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Justification by Faith

John Calvin

What does it mean to be justified? I have discovered that even dear saints in Reformed Churches are often confused as to the meaning of justification. If we consider the meaning of the Greek verb, δικαιόω (dikaioō), it means “to declare righteousness, or to put right with.” It does not mean, contrary to what some suggest, to be made righteousness. The Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 33 defines justification as “an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in his sight only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.”

But it is helpful for us to distinguish between the means of our justification and the grounds (or basis) of our justification. The means of our justification is by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. The object of our faith is always the Lord Jesus. But the grounds of our justification is based on the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ alone, that is, what He accomplished in our room and stead by His perfect obedience to the law of God and by suffering the penalty for our sins on the cross.

The most important aspect of justification is to be united to the Lord Jesus Christ. And how are we, as judgment-deserving sinners, united to Christ? The great reformer of Geneva, John Calvin, expressed it well when he asked and answered this question. Consider his words: “For how does true faith justify unless by uniting us to Christ, so that being made one with him, we may be admitted to a participation in his righteousness (Institutes, III, xvii, 11). God’s law requires perfect obedience, and the obedience of Christ, in short, his righteousness, is the only righteousness that God will accept. That’s why we need to lay hold of Christ by faith, in order to participate in him and his righteousness.

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