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Romans 3:24 and the Gift of Righteousness

August 16, 2006

Let’s consider some more the meaning of the verb “to justify”  It means “to declare righteous”.  It’s not “to make righteous”. Justification doesn’t make you a righteous person, it is a declaration of your righteous status before God.  It is a legal verdict.  It is the opposite of condemnation.   When a person is condemned he is declared to be wicked and sentenced to death.  When a person is justified he is declared to be righteous and sentenced to live.  Condemnation doesn’t make a person wicked.  He really is wicked and is just declared to be so.  So justification doesn’t make you righteous.  It declares that the fact that you are really righteous before God.

You say, wait a minute.  That’s where the analogy breaks down.  For I’m not really righteous before God.   O Christian, yes you are!  Justification is no mere legal fiction.  Justification is a declaration based on a reality.  You really are righteous before God.  Though you stand before him not in your own righteousness, but clothed in the righteousness of Christ…you really are clothed in the righteousness of Christ! So you really are righteous before God!

Here it is in the words of the great Scot Robert Haldane, “Many Christians are afraid to give the scriptural language on this subject the full extent of its meaning; and instead of representing themselves as…perfectly righteous by the righteousness of the Son of God, they look on their justification as merely an accounting of them as righteous while they are not so in reality.  They think that God mercifully looks on them in a light which is more favourable than the strictness of truth would warrant.  But the Scriptures represent believers as truly righteous, possessing a righteousness fully answerable to all the demands of the law.”

This is the wonderful doctrine of imputed righteousness.  The righteousness of Christ is really given to me, credited to my account, covers my sin like a spotless white robe of righteousness.   And I believe that it is clearly taught by Romans 3:24. 

Justified as a gift by his grace.”  As a gift, by his grace.  Is that redundant?… Does that mean anything more than just by his grace?  Isn’t grace and gift the same thing?  As a gift, by his grace.  Doesn’t by his grace already mean that it’s a free gift?  What is Paul meaning by adding the phrase as a gift? 

He’s distinguishing between the grace of God, his unmerited favor, his disposition to lavish goodness upon people who don’t deserve it, and the gift of the grace of God.  What is the gift of God’s grace?   

The word grace is the common word that occurs all over the place in Paul and 24x just in Romans, but this word for gift occurs only in one other place in the book. 

Romans 5:15-17  But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.  16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.  17 If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”

The free gift is the free gift of righteousness.  So the point is that justification is based on something.  It’s not a legal fiction.  It’s a declaration of righteousness based on the free gift of righteousness given to you by grace and received by faith.  This is an awesome liberating truth that should give you great assurance and confidence before God.  You really are righteous before God.  Your faith may be strong today and weak tomorrow.  Your progressive sanctification will have its peaks and valleys.  But there is no waxing and waning of your righteousness before God.  For you are clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ to which you can never add and from which you can never subtract.  Exult in that and your heart will sing as you get up and run out of the valley of worldly wanderlust and confidently draw near to God again.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. August 16, 2006 8:22 pm

    is this thing on?

  2. Ellie permalink
    August 16, 2006 9:49 pm

    We all got up and ran out of the valley, with our hearts singing… :P

    It is nearly impossible to talk and listen and the same time. Therefore, we are all keeping our mouths shut so that we may better keep our ears inclined towards what you are saying. I believe this is a compliment from us.

    Amen, to everything you have said, and thanks.

    This is sort of unrelated, but could you post something about your song “Beloved Son”? I sort of have it going round in my head, but can’t quite recall all of it. It is a good song.

  3. August 17, 2006 7:01 pm

    Makes sense, except the part, “given by grace, received by faith”. Can you elaborate a little on the word “receive”, because I’ve always thrown that around, but until now, never questioned my understanding of the word “received”. It sounds like justification is passive rather than active. If this is the case, what would active justification look like? Or maybe I should pay attention more during your sermons.

    What keeps someone from saying, “Well, if you have to receive justification by faith, then you’re still doing something to be justified. There is something that the person does. God isn’t 100% in the equation.”

  4. August 17, 2006 10:22 pm

    The way to keep from thinking of our faith as another kind of work in which we can boast is to see that our faith itself is a gift from God. (Ep 2:5-10) Before we are regenerated by God’s sovereign grace we are dead in our trespasses and sins, unable to believe or submit to God (Rom 8:7) Then God opens our eyes to see and our minds to understand and our hearts to receive. (John 1:12-13, emphasis on the 13). But it is still correct to say that we do the receiving, we just do it because God’s irresistible grace has given us the ability to receive. Note: irresistible grace doesn’t mean we don’t resist grace. We all do. It means God’s grace is able to overcome our resistance.

  5. Oddball permalink
    August 18, 2006 9:52 am

    Sidestepping the centuries-old debate over irresistible grace, I would just ask, “How can anyone boast about receiving a gift, especially to the giver?” This absurdity is compounded by the fact that the recipient is already hopelessly indebted to the giver before receiving the gift.

  6. August 18, 2006 10:29 am

    we are indebted to the giver even before we receive the gift. he made us, sustained us, restrained us, effectually called us, regenerated us, opened our eyes, and then gave us the gift of justifying righteousness.

    And if I receive the gift but you smack it out of his hands and punch him in the face, it’s pretty easy for me to boast over you unless I attribute my receiving to God’s work in my heart.

    But, oddball, we’ve debated calvinism for 15 years, let’s not do it on the blog. We gotta take it outside man!

    I was thinking of maybe doing a post next week that would be Q&A on Calvinism. that comment thread would be a place for clarifying questions and answers, but I’d shut it down if it turned into a debate.

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