RPM, Volume 16, Number 14, March 30 to April 5, 2014

Covenant Theology

The Doctrine of Salvation

Part 2
Sermon Number Fourteen

By Jim Bordwine, Th.D.

Westminster Presbyterian Church
411 Chkalov Dr, Vancouver WA 98683


In our examination of the doctrine of salvation within Covenant Theology, we are using a formulation known as the ordo salutis, the order of salvation. This is a logical arrangement of those various elements that comprise our salvation and generally is said to consist of five parts: effectual calling, justification, adoption, sanctification and glorification. We have studied the first element, effectual calling, and have begun our study of the second element, justification.

Question 70 of the Larger Catechism defines justification as:

...an act of God's free grace unto sinners, in which He pardons all their sins, accepts and accounts their persons righteous in His sight; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.

Based upon this definition, I suggested that there are three components to notice: first, justification involves a declaration of God concerning the sinner; second, the ground of this declaration is outside the sinner; third, it is implied that the sinner thereafter is in a state of favor, instead of a state of condemnation. The doctrine of justification, as indicated by this definition, has to do with the sinner's standing before God.

In the last sermon, I explained the legal nature of justification. Justification involves a declaration (or judgment) by God concerning the sinner's standing before Him. This declaration is two-fold. God declares the sinner pardoned or free from guilt, and He declares the sinner righteous. This declaration of God is referred to as a "judicial" or "legal" pronouncement because it has to do with the sinner's state within the context of God's holy standards. It's as if the sinner is standing before God in God's courtroom. The evidence is reviewed and God, as the Judge, makes a ruling. Prior to our relationship with Christ, that ruling is "condemned." In our relationship with Christ, that ruling is changed to "justified."

We are ready now to continue with the second point in this study of the doctrine of justification.

2. The Ground of Justification

As we turn to the matter of the ground for the sinner's justification, I want to begin by explaining what is meant by the term "ground." When I speak of the "ground" of justification, I am referring to that which serves as the basis for God's declaration that a formerly condemned sinner is now acceptable in His sight.

The ground of justification, of course, must be able to satisfy God's justice and thereafter remain before God, as it were, without fear. The ground of justification must be a perfect righteousness; the ground of justification must be one that can secure remission for past sins as well as future sins. Only a perfect, complete, and incorruptible righteousness can secure a perfect, complete, and irreversible justification.

We can quickly eliminate one source for this perfect righteousness; we can quickly eliminate the sinner himself. We've seen previously that Scripture teaches that all men are guilty before God and liable to His wrath due to the original sin inherited from Adam, and due to their particular sins, which give evidence of their corruption. Under no circumstances, therefore, can the ground of our justification be our own righteousness. As sinners, we have no righteousness, but stand before God dependent upon His mercy for deliverance from eternal death.

If we ask, "Can a sinner earn his justification; can a sinner, by keeping the Law of God, merit his justification?", then we hear the response of Paul in Rom. 3:20: "...by the works of the Law, no flesh will be justified in the sight of God." In the context of this verse, the apostle says that the Law of God reveals our sin; keeping the Law, therefore, is an impossibility because of man's sinful disposition. Even as he attempts to keep the Law of God, the sinner has revealed to him his depravity as he fails to meet the unbending requirements of God's commands.

Also within the context of this verse, Paul presents the idea of another righteousness, a righteousness that comes not from the sinner who is attempting to keep the Law, but a righteousness that is from God and is given to the sinner; this is a righteousness that is not and cannot be earned by the sinner. (cf. similar statements in Gal. 2:16)

In Titus 3, we read: "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior..." (vv. 5, 6) Again, Paul teaches that the basis or ground of our justification is not "deeds which we have done in righteousness." It is not the sinner's good intentions or the sinner's occasional obedience to which God looks when declaring the sinner justified. The sinner's righteousness, such as it is, is thoroughly polluted; it is, in the words of Isaiah, like a filthy garment. (cf. Isa. 64:6)

Whatever the sinner presents as the basis for his justification falls hopelessly short of the mark established by God's character, and that mark is absolute perfection. The sinner cannot deny the certain judgment of his Creator that he is justly condemned and, therefore, the sinner cannot plead his own person and efforts as the ground for his justification.

Having eliminated from our thinking the idea that the righteousness for which God has regard in His declaration of justification is to be found in us, then the question remains: What righteousness, then, does God consider? If the ground of our justification is a perfect, complete, and incorruptible righteousness and if that righteousness is not and cannot be located in the sinner himself, where does it come from?

In answering this question, I want to make the observation that if there is nothing in the sinner to commend him to God for justification, if the sinner has no ground for his justification within himself, then when the sinner is justified, it must be viewed as an act of grace, it must be viewed as a gift from God. This is, of course, precisely what the Bible teaches:

...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus... (Rom. 3:23, 24)

With respect to their merit, with respect to their personal righteousness, all men are put in the same category by the apostle: "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." How, then, are sinners justified; how, then, are sinners declared righteous? The sinner is justified, in spite of his lack of merit, in spite of his condemnation, by God's grace wherein God supplies the needed righteousness in His Son and accepts what is supplied in His Son on the sinner's behalf.

In justification, both the justice and the mercy of God are maintained and wonderfully displayed. His justice is upheld in the perfect life and substitutionary death of His Son for sinners; and God's mercy is extended when He credits to the condemned sinner that perfect life and substitutionary death. Earlier, I asked: What righteousness is the ground for the sinner's justification? It is the righteousness of Jesus Christ; His perfect obedience is credited to the sinner and His death on the cross is accepted by the Father as payment for the sinner's debt.

Paul's personal testimony in Phil. 3 is instructive. In this chapter, the apostle writes about his many accomplishments and his zeal as a Jew prior to his coming to the knowledge of Christ. Paul certainly excelled in the matter of keeping the Law for self-justification; but his conversion brought a new perspective. This perspective is explained in these words:

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith... (vv. 7-9)

What is it that Paul is rejecting and what is it that Paul is embracing? The apostle is rejecting the idea of self-justification, the idea of achieving a righteousness on the basis of keeping the Law of God, the very idea that had governed much of his life before his saving encounter with the risen Savior. Paul is rejecting the notion that the sinner can win God's approval or merit God's declaration of justification; Paul is dismissing as erroneous the doctrine that God's pardon and God's acceptance can be earned through the efforts of the sinner. If ever a man were to earn God's pardon and acceptance, Paul seems to be saying, then I am that man. But, he came to understand that this is not the way a sinner gains that righteousness that he lacks.

On the contrary, the apostle is embracing the idea, the doctrine, I should say, that the righteousness, which the sinner must have to dwell comfortably with God, is not his own, but is a righteousness of Another, namely, Jesus Christ; and this righteousness comes from God who credits it to those who place their faith in the finished work of His Son. Paul is teaching that even though the sinner cannot win God's favor, God Himself provides what the sinner lacks and accepts what He gives as the sinner's own.

The sinner must have the righteousness of Another credited to him because, as a fallen creature, he can never be justified on the ground of his personal righteousness. To be justified in the sight of God, the sinner, who has been justly condemned, must have a righteousness that meets every one of the requirements indicated in God's holy Law; the sinner's only hope is a gift of righteousness that will be counted as his own in the eyes of God. This is what happens in justification.

The Scripture emphasizes that Christ's mission was to do the will of His Father in heaven. We've considered Rom. 5:19 previously, but let me return to that verse for just a moment. Paul says: "For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous." You will recall that the word translated "made" in both phrases conveys the idea of being reckoned as something, as being counted as belonging to a particular category. Because of Adam's transgression, we who were represented by him were reckoned as sinners; and, because of Christ's obedience, we who were represented by Him were reckoned as righteous.

Notice the reason for this reckoning: in the first case it was the disobedience of Adam and in the second case, it was the obedience of Christ. We are justified before God because Jesus Christ perfectly obeyed God the Father and the righteousness that He earned as our Substitute is credited to us. The result is that, in the eyes of God, we are viewed as having met all the requirements of God's standards; we are viewed as having maintained, without infraction, that fundamentally significant relationship of creature to Creator. It was that relationship that Adam violated in the Garden of Eden and it is that relationship that the Second Adam, as our representative, maintained during His earthly ministry.

The sinner is pardoned based upon Christ's atonement and the sinner is declared righteous based upon the perfect life of Christ. In both cases, God imputes, or credits to, the sinner what Christ provided. The ground of our justification, therefore, is the finished work of Jesus Christ. By God's grace, the sinner manifests faith in Christ—he accepts, receives, and rests upon Christ alone for salvation. And even this faith, as we have said, is a gift from God: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God..." (Eph. 2:8).

Paul illustrates the nature of saving faith in Gal. 2:20: "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me." Paul believed that Christ was his Substitute; Christ died and Paul viewed that death as his own. Christ was raised from the dead and Paul viewed that resurrection as his own; the apostle even saw his life on earth as an extension of the resurrected Savior's life. Paul's faith in Christ meant the extinction of his own efforts to justify himself before God; it meant that he had no identity apart from Christ because Christ had delivered him from eternal death.


In the application, I want to return to a thought mentioned earlier. In light of what we have learned about the ground of our justification, I want us to think in greater detail on the notion that in the act of justification, we have a wonderful expression both of God's absolute justice and His incredible mercy. The justice of God and the mercy of God meet in the doctrine of justification; or, I could say, the justice and mercy of God meet in the Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ.

God's holy character does not allow Him to tolerate, overlook, or ignore that which is contrary to His disposition. And because God is God, His disposition is the standard of morality. Fallen human beings, therefore, have an immediate problem. They are constituted as violators of God's standard; by their behavior, they prove themselves to be incapable of maintaining that standard. What must happen in such a situation? Fallen man's failure to meet the standard established by God's character leaves him subject to the demands of God's justice. God's justice is that element in His being that requires satisfaction for every infraction of that code which His own character requires.

The payment for those many infractions was ours to make. God's justice would not be satisfied short of recompense for our many transgressions; and the only recompense we could make was eternal death. Death, being the wages of sin, was unavoidably our destiny; eternal death, in fact, awaited us due to the magnitude of our sins in the eyes of a sinless God. This was our lot, this was our position before God. Not a man, woman, or child could hope to escape the payment due. God's immutable character guaranteed that the end of sin, the end of rebellion against Him, would be an equitable and full payment.

Too often we read of sin and its horrible consequences in the Bible and fail to take those statements personally; too often we study those passages that describe our lost condition and insulate ourselves with a group mentality that lets us escape the individual and personal implications. You and I stood condemned before God with no way, no hope, no plan of escape; you and I were rightly judged for the guilt we inherited from Adam and rightly judged for the guilt of our own transgressions. We weren't just a disappointment to God, we were loathsome in His sight. We could not raise a voice of protest and complain that God had erred; we could not make an appeal to another Judge.

But then there comes into this frightening picture One who knew no sin, One who was pure and holy and blameless. And the satisfaction demanded by the justice of God is extracted from Him; and the thunderous wrath of heaven is poured out upon that sacred head; and the darkness of eternal death becomes His grave.

Like a root out of parched ground, this One has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. This One is despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And like One from whom men hide their face, this One is despised and He is not esteemed. This One bears our griefs and carries our sorrows. This One is pierced through for our transgressions and is crushed for our iniquities. We had all gone astray like sheep, but the Lord caused our sin to fall upon Him. (cf. Isa. 53:2 ff.)

The testimony of Scripture is that the Son of God emptied Himself and took the form of a bondservant and was made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, this Savior humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death. When He was hanging upon that cruel cross, He uttered the words, "It is finished." There, on a hill outside the city of Jerusalem, as some mocked and others wept, as the sky grew dark and the earth trembled, the justice of God found its unavoidable satisfaction. The life, the suffering, and finally the death of Jesus Christ answered the demand of God's character.

But what happened to those who were truly guilty and worthy of sin's ultimate cost? Their freedom was purchased by the innocent One who took their place. Those who stood condemned were given life in the place of death; they were given an eternity of blessedness with God instead of an eternity of damnation. Those who deserved death, those who deserved the wrath of heaven, were pardoned.

Here, then, is the wonderful, astounding, and humbling mercy of God. He did not require you or me to pay for our sin. He did not require you or me to face the unavoidable satisfaction of His justice. He spared us, He freed us, He extracted from His own Son what we owed. We see how the justice of God is present in the doctrine of justification; let us see just as clearly that the undeserved mercy of our heavenly Father also is portrayed in the doctrine of justification. And let us meditate on this truth, let us rejoice in it, and let us give unceasing thanks to God for it.

And when this glorious teaching of Scripture comes under attack, regardless of who may be behind the attack, let us rally to the defense of this great truth of justification by grace through faith. If this doctrine, in purest form is lost, then the gospel is lost as well.



Remarks for Baptism of Michael Merriman

We've had the privilege of hearing about Michael's spiritual journey and it is obvious that the Lord's hand has guided him through some perilous times. The one sure thing produced in a man who has done much to destroy himself, but who has been preserved by God's power is extreme thankfulness; Michael is an extremely thankful and humble person. It has been a blessing to get to know him the past few months.

I envy Michael because he soon will begin training for the ministry. Those days of preparation are days of great privilege; it's an experience not to be repeated as life goes on. So we will be praying that the Lord enables Michael to get the most out of his coming study so that he will be well-prepared for service in the Church of the Savior.

Hymn for Communion


The sacrament that we are about to receive displays the meeting of God's justice and mercy before us in a way that aids our understanding and builds our faith. This sacrament is a demonstration of God's justice and God's mercy. In this sacrament we commemorate the satisfaction of God's justice in our Savior and we commemorate the granting of God's mercy to those who deserved what the Savior received.

As you receive these elements, offer a prayer of thanksgiving; consider the sin that remains in you and pray for the strength to abandon it. We can do nothing less as the Holy Spirit now renews and refreshes us in a time of communion with the risen Savior.

Matthew 26:26 While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body." 27 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. 29 But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom."
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