is Romans 3:22-24, which says, “There is no difference, 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.” This is the only place in this chapter where the word “grace” occurs, but it is important, if for no other reason than because it is the first theological treatment of grace in the New Testament.
I pointed out earlier that the word “grace” is not mentioned at all in Matthew or Mark, once in Luke, and only three times in John. It occurs eleven times in Acts, but these passages are not theological. So Romans is the first New Testament book to consider the word theologically, and this is the first theological treatment of the word in Romans. “Grace” occurs before this only in 1:5 and 7. In Romans there are twenty-one occurrences in all. These verses are going to tell us how we are saved. But I want you to note that they begin by telling us that we need saving.
For a long time, whenever I came to Romans 3:23, I had the feeling that this verse was somehow in the wrong place. I did not think that Romans 3:23 was untrue. Obviously, it is the truth. That is what Romans 1, 2, and the first half of chapter three are about. They teach us that all have fallen short of God’s standard. Even worse, we have rebelled against it and are moving off in the opposite direction as fast as possible. It was not that. It was rather that I felt that verse 23 really belonged in that earlier section, perhaps at the end of chapter one or in the first part of chapter three. It seemed to me to have somehow gotten into the wrong place in this later section of the chapter, which talks about salvation.
It is not in the wrong place, of course; I see that now. And the reason it belongs here is that without it we will not really understand or appreciate God’s grace.
Why is “Justification by Grace Alone” a good title for this study, even though we are used toseeing a different expression?
What is justification?