Rex D. Edwards is a former vice president for religious studies at Griggs University.


A great king gave all his citizens an invitation to a royal banquet at the palace. For admission the guests had to bring what they thought was the fairest flower that ever bloomed. The citizens thronged to the palace but were turned away by the thousands. Only a few found entrance. Many brought the deadly nightshade of superstition and offered that at the door. Others arrived flaunting poppies of denominational pride. Still others brought the hemlock of self-righteousness, and the geranium of legalism. The few admitted had chosen the Lily of the Valley, the Rose of Sharon, and the blood-red Rose of Calvary. Jesus is the price of heaven, and nothing else is acceptable to infinite holiness.

Jesus is God’s “inexpressible gift” (2 Cor 9:15, ESV). That gift includes being “justified by faith” (Rom 5:1, ESV). Justification by faith is both the divine heart of the gospel and the gospel for the human heart. Justification by faith is the one unchanging message and method by which God receives sinners. “The only thing of my very own which I can contribute to my redemption,” writes William Temple, “is the sin from which I need to be redeemed.” This sermon seeks to answer the question: how can we be just before God?


Justification is that judicial act of God’s free mercy whereby He pronounces guiltless those sinners condemned under the law, and constitutes them as actually righteous, once and for all, in the imputed righteousness of Christ. This pronouncement is on the grounds of His atoning work, by grace, through faith alone apart from works. This assures them of a full pardon, acceptance in His sight, adoption as sons, and heirs of eternal life, as well as the gift of the Holy Spirit. These gifts bring them into a new relation and standing by the power of the same Spirit, enabling them to perform good works. Yet, such works performed, as well as the faith out of which they spring, make no contribution to their justification, but they are to be regarded as declarative evidences of their acceptance in the sight of God.


Here it is necessary to distinguish between a legal and moral sense of justification—that is, between “to declare righteous” and “to make righteous.” The truth is that God sees the believer as constituted righteous in Christ, and accepting him “in the Beloved,” He pronounces him to be what he is—in Christ. Here is the paradox of the gospel—a man is a sinner yet perfect. Yet it is only a “righteous” man who can be declared righteous. The vital question then is: whose is the righteousness on account by which God gives His verdict of “not guilty” and “acceptable”?


Two issues may be distinguished here, referred to as the ultimate and the immediate grounds of God’s act of justifying the sinner. The ultimate ground lies in the will and mercy of God. Note Romans 9:16: “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (ESV). Upon these great facts our justification is ultimately based. Our justification is based solely upon the objective mediatorial work of Christ for us. It is with our Lord’s deed on the cross that it is connected. This means that our justification is something external to ourselves. It is not something done either by us or in us. It is what was done—once and for all—for us. We are justified, it is declared, by the blood of Christ (Rom 5:9), by His “righteousness” (5:18), by His “obedience” (5:19), “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 6:11, ESV).

The more immediate grounds, however, of our justification is the imputed righteousness of Christ. He was made sin by bearing our sins, so we are made righteous by bearing His righteousness.


The Scriptures declare that faith is “fiduciary.” It is a living and personal trust in a perfect redemption and a present Redeemer. Faith is “a gracious and gratuitous gift of God.” In this connection two facts must be stressed. First, faith is the only channel of our justification. It is the “instrumental,” not the “formal” cause. It would be fatal to turn faith into a “work.” Second, faith has no place for any kind of help. To make faith, then, the only channel of justification means quite literally that all works are excluded (see Rom 3:28; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8).

Note this contrast between James and Paul. James’ discussion about the necessity of works turns not on their meritorious value, but their evidential value. James is condemning a faith that is merely intellectual, while Paul is rejecting works as having saving merit. James says an inactive faith cannot justify; Paul says meritorious works do not justify. Paul requires a saving faith, therefore apart from works, and James a living faith, therefore a faith that works. And neither contradicts the other.

The faith by which the sinner is justified is not, then, itself a work of obedience. But neither is faith an equivalent for obedience; it is rather the germ out of which obedience springs. Faith is the medium by which Christ is received and by which we are united to Him. We are never said to be justified on account of faith, but only through faith, or by faith.


It certainly includes pardon. The justified man is also certainly accepted “in the Beloved”; not only is he a “child of God” by birth, but he is also a son by adoption.

He is brought into the enjoyment of all the rights and privileges of the family of God (see Rom 8:23; Gal 5:5; Eph 1:5). So, adoption embraces both the renewal of our true relationship to God as a father and the bestowal of the privileges of sonship in this life and that to come. Thus, we who were by nature alienated from God and were under His judgment are received by Him as His dear children and heirs of eternal life now. Such believers possess eternal life as a present position (see John 3:15–18). Such, too, have the Holy Spirit—not only as an earnest of our purchased possession (Eph 1:14), but as the one by whom our sanctification is effected and assured (see Eph 3:16; 1 Pet 1:2).


The old-time Scottish preacher John McNeil believed that of all the people in Jerusalem, Barabbas had the best idea of justification. In the gospel story, it was Barabbas who should have been crucified, and Jesus who should have been released. The order was reversed. The prison doors swing open and Barabbas steps out free. He comes out onto the street. People seem to be hurrying in the same direction. He hears that Jesus is to be crucified. He reflects, “Why, that’s the man who is dying in my place!” He is compelled to follow the crowd to see Him. He pushes his way out through Jerusalem’s gate, crosses over the Kidron Valley, and up the Hill of Golgotha until he reaches the surging mob crowded around the cross. For a moment he stands in the outer circle, and then he pushes his way right up to the front and looks up. As drops of blood from Jesus’ wounds splash his upturned face, he cries, “I don’t know who You are, but I do know You are dying in my place.” Justification and all the enjoyments that follow in its train are yours now, because He took your place!

Rex D. Edwards, DMin, is a former vice president for religious studies at Griggs University.