“Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.” (Romans 8:33)
To be “justified” by God is one of the many promises given us by God as recorded in Scripture! I want to focus on that word, “justified” in this article, as it’s crucial that we understand the term, as our understanding of the Gospel message and the criteria of our standing with God hangs on that very word.
God’s promise of salvation to us is made out of His unconditional love for those whom He has chosen before the worlds were formed. (Ephesians 1:4; Romans 8:29) And out of His love, He has promised us salvation in a legal or forensic sense that all of us who have even the most superficial knowledge of jurisprudence can understand.
The term “justify” is a forensic term that means “to acquit!” Justification, mentioned so often by the Apostle Paul, means, “God’s act of remitting the sins of guilty men, and accounting them righteous, freely, by his grace, through faith in Christ, on the ground, not of their own works, but of the representative law-keeping and redemptive blood-shedding of the Lord Jesus Christ on their behalf.” (New Bible Dictionary, 1987, p. 647) As Paul succinctly wrote, “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” (Romans 5:18)
So, our justification, our imputed righteousness, is a free gift bestowed upon us by God through Jesus’ sacrificial work on the Cross! There can be no further work on our or anyone else’s part to confer that gift, because the gift is “free,” and if it’s free, it doesn’t require any work on our part to achieve that gift. We are viewed as meritorious, the apple of God’s eye, because of God’s sovereign choice of us. We didn’t do anything to earn it, we didn’t possess any special discernible talents or qualities to merit it, and there is nothing we can ever do to insure our keeping it, because we’re promised by Jesus Himself, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” (John 6:37)
The conferring of this free gift of salvation follows our being justified, reckoned as righteous, as God has justified us in the strictest legal sense. We are told in our “contract with God” that He will forever keep us, regardless of what we do, because He has chosen us from the foundation of the world, and His sheep hear His voice, and He calls to them because it was He Who placed the “receiver” (for want of a better word) in His children, so that they could hear His voice, His call to them. Clearly, we don’t have to go around the block more than a couple of times to realize that Christianity is viewed as so much foolishness to so many people who, at least until further notice, do not seem to have that receiver implanted in the core or soul of their very being.
Paul also tells us that there is absolutely nothing that can ever separate us from God’s love! He recites a litany of what is meant to embrace all possibilities that might be viewed by mere mortals as separating us from God, and He disputes them all! (See Romans 8:35-39) It must be remembered that in all religions, human beings seek after God! As far as I know, it is only in Christianity that God seeks after human beings! And when He seeks them, those who have implacable trust in Him, He holds them to his bosom throughout eternity! That is His promise, and that is part of His commitment to us in our contract with God!
Put forensically, let me use a very well-known example. Although O.J. Simpson was recently convicted of assorted felony counts and sentenced to a long prison term, I also truly believe that O.J. Simpson killed Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman on June 12, 1994. In my view, the evidence (although poorly presented) at his criminal trial for those murders was incontrovertible and, had I been on that jury, given the evidence presented as I saw it on TV, I would have found him guilty. However, the jury found Simpson to be “not guilty,” and so in the eyes of the law, he was at that time declared “not guilty,” and he then became a free man who could come and go as he pleased.
In the same vein, we are guilty and most of us know it! We not only have sin in our lives, but our very nature is that of sin! Adam saw to that! We don’t have any further to look than within our own hearts to know what our “old man” is like, and how little it takes for that old man to surface. Human evil knows no bounds, as we’ve seen throughout the course of human history, and as we can see if we unflinchingly examine our own hearts. Yes, we are guilty!
However, God has declared us as “not guilty!” Therefore, although we “committed the crime,” God, our only Judge, has handed down the verdict that sets us free! We are not guilty in His eyes, the only eyes that matter. That’s why Paul wrote the verse of Scripture that prefaces this article! God justified us, declared us as being not guilty, so who is a mere mortal, you or anyone else, to say otherwise about you?
When Paul rhetorically asks, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” he is stating that not only does no one have the right to judge you, but you are not even qualified to judge yourself! As he wrote, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself: yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.” (1Corinthians 4:3-4)
Paul knew he was a sinner! Indeed, in his letter to Timothy he said, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.”(1Timothy 1:15) Moreover, he confessed to the Romans that he was constantly wrestling with his sin nature (Romans 7:14-25) to the point that he knew that only the free gift of God’s justification of him through Jesus, by reckoning him as righteous although he was a rank sinner, was his only hope of salvation. Indeed, he was so confident of that fact, that he made a most remarkable, startling, statement to the council who sought to have him killed, “…Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” (Acts 23:1) Clearly a most remarkable statement!
Yet, Paul knew about the reality of God’s imputation of righteousness to all those whom He chose to be His disciples, and he sold out to God, didn’t care what others thought of him (also see Galatians 1:10), didn’t even judge himself or even feel guilty for any sin in any part of his life at any time of his life, and knew that he was justified, reckoned as righteous, a righteousness imputed to him as a free gift from God! And, as he concluded in his confession of his struggle with sin in his life in Romans 7, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” (Romans 7:24-25)
It is this mind-set that I want you to have as well! If you carry any baggage of guilt, shake it off, as did Paul; if people misunderstand or judge you in any way, realize that God is the supreme Judge and He has already declared you to be “not guilty!” Our justification, the free gift of God as being reckoned as righteous and free from sin, is part of God’s many promises to us who put our trust in Him, knowing full well that no matter the struggle, no matter the suffering, no matter the situation, He is there, is not silent (at least not for long), and clutches us to His bosom now and throughout eternity!
That’s some free gift!
Professor Emeritus of Sociology at California State University, Chico, Rev. Dr. Jerry S. Maneker served as an ordained priest in the Congregational Catholic Church, a division of the Independent Catholic Churches International (ICCI). For many years he published a weekly column in the Sacramento Valley Mirror titled “Christianity and Society” where he dealt with a variety of social issues from a biblical and sociological perspective. He also published a blog called “A Christian Voice for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Rights” and the website Radical Christianity.