How Can A Sinner Be Justified?
With men this is clearly impossible. Man, with all his boasted wisdom, could not devise any plan of effecting this. For instance, a prisoner stands at the bar, really guilty of the crime charged upon him; the judge may forgive, but can he say to that guilty man, you go away from this bar justified; from this time no person can lay anything to your charge? God alone can justify the guilty, and be righteous in doing it.
Romans chapters one to eight shows God's wondrous plan of justifying the guilty. All are guilty, Jews or Gentiles, religious or profane. There is no difference, all have sinned. God says so. Conscience says so. You know and I know that it is so. Guilty! Guilty! "Yes", you say, "that is what perplexes me. I know I am a sinner; how then can I be justified, so that no charge can be laid to me?"
Let us see first how this cannot be done, how you cannot be justified, and then see what God's only plan is of justifying the sinner. "By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight" (Rom. 3: 20). In the sight of men the believer is justified by works, as in James 2: 24. But in the sight of God it is absolutely impossible to be justified by works of law. "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified." "For if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain" (Gal. 2: 16, 21). "For as many as are of the works of the law, are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law... is evident", etc (Gal. 3: 10-11). We have broken the law; it can only curse us. We cannot even have forgiveness by all our efforts to keep the law, much less be justified. Do you say, "We must do our best to love God and keep His commandments, and then hope He will forgive us and justify us"? Where does He say if we do our best? Or where is the man that does his best? No, on the doing plan no man shall be justified. God has said it, and it is hard to fight against God.
Let us now look at God's only way of justifying the ungodly. It is Christ that died! Oh, wondrous answer to all my sins! "Being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood", etc. "Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification." "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." It is God that justifies (Rom. 3: 19-28; Rom. 5: 1; Rom. 8: 31-34).
My reader, let your thoughts dwell on the cross of Christ. Blessed are the eyes that see and the ears that hear God's testimony about the death of Jesus, the propitiation for sin. "God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him" (Rom. 5: 8-9). What man could never do, God has done. He has laid our sins on Jesus; they are put away by His atoning blood. God has raised Him from the dead. He that believeth is justified from all things. And God thus not only is just in forgiving the believer, but is righteous in justifying the believer. Though once guilty, yet justified, so justified by the death of Jesus that not one charge can be laid to him that believeth. Oh, think of it my fellow-believer! God has so justified you by the blood of Jesus, that nothing can be laid to your charge-all, all has been borne by Jesus. Is not this enough to give you peace? Yea, the peace of God is yours. Yes, yours for ever.
How Does the Believer Know that He is Justified?
Certainly not by looking at his feelings. His feelings are as changeable as the wind. Nor yet by looking at his prayers, or his good works: all that he does is mixed with sin. If he looks at himself in any way, he can find nothing that will afford a sure ground of certainty that he is justified; that is, that he is so clear of sin that nothing can be laid to his charge for ever. Can you, my reader, say that you are clear of all sin, so clear that nothing can be laid to your charge? Are you not ready to say, "How can any sinful man in this world know that he is thus clear of all sin?" You will be astonished at the believer's simple, yet certain answer. It is this-Christ is risen.
But you will ask, "What has that to do with a believer's justification?" It has everything to do with it. "If Christ be not raised,... ye are yet in your sins" (1 Cor. 15: 17). A saved sinner knows and believes the love of God in sending Jesus to be his surety and representative. His eyes have been opened to see Jesus, bearing his sins in His own body on the tree. He knows that the blood of Jesus, his surety, has met every claim of Divine holiness to the uttermost. What love and mercy to lost sinners! Now the believer can say, "As surely as Jesus was condemned for me, was delivered to death for my offences; as certainly as God dealt with Him on the cross as my surety for my sins, so assuredly did God raise Him from the prison-house of death for my justification". Now if a surety is cast into prison for the person's debt he is bound for, when that surety comes out of prison, having paid the full demand, is not the person for whom he paid it as clear of the debt as the very person who was his surety, and paid it? And he knows he is clear of every claim. Why? Because his surety is now out of prison. Just in the same way does the believer look outside himself to Christ, his adorable surety. Oh, ponder this well: it was an awful engagement, when Jesus became the surety of all who through grace should believe on Him. Look how He felt in the garden; and then on the cross, when all our sins and guilt were upon Him. Yet still He trusted God. He knew that God would justify Him from all these sins and guilt, as He says, "Thou wilt not leave My soul in hell; neither wilt Thou suffer Thine holy One to see corruption" (Ps. 16: 10). He did not leave His soul in hell; He raised Him from the dead, completely cleared from all our sins, no more to be forsaken, but to be received up to the highest glory. Now Christ had no sin to die for of His own, therefore His death was entirely for us. Just so He had no sin to be justified from of His own, therefore His resurrection also was entirely for us: He died as our surety, He rose from the dead as our representative, so that whatever God did to Christ on the cross is reckoned unto the believer: and whatever God did to Christ at His resurrection, He did to us in Him as our representative. Christ is risen.
Is He perfectly and for ever clear of all sin? Even so does God justify every believer (see Rom. 8: 29-34; Heb. 10: 14; 1 John 4: 17). It is God that justifies.
My reader, if you are looking at yourself in any way, you are far from knowing that you are justified. If the Holy Spirit shall give you faith in Jesus, looking entirely away from yourself at Christ, you will not ask for anything to make you more certain that you are justified from all sin, than this one triumphant answer-Christ is risen, who is even at the right hand of God.