RPM, Volume 16, Number 15, April 6 to April 12, 2014

Covenant Theology
The Doctrine of Salvation

Part 3
Sermon Number Fifteen

By Jim Bordwine, Th.D.

Westminster Presbyterian Church
411 Chkalov Dr, Vancouver WA 98683


In our study of covenant theology, we have gone to the various parts of our conversion. Theologians refer to this area of doctrine as the order of salvation. We are currently considering the issue of justification. I noted before that there are three points in regard to our understanding of this doctrine. We have already considered the first two points.

For the first point, I noted that our justification involves a legal or judicial pronouncement from God concerning our relation to 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. God's acceptance of the sinner replaces or sets aside His former declaration of the sinner's condemnation.

For the second point, I referred to the ground of our justification. The "ground" is that which allows God to declare a condemn sinner righteous. It is that whereby the sinner comes to have an upright relation to God and His holy Law. The ground of justification, therefore, must be a righteousness that satisfies God's justice; and it must be a righteousness that permanently constitutes the sinner acceptable to God.

Further, 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.

The Bible teaches that the ground of our justification is not in us or in our accomplishments. It is not the sinner's good intentions or the sinner's occasional obedience to which God looks when declaring the sinner justified. 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?

The basis upon which God declares us righteous is the finished work of Christ. In justification, God credits righteousness to those who place their faith in His Son. Even though the sinner cannot win God's favor, God Himself provides what the sinner lacks. The sinner must have the righteousness of Another credited to him because, as a fallen creature, he never can 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.

Under the third point in our consideration of the doctrine of justification, I want to describe just what this state of justification means. What can a justified sinner claim? What is the nature of his status? Obviously, I've answered these questions partially already. The sinner can claim that he is acceptable before God; he can claim that Christ's righteousness has been imputed to him.

3. The State of Justification

As I talk about the state of justification, I will do so by referring to a number of characteristics identified in Scripture. These characteristics reveal more about what it means to be justified than any single statement. In a sense, then, I will be looking at some of the implications of our justification.

Let me begin by reading Rom. 5:1, 2: "Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God." It takes little effort to see three important characteristics of our justification in these two verses. First, Paul says that since we have been justified by faith, "we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."

This statement implies that, prior to justification, we did not have peace with God. We know that this is true based upon our study of fallen man's condemnation. By nature, we were opposed to God and all that is godly; therefore, we were God's enemies.

But in Christ Jesus, as Paul teaches, those who were God's enemies become God's special and favored people. Paul expresses this truth later in this same chapter when he says: "For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." (v. 10) "Reconciliation" is such a beautiful and effective way of describing our justification. The word that Paul uses, here translated "reconciled," has the meaning indicated by the English; it refers to the re-establishment of a friendly relationship following a breach.

The peace that Paul says is ours in Christ Jesus is this state of being reconciled to our Creator. The transgression of Adam caused a break in the naturally peaceful relationship between Creator and creature. By the work of the Savior, that break is repaired and the sinner is no longer estranged from the One who formed him and gave him life. In place of God's opposition and certain judgment, the justified sinner has God's protection, love, and acceptance; in Christ, the justified sinner is the friend of God.

It is interesting to note that Jesus often emphasized peace as He taught His disciples and prepared them to carry on the work of the Church after His departure. For example, in the gospel of John, Jesus promised to give His followers peace (14:27); He distinguishes between the peace He would give and the peace offered by the world. Surely the difference is between a temporal, imitation peace that is based in fallen man's efforts to free himself from worry and the peace that Paul mentions, which is a reconciliation to God that allows the believer to enjoy God's favor forever.

A second characteristic contained in Rom. 5:1, 2 is what Paul calls "this grace in which we stand." The "grace" that Paul mentions is synonymous with justification. This phrase implies that the state of justification is a fixed condition; it implies security and freedom from ever having to worry about being returned to a state of condemnation. In this context, the word that Paul uses, which is translated "stand," refers to being permanently established.

Paul describes the state of justification as an abiding status that is the result of a past action; that past action is, of course, God's declaration of our acceptance on the ground of Christ's work. This verse illustrates why it is correct to refer to a "state of justification." The term "justification" can be said to apply not only to the declaration that God makes concerning the sinner, but also to the status of the one who is the subject of the declaration. We can say that we are justified, by which we mean that we are in, and will continue in, a state of being acceptable to God.

The permanence of this particular benefit of justification is well-explained in Rom. 8:38, 39: "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Another blessing of justification, therefore, is our abiding in a loving relationship with our Creator throughout all the years that we live on the earth and into eternity; this is a relationship that is "stronger," so to speak, than any force or threat that might be brought against it. We never have to worry about our sentence of condemnation being reinstated; we never have to worry about being put in a position of having to earn God's favor. Justification means eternal security and eternal acceptance; it means that we will persevere to the end and be saved. We enjoy this privilege now as God watches over us, provides for us, and guides along our way; and we will enjoy this privilege in a supreme fashion when we enter heaven.

A third characteristic of the state of justification is, in Paul's words again, "hope of the glory of God." I have often defined "hope" as "the expectation of future blessing." This definition holds true here in Rom. 5:2. Paul describes the justified sinner as having a hope or expectation of being ushered into the magnificent presence of God one day; the justified sinner can confidently believe that he will dwell with his Creator in unending bliss. Our justification is not only the ground of this hope, it also is the guarantee that this hope will be realized some day.

The consummation of redemption that is to occur after Christ has subdued all of His enemies and has called all the elect by His Spirit into union with Himself, is said to be "the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus" (Titus 2:13) and also "the revelation of [Christ's] glory" (1 Pet. 4:13); it is that time when, according to Jude 24, the people of Christ will "stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy."

Longing for this day of consummation, anticipating it with eagerness, knowing that this day will arrive is what Paul means by "hope of the glory of God." The state of justification is one of certain, surely to be realized, hope.

Paul makes an immediate application of this particular blessing of justification in vv. 3 ff. where he encourages his readers to persevere through their tribulations knowing that such circumstances can only purify their hope. And, he adds, that the hope we have in Christ and which is refined as we pass through our trials in this life, "does not disappoint." The love of God that has been poured out within our hearts will see us safely through the dark valleys of this world and will lead us on until that great day of Christ's appearing dawns and we join Him in His magnificent splendor.

Hope, then, is a powerful element in the life of the justified sinner. It keeps us from being overwhelmed by tribulation; it keeps us from despair; it keeps us from living an aimless, miserable life in which we cannot look to tomorrow, but must wrestle with each day's disappointments as though our happiness depended upon temporal circumstances. Paul says that with hope as a blessing of justification, the believer can face anything; he can face manifold tribulation because neither his spiritual well-being nor his outlook on life is tied to today's events. The saved sinner looks to the day of his deliverance because that is where his justification is taking him, as it were.

Another passage where we find a benefit of the state of justification is Rom. 8:1: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." We considered this verse under the first point of this sermon when we were looking at the legal nature of justification. I would like to revisit it now to emphasize that one of the great blessings of the state of justification is the free and full pardon of sin.

I have, of course, mentioned this outcome of our justification before, but I want to make sure that we realize that we live in a state of free and full pardon for the rest of our existence once we are converted.

This verse doesn't apply just to the moment when God declares us righteous. It would be more accurate to think of it as going into effect at the moment God declares us righteous and remaining in effect forever. While I don't want to downplay the importance of self-examination and obedience to God's Word, I will say that the Christian who is excessively burdened with feelings of guilt and feelings of "never measuring up" has yet to comprehend Rom. 8:1.

Assuming, of course, that a professing believer has been genuinely born again and is not engaged in any continuing sinful conduct, that believer should not be wrestling with feelings and notions that contradict Paul's words. Our freedom in Christ is a thing to be pondered; it is a doctrine that should move us to thanksgiving.

There are no charges to be brought against the Christian. Christ's atonement covers past, present, and future sins. There is no condemning accusation coming from the Law of God because the Savior received the accusation and silenced it with His death. To live in a state of full and free pardon puts the believer at odds with the rest of humanity. Fallen man is forever trying to rid himself of guilt and feelings of despair; he is forever trying to find some explanation, some philosophy, some practice that will bring calm to his soul. Only in Christ, however, as Paul teaches, is the sentence of condemnation lifted.

In Christ, we rest; we don't struggle with man-made rules and regulations and we don't submit ourselves to the tyranny of Pharisaism; we don't let our enemy cause us to dwell on our failures and we don't measure the quality of our faith by comparing it to someone's list of rights and wrongs. We just rest securely and confidently in Christ. We receive Him, we embrace Him, we trust Him, and we give not another thought to impressing God or winning His acceptance by our conduct.

I should mention that while this free and full pardon delivers us from the sentence of condemnation that was against us, it also delivers us from the inevitable end of that condemnation, which is the wrath of God that is to come. There will never be a day on which the believer will have the dread of God rekindled in his heart. Even on that great day when all that is hidden is made known, when the wrath of God begins to descend upon the sons of men, even on that day, the Christian will enjoy a sweet rest in the Savior; he will have nothing to fear from that judgment.

A final matter that I would like to address arises from the claim of some who misunderstand the teaching of Scripture and from others who deliberately seek to refute the teaching of Scripture. The claim is that licentiousness must abound in the state of justification, as understood in Covenant Theology, because of our emphasis on grace. Accompanying this claim is the implication that the doing of good works is of little concern to the one who believes the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

Simply put, some believe that our emphasis on grace and reformed theology encourages sinful behavior. Because we speak of a fully free pardon in Christ, some believe that we are inviting unbiblical conduct. This idea is foolish.

Let me begin a refutation of this claim by pointing to Rom. 6:1, 2: "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?" Remember the context of these verses, which is Paul's explanation of the disobedience of Adam that led to our condemnation and the obedience of Christ that led to our justification. The apostle has just stated that as the sin of Adam's transgression was magnified and expanded, so God's marvelous grace abounded all the more. The result is that we who are in Christ are delivered from the condemnation belonging to us as descendants of Adam.

In light of this wonderful truth and the magnificence of God's saving grace, Paul anticipates that someone might ask: "Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?" Here is where Paul makes the necessary connection between justification and sanctification. We will study sanctification in detail in a later sermon, but for now, notice how Paul responds to the suggestion that continued sin would bring continued grace.

Paul emphatically states that those who are justified have "died to sin." Paul uses a tense here that indicates a definitive act in the past; he has in mind that decisive and permanent break with sin that necessarily occurs upon regeneration and justification. If to be justified is to be declared righteous, then it is not difficult to see that sin has no place in the life of the believer.

Deliberate, persistent sin in the life of one claiming to be justified is a clear contradiction of that profession. This is not to say that justified sinners never again violate God's standards; it is to say that justified sinners will not be characterized by disobedience. On the contrary, they will be characterized by righteousness, which is the fruit of justification.

As Paul goes on to explain in Rom. 6, those who are united with Christ by faith died with Him and they rose with Him and they now walk in "newness of life." (v. 4) The old self, that is, the unregenerate nature, was crucified with Christ and we are slaves of sin no longer. (v. 6) The state of justification is not compatible with unrighteousness. To think that God's grace comes in response to sin, as though sin somehow "triggers" grace, is a serious error. God's grace was manifested to deliver us from sin and His grace was manifested abundantly because of the magnitude of sin.

Sin has no place in the life of the one justified; he has been delivered from sin's dominion and is finished with that cruel master. The state of justification is characterized by a love for righteousness, in terms of creed and deed. That is, the justified sinner will confess the righteousness of God as His own and he will agree with the Scriptures at every point; at the same time, the justified sinner will behave righteously and will seek to conform his life to the holy standard of God.

It is unbiblical, then, to suggest that those who believe in justification by faith according to the grace of God do not give thought to good works. Such a claim cannot be sustained when viewed in light of what the Bible says about justification. Justification, in fact, mandates good works. The ultimate objective of our redemption is our conformity to the image of our blessed Savior. If good works are those evidences of this ongoing work of God in us, then certainly those who believe in the doctrine of justification by faith must advocate the necessity of accompanying good works.

Earlier, in reference to a teaching currently troubling the Reformed Church, I stated that a correct understanding of justification is absolutely crucial. Let me emphasize that truth once again at this point. The Bible does teach a relationship between the justified and performing good works. The question however is this: What is the nature of that relationship? Where do good works fit, so to speak, in our justification?

In various ways and at different times in the past, the Church has been disturbed by false teaching in this important area of theology. Any explanation of justification that makes our good works the cause or one of the causes for justification must be rejected. This is not what the Bible teaches. The Bible does teach that there is a relationship, as I said, between justification and good works. But the relationship is one in which good works follow justification; good works are the result of justification, not the cause.

I don't want to spend a great deal of time on this subject, but it is evident, from passages like Eph. 2, that God intends us to be known by our good works. In v. 10 of this chapter, we read: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."

This verse follows Paul's explanation of the former and present states of the Ephesians. Formerly, they were dead in their trespasses and sins and they were characterized by lusts of the flesh and mind. But God made them alive together with Christ; by grace, He saved them through faith and their lives thereafter were marked by evidences of God's continuing activity.

When we are under God's wrath, neither we nor our works are acceptable to God. In the state of justification, however, both we and our good works, though they be imperfect, are acceptable to God in Christ Jesus. God is pleased to accept our labors according to His grace even though those labors are incomplete and lacking absolute righteousness.

They are, after all, the fruit of His Spirit's presence in us. For Christ's sake, our good works are received; for Christ's sake, they are pleasing to God. Our good works form no part of the ground of our justification, but they are essential to a true and living faith.


In the application, I want to return to the first three characteristics of the state of justification. In Rom. 5:1, 2 Paul gives us three important results of our justification: peace with God, an abiding security, and hope. Peace with God, an established and permanent relationship with Him and hope.

As a believer, you have peace with God. You are no longer under His sentence of condemnation, you are no longer subject to His wrath. In Christ, the Creator has established peace between Himself and a rebel. Surely this truth of your peace with God is of great comfort throughout your life; surely this truth of your peace with God is like a rock for your soul during those times of distress and heartache. Surely you can draw comfort from this truth when passing through some tribulation.

In is this peace with God that sustains and encourages and strengthens His children. How marvelous to think that we are loved by God and that He has, in His Son, settled the matter of our sin debt. For us, God is a benevolent Father who now guides us, instructs us, and protects us as we make our way to heaven.

Moreover, our justification means that we are forever secure and free. Is it not a great blessing to know that God has not required payment for our sin from us, but has accepted the payment of our Substitute? Is it not a great blessing to know that we need no longer shudder at the reading of God's Law or cover our ears at the preaching of His Word?

You are justified, you have been accepted by God in Christ and nothing will ever change that. There is no one and no force to remove you from the state of justification. You are as secure as a sovereign, all-powerful, all-knowing God can make you. And you are free from all those schemes that fallen man has devised to make himself acceptable to God; and you are free from all those devices he uses to comfort himself in his sinful misery. You can enjoy the life that God has given you.

And, of course, our justification gives us hope. Have you ever imagined life without hope? Even unbelievers have hope—it is an earthly, temporal hope, but they do have expectation of good things in the future. The trouble is, of course, they have no basis for their hope; it is, therefore, a mere empty creation of their depraved imaginations.

For those who have been justified, however, hope is genuine. Nothing we experience in this life can compare with what awaits us; we are not able to conceive of existing in a state of sinlessness, but that is what awaits us. How can we not be anxious about the coming of that day? How can we not long for it, even as we work for Christ and see His kingdom spread around the world?

There are times, to be sure, when this hope will be particularly dear to us. There will be times when the burdens of life will weigh heavily upon us and the thing that will sustain us, the thing that will let us lift up our heads will be the hope of the glory of God.

If you are a Christian, all that I described belongs to you. Not one of these benefits can be taken away from you. You were once condemned, but God provided a way for the condemnation to be lifted. He provided His own Son who was willing to receive what you deserved. Jesus Christ suffered and died in your place. God has accepted that payment on your behalf. This is the gospel.

Those who believe the gospel should rejoice; and they have every reason to rejoice. But there may be some here this morning who have never heard the gospel or who have never paid attention to the gospel. For you God has provided this opportunity.

You are a sinner and you are condemned and you have no way of escape on your own. God requires a payment from you that you can never pay. Unless you find a Substitute, you will face the full fury of a holy God one of the days. The gospel, once again, tells you about that Substitute. There is only one that God will accept, but you only need one.

Today, if you belong to Christ, be thankful. Renew your dedication to His glory by living according to His holy Word every day of your life. If you are not born again, I urge you to consider what you have heard. Do not close your ears to the one message that can deliver you.



Hymn for communion


The sacrament that is displayed before you embodies the blessings that I've recounted: peace with God, an abiding loving relationship with God, and hope. This sacrament testifies to the fact that Christ brought you peace by paying for your sins.

Our very reception of these elements confirms our abiding relationship with God in which He loves us and has us as His own. Every time we receive these elements, our interest in Christ is confirmed.

And certainly this sacrament speaks of hope. We are instructed to observe this sacrament until Christ comes back and then, according to His own words, we will drink the cup with Him in His Father's kingdom. We long for that day and this sacrament reminds us that we ought to have hope as the people of God.

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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