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Epistle of James

People in the Life of Christ

The Beatitudes of Jesus

1 & 2 Thessalonians

Our Vital Union in Christ

Christ in the Psalms

7 Last Sayings of Jesus

Miracles at Calvary


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Life of Elijah

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Justification by Faith
and Imputed Righteousness

God is a just God, and He is the justifier of the person who has faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:26). 

That is one of those important truths that separate historical Biblical Christianity from the religious cults.

The believing sinner is “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith” (vv. 23-24).

God is a just God, and the justification of the sinner must be accomplished in perfect harmony with God’s justice. Even in the justification of the sinner the holiness of God must be preserved and demonstrated. Every requirement of the law must be satisfied, and the infinitely holy character of God must be satisfied.

The law places a double demand on sinners because it requires their full obedience to its precepts, and their full endurance of its penalty when the law is broken.

How can anyone possibly meet this condition since it is a universal fact that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”? The only way is for God to provide what man cannot do. In grace God has already fulfilled these requirements, and paid in full the penalty by sending His Son “born under the law” (Gal. 4:4) to “became obedient unto death” (Phil. 2:8).

Christ’s life of righteousness culminated in His dying the death of the unrighteous and fulfilling the will of God. Jesus Christ bore the penal curse of the law in the sinner’s place and therefore made propitiation for the sinner (Rom. 3:25). On the basis of the life and death of the sinless Christ “there resulted justification of life to all men” (5:18).

The law has been perfectly fulfilled by Jesus Christ acting in the name of, and on behalf of the believing sinner. The claims of the law on the guilty sinner have been fully satisfied.

Moreover, on the basis of Christ’s perfect obedience, God does not impute sin, but imputes the righteousness of His Son, to sinners who believe in Him (4:2-8; 5:19).

This imputed righteousness is entirely apart from the sinner’s works. God provides His own perfect righteousness to the believer’s account.

In both the Old and the New Testaments justification is used only in a legal or forensic understanding. Justification does not mean “to make just or righteous,” but “to declare judicially that one is in harmony with the law.” A righteous person is one who has been declared by God to be free from guilt.

God credits righteousness on the basis of a person putting his faith in Jesus Christ. That declaration is final and irrevocable the moment the person is declared just (3:28; 5:1; 8:1).

Our need for justification can only be met if the righteousness of God is credited to us.

The divine exchange took place when “the Son of God though spotlessly pure took our sin and in return clothes us with His purity,” notes John Calvin.

Righteousness is imputed because of the believer’s vital union with Christ. The believer is “in Christ” and there the righteousness of Christ is imputed to Him. The Christian is therefore legally declared just on the basis of Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross. Legally we now have a perfect righteous standing before a holy and just God (2 Cor. 5:21).

The believer is righteous before God for no other reason than that Christ the Head was righteous before God, and he is one with Him and shares that status and acceptance before God. God declares the believing sinner righteous, because He reckons him to be righteous. It is a judicial or forensic act of God. 

God declares the believing sinner righteous in His presence. The sinner is no longer condemned, and no longer liable to the penalty of the law. The justified sinner is now entitled to all the privileges due to those who have perfectly kept the law.

Justification does not mean to make a person righteous by spiritual renewal (Rom. 4:5-8). God confers a legal status on the believer canceling all legal liability. It is important to declare that justification is a judgment passed on man, not a work wrought within man. The work in a believer is sanctification. Justification is God’s gift of a status and a relationship to Himself, not a new heart. A new heart is regeneration. Certainly, God does regenerate those whom He justifies, but the two things are not the same and we must make that very clear in our minds.

On the basis of the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, God now treats every believer in Christ as if they are righteous.


Message by Wil Pounds (c) 2006

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(c) 2006  Message by Wil Pounds. Anyone is free to use this material and distribute it, but it may not be sold under any circumstances whatsoever without the author's written consent.

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