JUSTIFICATION: DECLARED RIGHTEOUS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-29-72 8:15 a.m.
As you know, in the morning hours we are preaching through the Book of Galatians, and we are in the last verses of the third chapter. And the apostle uses a word in these verses that he has used several times heretofore, and that shall comprise the subject of the sermon, Justification or Declared Righteousness. “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster” [Galatians 3:24], our paidagōgos—and that was the sermon last Sunday morning, Sunday morning before last:
The law was our paidagōgos—our tutor leader, our child leader—
to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a paidagōgos: For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
And if you be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
And that word that he uses, “that we are justified by faith,” is a word that he loves. In the second chapter––and these are just a few of the verses––I pick out three of them. In the second chapter, verse 16, he said:
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
Then he uses the same word, except it’ll be translated differently: in Galatians 3:6, “Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted unto him for justification”; here it is translated “righteousness.” Then, in the eleventh verse of the third chapter, “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith” [Galatians 3:11]; justification, declared righteousness.
It is an interesting thing that in both Hebrew and in Greek, in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, the same root words are translated “righteousness” and “justification.” The Hebrew word for “righteousness” is tsedeqah; it is also used “to be declared righteous, to be righteous,” or “to be declared righteous, to be justified.”
In Genesis 15:6, which is quoted in Galatians 3:6, “Abraham believed God, and his faith was accounted for tsedaqah, tsedaqah, righteousness, justification.” The Greek word dikaios can be translated “just” or “righteous,” either one—In Matthew 1:19, “When Joseph saw that Mary was already with child, Joseph, being a dikaios man, a just man,” it is translated, “thought privily to put her away.”
In Matthew 5:45, “God sendeth the rain on the dikaios and the adikos, the just and the unjust.” In 9:13, Matthew 9:13, the Lord says He came “not to call the dikaios, the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” The words are just the same. In Acts 10:22, Cornelius the centurion is described as a “dikaios man,” translated there “a just man.” In Romans 1:17, “The just, the dikaios, the dikaioi, the just shall live by faith.” Then in Romans 3:10, “There is none dikaios, there is none righteous, no, not one.” They are the same words.
Now, the verbal form of dikaios, “just, righteous,” dikaiō, means to pronounce or treat as righteous; to hold guiltless; to justify. They are all the same words. For example, in Luke 18:14, that publican who wouldn’t lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat on his breast, saying, “Lord, be merciful to me, the sinner” [Luke 18:13], Jesus says, “He went down to his home dikaiō, justified, declared righteous, guiltless” [Luke 18:14].
In Romans 8:30, Paul will say, “Whom He called, whom God called, He dikaioō, He justified; and whom He dikaioō, whom He justified, He glorified.” Now, there’s another word that is built upon that root, dikaiosis, which means “acquittal,” which means “justification.” If a man was tried before a bar, before a court, and he was acquitted, this is the word that you would use to describe it; dikaiosis, he was acquitted, he was justified.
In Romans 4:25 that word is used: “Christ was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our dikaiosis, for our acquittal, for our justification, to declare us righteous.” Paul uses that word again in Romans 5:18, “As by the offense of one, judgment, condemnation came upon all men; so by the righteousness,” there you are, same word, “of One, the free gift of God came upon all men, unto justification, dikaiosis, of life.” So the words “righteousness” and “justification” mean the same thing, and “to declare righteous” is the meaning of “to justify, to be acquitted, to be held guiltless.”
Justification then is that judicial act. It’s something in the heart of God. It is something God does. Justification, to declare us righteous, is a judicial act that God does, on account of Christ, for us who are united by faith to Him, whereby He looks upon us as being blameless, without sin, without spot, holy and pure. It is something that God does, looking upon us who are actual sinners. He justifies us. He declares us righteous. He grants us acquittal. We are not under condemnation. And He does so, on account of Christ [Romans 8:1].
We are joined to our Lord by faith [Ephesians 3:6]. We are baptized into Christ, made a part of His body in our acceptance of Him, and as such the Lord justifies us [1 Corinthians 12:13]. He declares us righteous. He acquits us of all of the judgment upon our sins and transgressions [Romans 8:1].
This is one of the most remarkable things that you will find in the Bible. It is not a new thing, as though it were first brought to us in the pages of the New Testament. It is God’s way of looking upon His people. He looks upon us ideally, a remarkable thing because we are not ideal. We are not spotless, we are not sinless, yet God looks upon us, loves us, nourishes us as though we were.
Look at this, for example, in the twenty-third chapter of the Book of Numbers, Balak, the king of Moab, has hired Balaam, a prophet, to curse Israel. But when Balaam picks up his parable to curse Israel, he blesses Israel. And look at the word, “And he took up his parable,” Balaam did, and said,
Balak the king of Moab hath brought me from Aram, out of the mountains of the east, saying, Come, curse me Jacob, and come, defy Israel.
How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed? Or how shall I defy, whom the Lord hath not defied?
And Balak the king said unto him, What hast thou done unto me? I hired thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast blessed them altogether.
[Numbers 23:7-8, 11]
And in the prophecy, Balaam replies to Balak, “God hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath He seen perverseness in Israel” [Numbers 23:21]. Well, you read the story of the children of Israel in the wilderness, and you’ll read a story of perverseness, of stubbornness, of stiff-neckedness, of unbelief; and yet, the Scriptures will say, “God hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob; neither hath He seen perverseness in Israel” [Numbers 23:21].
Well, what is that? It is that glorious, incomparably, immeasurably dear and precious attitude of God toward His people. In His sight they can do no wrong. They are justified [Romans 5:1]. They are declared righteous as God looks upon His children [Romans 8:33].
Let’s take another illustration. This one will be in the third chapter of the prophet Zechariah. “And the Lord showed me Joshua the high priest,” Zerubbabel the civic leader, and Joshua the high priest, the ecclesiastical leader, in the return to Jerusalem from the Babylonian captivity, “And He showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him” [Zechariah 3:1]; Joshua the high priest standing before God, and there at his right hand Satan standing to condemn him, to abuse him, to resist him, “For Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the Lord” [Zechariah 3:3].
The high priest clothed with sin, his garments unrighteous, and Satan standing there says, “Look at him. Look at his filthy rags. Look at his unkempt life. Look at the sin in his heart. The very imaginations of his soul are evil altogether.” Satan had cause to do it, “For Joshua was clothed with filthy garments” [Zechariah 3:3].
But the Lord said unto Satan, The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan: is not this also even Joshua, a brand plucked out of the fire?
“He is a soul that I have saved.”
… And the Lord said, Take away the filthy garments from him. And the Lord said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with a change of raiment
And not only that, but I will set a fair mitre, a beautiful headpiece upon thy head. And they set a fair mitre upon his head, and clothed him with beautiful garments.
There’s that doctrine again. Was Joshua clean? No. Was he faultless? No. Was he sinless? No. Was he filled with imperfection? Yes. Was he clothed with filthy garments? Yes. And when Satan stood by his hand to condemn him, he had cause to do so, for Joshua also was a sinner man.
But the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke thee, for I have saved him, and he is Mine; he is a brand plucked out of the burning!” [Zechariah 3:2]. And the Lord said, “Take away his filthy garments, and place upon him the beautiful garments from heaven, and set a mitre upon his head, for I have chosen him” [Zechariah 3:4-5]; not that he was righteous, but God declared him righteous, and the Lord looked upon him ideally, beautifully, gloriously, justified in the sight of God [Romans 8:33].
Well, just one other, for we could spend hours following this. The passage that I referred to a moment ago in Romans, in the eighth chapter—“Moreover, whom God did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He justified”; it’s something God does for us. “And whom He justified, them He also glorified [Romans 8:30]. Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth” [Romans 8:33]; the most astonishing doctrine that you can imagine!
Who shall say anything about God’s people? Who shall condemn them? In heaven, in earth, or under the earth, in the lower world, in the nether world, “Who shall lay any thing against God’s elect? It is God that justifieth” [Romans 8:33]. The Lord looks upon us and declares us righteous; and in His sight we are. All of us who are identified with Christ, joined to our Lord by faith, the Lord accepts us as He accepts His own Son. It’s an idealization that God does for us.
An agronomist, an agriculturalist, a botanist will look at a little tiny slip of a thing, not that big, half an inch, bursting out of the ground, and, being knowledgeable, he will say, “That’s an oak.” An oak? To me an oak is a great, spreading tree with branches and leaves; a tremendous thing, an oak. It has acorns, and it can withstand the most terrible of winds and storms. That’s an oak. But the agronomist, the agriculturist, the botanist will look at that little thing, and he says, “That’s an oak. It’s just a little slip of a thing that has burst forth out of the ground.”
What he is doing is he is idealizing, for all of the possibilities of the great tree are in that tiny slip of a thing, and its insipient development is a harbinger of what is yet to come. And he looks upon it in knowledge, ideally: what it can and will be. So God looks upon us. We are so tiny, and so small, and so weak. Most any little thing can just bowl us over. But God looks upon us ideally: what we are going to be in Christ, in glory. And that is justification. He declares us righteous [Romans 3:26].
Now I want to talk about that by way of contrast, that it might be the more vividly impressed upon our hearts; the way the world judges men is by their works. And they accept the man according to his works. And any man in the world would defend that. It is very logical and most reasonable. They judge. They accept. They promote. They demote the man according to his works.
God does just the opposite. First, God looks at the man. Then God looks at his works. But in God’s sight, always, it is first the man. He accepts or rejects the person of the man, what he is, what he is in his heart. Then God will look at the man’s works. Let me show that to you. In the story of Cain and Abel:
In process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering, a minchah, a gift unto the Lord.
And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But the Lord had not respect unto Cain and to his offering.
First God accepted Abel—the man himself, first—then God accepted his offering [Genesis 4:4]. But God rejected Cain. First He rejected Cain, then He rejected Cain’s offering [Genesis 4:5]. God accepts the person of a man first, or He rejects the person of a man first. Then God accepts or rejects the works of a man. But always, first it is God’s respect, acceptance of the man himself. That’s always first.
You’ll find that clearly followed in the Bible. Look at the twenty-third Psalm, that all of us memorize, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside still waters” [Psalm 23:1-2]—now look—“He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” First, “He restores my soul” [Psalm 23:3], He saves me; then “He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” [Psalm 23:3]. First God looks at the man’s heart. He accepts the man himself, and then He looks or accepts or rejects the man’s works. But first it is the man himself [Psalm 23:1-3].
I think of Samuel, who was sent to the house of Jesse to anoint the new king over Israel [1 Samuel 16:1-3]. And Jesse had all seven of his sons to pass before Samuel. And the eldest was Eliab, tall and strong and handsome, and when Samuel saw him walk before him, Samuel said, “Surely, surely, the Lord’s anointed is standing here before me, a fine specimen of a fine man.” And the Lord said, “I have rejected him” [1 Samuel 16:6-7].
Then Jesse had Abinadab, his second son, to pass before the prophet, and as Samuel looked upon him, strong and magnificent, he said, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands before me.” And the Lord said, “I have rejected him” [1 Samuel 16:8]. Then Jesse had his third son, Shammah, to stand before the prophet, and the same fine specimen of manhood. And the Lord said, “I have refused him” [1 Samuel 16:9].
And Samuel said, “Master, I don’t understand. I never saw such fine looking young men.” And the Lord said, “Samuel, your trouble is you look on the outside, but God looks on the heart” [1 Samuel 16:7]. All seven of those boys passed by, and the Lord said, “I have rejected them all” [1 Samuel 16:10]. And in despair, Samuel turned to Jesse and said, “Is this all of your boys? Seven? Is this all of them? I do not understand. God sent me here to the house of Jesse to anoint a king for Israel, and you have had all seven of your sons pass by in front of me. I don’t understand. Do you have another boy? And Jesse said, “You know, I forgot about him. I forgot about him. I have a little boy who is keeping the sheep. He is out there with his harp, singing songs to the sheep.” Samuel said, “We will not sit down until you fetch him” [1 Samuel 16:11]. That’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to the English language: to lose “fetch” out of the language. There’s no other word that says, “go get him, and bring him here.” “We will not sit down until you fetch him.” And they brought in the boy, and the Scriptures describe it: “ruddy, fair haired, unshaven, a lad.” And God said to Samuel, “This is he; arise, anoint” [1 Samuel 16:12]. God accepts first the man; then He accepts the man’s works.
Now may I illustrate that as the commonest thing in human life? In the days of the Depression, as a young man, I was in Chicago. I happened to be with another young fellow from Seattle, the son of a very rich man, who sent the boy away to get rid of him; the most knowledgeable, worldly young fellow I was ever with. He knew all about Al Capone. And you know, I wondered as a young fellow how Al Capone and the Capone gang could hold the city of Chicago in the palm of his hand. How?
Well, I went around with that young fellow and I found out soon. He took me to one of Al Capone’s speakeasies––they called them speakeasies––right down there in the middle of town, at Madison and State Street, right under the nose of forty policemen who patrol up and down there every day.
I looked at their gambling, at their illegal drinking. It was an astonishment to me; and they were all over the city. Then I looked at Al Capone’s operation with that young fellow. The Lord only knows how many thousands and thousands and I suppose millions of dollars that Al Capone poured into feeding the poor and taking care of the widows and the orphans. He had every precinct bound up in the hollow of his hand.
And when time came to vote for alderman, and time came to vote for mayor, all of those people followed the slate of Al Capone to the “T,” and you couldn’t touch him! Now the people who were starving to death then, receiving food and coal from Al Capone, were overwhelmed by the largesse, and the goodness, and the generosity of the man.
But not only God, but the law abiding citizens of the United States looked at Al Capone and said, “That man is a leech. That man is a curse”—and they were never able to touch him, never. You know how they sent him to the Atlanta penitentiary? Working on his income tax. Isn’t that right, you lawyers? I see some of you nodding your head. They were never able to touch Al Capone, never. They sent him to the penitentiary because of his income tax returns.
I’m just illustrating to you how men look, and how God looks. We seek to commend ourselves to God, the world seeks to commend itself to God by its good works: “Look at me, Lord, look at me! Look at me!” God says our good works are like “filthy rags” in His sight [Isaiah 64:6], and if we are ever to be justified, “We must be justified by faith in Christ. For by the works of the law, by doing good deeds, shall no man be declared righteous” [Galatians 2:16].
If we are ever accepted in the sight of God, it must be in His grace and favor through Christ our Lord [Ephesians 1:6]. There is no other way. And that is the Bible doctrine of justification, declared righteousness [Romans 3:23-25]. It is an imputed righteousness [Romans 4:22-24]. It is something God does for us when we take our poor lost souls to Jesus.
I have a minute left. Let me point out one more thing that Paul says about this, then we’ll have to close. As he begins the fourth chapter––which will be our sermon next Sunday morning––Paul describes the man who works and the man who comes to God by faith. Paul describes them in the category, in the parable, in the similitude of a slave in the house and the son.
And he says that the slave in the house is a slave as long as he’s a workman, but the child is the heir. And when the child comes of age, God gives to him all of the inheritance of the eldest son [Galatians 4:1-7]. Now let me say that in my words. When a man works—he’s going to save himself by his good works—when a man works, the more he works, the more is he in debt, because not any of our works are perfect. So we get behind, and behind, and behind, and behind, and behind, and the more we work, the more is it of debt, of debt, of debt, because our works always have in them the element of imperfection. No man is able to do anything perfectly. Can’t even pray perfectly, can’t even believe perfectly; we have to cast ourselves upon the mercies of God [Titus 3:5]. So the reward of works is debt, and more debt, and more debt.
And the slave, the servant who works in the house, just works there forever, and he’s still a servant. He’s still a slave. At the end of his lifetime, having worked a lifetime in the house, he is a hired servant! But the son, the child, the father looks upon him as his own flesh and kin and blood, and he becomes the heir of all of his father’s estate—the difference between a servant, a slave who works, and the son, who is a child of the father [Galatians 4:1-7].
That you will find in the parable, in the story of the prodigal son [Luke 15:11-32]. The boy came back and said to his father, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight; and I am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. Just put me to work, and let me show you by my works that I have repented, and that I want to come back home, and that I want to be in my father’s house. Make me a hired servant” [Luke 15:18-19].
That’s what the boy said. What did the father say? Did the father say, “That’s a wonderful idea, son; you come here and work in this house and on this farm like a hired servant, and at the end of five years or ten years or twenty years or a lifetime, after I have watched you work and you have demonstrated your worth, why, then I will look upon you and consider taking you back into the family and into the household”? Is that what the father said?
When the boy said, “Dad, I have sinned, and I am no more worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of thy hired servants,” when the boy started off with the speech, the father broke in and said, “Bring hither the finest robe; put it upon him. Take off those old rags. Bring hither the ring of inheritance, the sign of his dignity; put it on his finger. Put shoes on his feet, for this my”—what? “This my son, this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found” [Luke 16:22-24]. That is justification.
Don’t work for it. Not a hired hand, not a slave, but it’s of grace, it’s of love, it’s of God’s favor and goodness, and He receives us as a child, as a son, as a daughter, and all of the goodnesses of Christ and all of the righteousnesses of heaven are ours [2 Corinthians 5:21]. They belong to us. They are imputed to us. They are given to us, and we are declared righteous in His presence [Romans 3:26].
O Lord, sometimes, reading that Book, trying to understand what God has done for us in Christ, I am overwhelmed; the greatness and goodness and blessing of God that reaches even to us when we are so frail and so sinful and so lost.
We’ve gone far beyond our time. In this balcony round, you; on this lower floor, you; a family you, a couple you, giving your heart in trust to Christ, coming into the fellowship of the church, putting your life with the people of God, while we sing this song, would you come and stand by me? “Pastor, I give you my hand. I give my heart to the Lord”; or “Pastor, I’ve made the decision to place my life here in this dear church, and I’m coming now.” On the first note of this first stanza, down one of these stairways, into the aisle and here to the front: “Here I come.” Make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when you stand up to sing, stand up walking down that aisle, coming down that stairway. If you’re in the last row of the topmost balcony, there is time and to spare. Come, come. Make the decision now in your heart, and when we stand up, stand up walking down that aisle. Do it now. Make it now. Come now, while we stand and while we sing.