A Quick Look at Justification
By Jim Hill
The subject of justification was one of the things that the former Catholic priest Martin Luther protested against the Roman Catholic Church when he nailed his thesis to the door of the Cathedral in Wittenberg, Germany. Link: http://www.luther.de/en/95thesen.html Hence the name for the church that was formed out of this movement, the Reformation, the Protestant church. The entire unity of believers I will call the Christian church, whether they are Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, or Anabaptist. There are both believers and unbelievers in all of the churches, and only God knows a person's heart. We cannot be their judge, God has this supreme role. Unfortunately, the official doctrine of many of these churches disagree with what is taught in the Bible.
First, realize that within the various churches there are a wide variety of personal viewpoints. For example, some Roman Catholics have chosen to use birth control, in violation of church teachings. Also, there is variation in beliefs in the Protestant church, and also the Christian church as a whole. The concept of the Rapture for example, and infant baptism for another. Also, we see the Orthodox Church appointing an openly gay bishop for example, and while many disagree with that, others among the majority of leaders agree. The bottom line is that as Christians, there needs to be agreement upon the fundamentals of the faith. Any difference upon these key points is a different Gospel, which as Christians we are called to condemn.
This brings us to the next point, authority. Who has final authority in leadership of the universe of Christian believers? Is it the church, the church fathers, the church teachings, or is it indeed the Lord God? If you agree that God is the authority, has He vested this authority in an elite group of church leaders? What does God's Word say about this, the Bible? The Bible says that the Christian Church, which is the unity of all of us that believe in Jesus for salvation, is a "priesthood of believers." These believers can come from within any Christian denomination, or possibly even none of them. In 1Peter 2:9 Peter says, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” In Revelation 1:6 John says, “and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen."
Later in Revelation John said:
And they sang a new song, saying: "You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth. (Revelation 5:9-10)
What sacrifices do these priests offer? Romans 12:1-2 says:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Also, 1 Peter 2:5 says, "you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."
So, all believers are Priests and offer spiritual sacrifices. What about the altar? What does the Bible say about offering physical sacrifices on a modern church altar? Hebrews 7:27 says, "who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people's, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself."
Once for all, and Jesus said "It is finished" as he died on the cross. A warning is in order here, which is that anyone forsaking Jesus as their Savior no longer has a sacrifice for sin (Hebrews Chapter 10 v 26). This is what is taught in the Bible and the Christian Church as a whole. What about the office of High Priest, who fulfills that role now that there is no longer any sacrifice for sin, which was the main purpose of this role of the Jewish High Priest? Hebrews 4:14-15 says:
Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.
We can show other verses that will tell you that Jesus is our High Priest, and we as believers are priests with our chief purpose to set about fulfilling the Great Commission explained in Matthew Chapter 28 v 16-20:
All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
Now we can come back to the topic of justification. The word in the theological construct means in layman's terms, "how you are made right with God." In Romans 3:23 we know that it says "for all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God." All, means everyone, except Jesus of course who is the God of the universe, the creator of it all, our Savior. Another way to look at justification is how we can be made right with God, "just as if I'd never sinned." Say that quickly, "just as if I'd never sinner." Justified.
How can we be justified with God? How can our sins be blotted out, forever, and we be made right with God? The Bible teaches, and the Christian church believes, that "for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son." John 3:16 Matthew 18:3 says, "unless you are converted, and become as a little child, you shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven."
John 3:3 says "you must be born again to enter the Kingdom of Heaven." Romans 10:13 says that "anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved."
Now, briefly, let me move to Luther's primary protests. Over the years the Roman Catholic Church adopted a different theology of justification, one not taught in the Bible. The theology that developed through church tradition and councils is as follows: (1) Grace comes through receiving of the sacraments, and (2) the sacraments, along with good works are meritorious towards Salvation. The sacraments themselves, and good works, along with Jesus death and resurrection, and dying without any un-confessed mortal sins, results in justification. As Christians, we would call the process of purification occurring after trusting in Jesus, sanctification. The Bible is clear that justification does not come from the works of men. You may ask, what is grace? Grace is "unmerited favor from God." Unmerited means undeserved. The Christian church teaches, as is Biblical, that we are justified by grace, through faith, alone. Ephesians 2:8-9 says this clearly:
For it is by grace that you are saved, through faith, and that not of works, it is the Gift of God, lest any many should boast.
This is what was taught by Jesus and the Apostles in the Bible. The Catholic Church now officially teaches that the sacraments (works of men) are meritorious towards salvation. But, like I said before, there are many different personal views within the Catholic Church. The view that a person holds will determine whether they enter Heaven Justified, or made right, before the Lord, or they hear the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew Chapter 7 "away from me, I never knew you." Strong words? Yes, but we have a very loving God who wishes that all come to faith in Him and none to perish in the judgment of eternal Hell.
So, what were our marching orders when Jesus left? The Great Commission, which commands us to make disciples of the Christian Church, teaching, and baptizing. Those three things. Our goal is not to specifically make members of a particular denomination or church, but to the universal Christian church, priesthood of Jesus Christ our Lord. We are to make disciples of Jesus, teach others what He taught us to, and Baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This needs to be the goal of our lives. As Christians, every morning that we wake up we need top ask ourselveshow we are doing on the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Our answer will determine the extent of our eternal blessings in Heaven.
I hope that this clarifies some of the misunderstandings that you may have. For some reason many people are afraid to discuss these very important matters. I have that this is especially true among my Roman Catholic friends and family. The life we spend here on earth is miniscule compared to what we will spend in eternity. We must know the truth, and the truth will set us free.
All verses are NKJV. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Nashville, Tennessee.