Theology Corner

Addressing commonly asked questions about Christianity from the perspective of a non-theologian

37. WHAT ARE FORGIVENESS AND JUSTIFICATION?

 

Each person who responds to God’s grace (Titus 2:11) and the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ (Rom 5:8; 1 John 2:2) by confession of sin, remorse, repentance, faith and obedience instantly receives the great gift of salvation.  This gift includes but is not limited to the following:

 

  • Redemption (Rom 3:24; 8:23) - You are freed from the bondage of sin for the first time in your life.
  • Forgiveness (Mat 6:9-15; 1 John 1:8-10) – You are forgiven your sins by God.
  • Justification (Rom 3:21-26) – You are declared righteous by God; this legal declaration is valid because Christ died to pay the penalty for your sin and lived a life of perfect righteousness that can in turn be imputed to you.
  • Adoption (Rom 3:23; Gal 3:26; 1 John 3:2) – You are a joint heir with Jesus to the Kingdom of God.
  • Regeneration (John 3:1-21) - The Holy Spirit makes known to you the will of God and helps you discern truth from lie.  He occupies and purifies all the rooms of your heart into which He is invited.  For the first time in your life you are not a prisoner of sin.  You are free to pursue the path of righteousness.  This is the first day of your Christian life and you are a new creature in Christ.  This is the mechanism of your redemption.
  • Sanctification (Heb 6:1; 1 Pet 1:13-16) - You are led by the Holy Spirit along the path toward holiness; this is a lifetime journey.
  • Reconciliation (Eph 2:11-22) - You are reconciled with all other believers.
  • Unification (Eph 3:1-11) – You are united with all believers in the Church of Jesus Christ.
  • Glorification (Rom 8:30) – You will complete the journey along the path of sanctification when your mission in this life is done.

 

This section addresses the concepts of forgiveness and justification.

The guilt, penalty and pain caused by one individual’s sin against another can morally be borne either by the sinner through justice or by the victim of sin through forgiveness; either the sinner pays the price of justice or the victim pays the price of forgiveness.  The victim cannot forgive the sinner without paying a price.  In other words, there is no serendipitous land of cheap forgiveness where we simply forgive one another by overlooking a few inconsequential faults at no cost to us.  While forgiveness usually brings a sense of peace and relief to the victim of sin, the victim can also bear great burden and pain.  The consequence of sin may last a lifetime.

The penalty of sin cannot be transferred to a third party.  When we say that Christ died as our substitute, we do not imply that He was simply a third party who stepped in between God and man.  Christ was not a third party in the affair at Calvary.  He was God against whom every sin is committed.  When God the Son said, at Calvary: “Father forgive them” instead of saying “Angelic hosts, destroy them,” He, as the victim, bore the guilt, penalty and pain rightfully due every person who will ever live.  Jesus not only bore the guilt and penalty for your sins but he took a step further.  Since your guilt is canceled and your punishment remitted, He said that you can be accepted before God as righteous.  You can, therefore, stand before God as if you had never sinned; you are thereby justified.

It is important to note, however, that justification is a relative change and not the work of God by which you are made actually righteous.  Justification removes condemnation but does not change your nature or make you holy.  Justification is what God does for you through His Son; sanctification is what God works in you by His Spirit.  Justification is a declarative act in the mind of God while sanctification is a moral change within the soul.