In your catechism classes, Young People, you were taught that there are seven different elements in our salvation.
First of all, we are by God’s grace caused to be born again, with a new spiritual life. The title of that work of our God is regeneration. In the second place we have a calling out of spiritual darkness into a marvelous new spiritual light. In the third place we have a saving faith which is worked in us, and thereby we become confident that Christ Jesus has realized salvation for us. The fourth element is that God justified us through His Son and His cross. The last three elements of our salvation are sanctification, which refers to God’s work of enabling us to begin to walk in holiness; preservation, which God uses after our rebirth to keep us preserved in our walk as children of God: and finally, our glorification which begins in this life, is increased when we die, and becomes full when Christ returns, raises our bodies, and brings us with body and soul into the new Jerusalem.
At this time I would like to call your attention to that fourth element, namely, our justification. You no doubt have heard that some say that when God justified them, it is so wonderful and gracious that they can claim, “God deals with me just-as-if-I’d never sinned.” Indeed God does deal with us as those whose sins are forgiven, because they have been blotted out by His Son through His cross.
That justification we find presented beautifully in Romans 5:1. There we read, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.” That justification refers to the fact that God, through His Son, took away every bit of our guilt; and therefore took away every bit of the calling for us to be cast into hell because of our sins: and because His Son blotted out every bit of our guilt.
To be justified means to become legally just as Christ Jesus our Savior is. He never sinned, and earned for us justification, so that we have every bit of our guilt taken away completely. And because of that we have the God-given right to receive all the other six elements of our salvation.
This comforting truth, Young People, is surely pointed out beautifully in Romans 5:1. There we read that we are justified by faith, and have peace with God. Now “justified by faith” does not mean that we earn justification by our faith. We are conscious of our justification by means of our faith. But we receive that faith only because we are justified by Christ Jesus and His cross. But because of that justification God gives us faith. We are not justified because we believe. We believe because Christ earned that faith for us by our justification, which we have by His work.
Arminianism teaches the lie that we open our hearts and let Christ come in to justify us, that is, to give us that blessing of justification. Before we have been born again and had faith wrought in us, we cannot believe in justification. Then spiritually dead we cannot want salvation, and we are not justified because we requested it, and wanted it. We want salvation only after God has begun it in us by a spiritual rebirth. God does not depend upon us, and save us only if we ask Him to do so. We enjoy and want salvation only after God has begun it in us by a rebirth. As we read in John 3:3, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of heaven.” God does not give us something because we gave Him something. And surely spiritually dead men cannot give God anything and cannot open their hearts to let Him come in.
Our God through Paul teaches us that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Go back to that beautiful verse again: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Peace with God comes upon us through Christ. It does not come because of what we do. Everything that we do that is correct spiritually is because of what Christ implants in us and enables us to do. We cannot give God anything in order to get salvation. We want salvation only because God has begun it in us.
Justification is God’s work for us and in us. It is possible because of what God does; and it is desired by us because He implanted that desire in us. Look up Luke 1:26-38. God came to Mary through an angel, who told her that God was going to cause her to bring forth a Son, Whose name would be Jesus. He shall be called the Son of the Highest, and shall be given “the throne of His father David.”
Mary asked, “How shall this be, seeing that I know not a man?” That angel told her that the Holy Spirit shall come upon her, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow her. Therefore that Son born of her shall be called “The Son of God.”
What is more, in Romans 5:1 we read a moment ago that we are justified by faith. And justification is a free gift, a one hundred percent free gift. Because faith also is a free gift. Thus in Ephesians 2:8 we read that faith is not of ourselves. “It is the gift of God.” And in verse 10 we read that “We are His (God’s) workmanship created in Christ Jesus.” As surely as Adam had nothing to do with his creation, we have absolutely nothing to do with our being justified by Christ Jesus through His cross. And also our desire and longing for it is God’s gift.
Justification is the legal side of our salvation. Regeneration, calling and faith are blessings which we receive because God justified us. Similarly sanctification, preservation and glorification are ours because God justified us through His Son and His cross.
We are saved by God’s grace, not by our works. Justification is a gift which we do not deserve, or by nature want. Listen, Young People, we cannot give God anything material and physical. He made it all and freely gave it to those whom He eternally planned to make us receive it. Likewise we cannot and do not have any spiritual life of the kingdom of heaven until God gives it freely unto us. He also gives us the desire for it.
In Romans 5:19 we find such a comforting and basic truth concerning all of our salvation. There we read: “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one many shall be made righteous.” Through Adam the whole human race became guilty, and spiritually dead. By Christ Jesus our Savior the believers were delivered from their guilt and given spiritual life. That we are justified means that God made us to be righteous in His judgment. Sanctification means that He makes us holy; but justification means that He makes us righteous, that is, makes us legally right in His judgment.
Now the proof of God making us righteous, by His act of justification, is Christ’s resurrection with a glorified body. That resurrection and glorification reveal that all those for whom He died are promised regeneration, a calling, faith, sanctification, preservation and glorification. For all this we get on the basis of that justification.
Do not, therefore, push justification into the background. All those six blessings come upon us, because this righteousness, realized by justification, is ours. Thank God for that justification as well as for the regeneration, calling, faith, sanctification, preservation and glory. Justification making us righteous, that is “not guilty,” is the legal basis for every other blessing which God gives us.
We owe God thanks for that justification, because it opens the door to those six other elements of our salvation. And in Psalm 139:14 we have the thankfulness for that salvation expressed by David. And in God’s grace we sing it thus in Psalter #383:1:
“All that I am I owe to Thee,
Thy wisdom, Lord, hath fashioned me;
I give my Maker thankful praise,
Whose wondrous works my soul amaze.”