The factors of justification are three: all are definable in scriptural language. We are “justified by grace”, we are “justified by faith” and we are “justified by the blood of Christ”. These are not alternative ways of justification; the terms all converge on the one act by which God changes our relationship to Himself. “Grace” describes God’s activity; “faith” describes the essential condition man must fulfill; and the blood of Christ describes the basis upon which God forgives and upon which man receives forgiveness. Each phrase calls for notice.

Since it is more usual to associate justification with faith, we could begin with that aspect: but “justification” has its inception with God and it is better to begin with the Divine origin of justification.

It is obvious that salvation must be of God since no man can redeem his brother nor give to God a ransom for him. God could have left the race to perish, but that would have allowed human sin to frustrate His purpose in creating man. It is of the very nature of God that He must achieve His purpose and must therefore be a Saviour. “A god that cannot save” is the last word of derision of idol worship, but the very potency of the saying of the prophet implies that the living God whose servant he was, was one who saved. “Look unto me and be ye saved”, says God.

God is love, and springing from His love for His creatures God has made known His will and the way whereby the sundered friendship with man can be restored. God so loved the world that He gave His son. But the word that is used particularly in connection with justification, is grace. “The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:11–14). The grace is God’s grace just as the love He has shown is His love toward us. It describes the personal attitude of God—the attribute of His character which is particularly manifested in His redeeming activity. It is His unconstrained love shown to us in the gift of His Son. It is not that we can separate one attribute from another except as a necessity of thought to define a particular aspect of His working with men. The wrath of God is another phrase which defines God’s attitude in relation to ungodliness and unrighteousness.

The word grace has a series of related meanings. It denotes something that gives joy, and the gracious attitude which produces joy. It can describe a favour bestowed, and also thanks for the favour. Just as in the New Testament the significance of the word translated “love” has been transformed by its usage in Christian thought, so grace in relation to God has been ennobled to describe His kindness and favour in the wondrous work of salvation. Because of the vital part in this work by the Son of God, the word is also used of him, as when Peter says “We believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved” (Acts 15:11).

Contrasting the operation of law, which because of man’s failure to keep it works wrath, the apostle sums up his argument of Romans 4:1–16 by say­ing, “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace”. In the comprehensive statement in Romans 3:22–26, Paul says, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus”. The language in Ephesians glows as Paul contemplates the work of God. The adoption of men as His children is “to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein he has made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence” (1:5–8). Again, “God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us” hath raised us up with Christ “that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Jesus Christ. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that [salvation] not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph 2:4–9).

Grace Perverted

A word might be said on the perversion of the truth of the Bible about “grace”. Justification by grace has been largely lost sight of because “grace” has been given an unbiblical meaning by many in Christen­dom. It is thought of as something bestowed, as an endowment upon man; as a divine influence operat­ing upon man and not as the divine attribute. Thus a child is “baptised” by a few drops of water that it might receive the grace of God and be baptismally regenerated. The sanctified water has to be minis­tered by a priesthood in apostolic succession; and as the “baptism” is the initial rite, so the eucharist is a further channel of grace. But here again the priest plays an important part as the essential medium of grace. Grace has been divided into prevenient grace and sanctifying grace, with other qualifying words such as “actual”, “efficacious” and “sufficient”. Paganism with its mystical rites mediated through a priesthood with mythical powers—the essential characteristics of the mystery cults of the pagan world—conquered Christianity with its doctrine of faith and baptism unto Christ.

Augustine whose influence fastened the doctrine of the immortality of the soul on Christendom, was largely to blame for perversions of the doctrine of grace. “The church to him”, says Farrar, “was an external establishment, subjected to the autocracy of bishops largely dependant on the opinion of Rome. It was a church represented almost exclusively by a sacerdotal caste, cut off by celibacy from ordinary human interests, and possessing the sole right to administer a grace which came magically through none but mechanical means.” We are asked to believe that by the laying on of hands, generation after generation, a succession of men have had the power of conveying mystical influences which have been called “grace”. The Protestant world is divided because of refusal of Anglicans and Nonconformists to recognise the validity of each other’s “orders”. In fact, if there is any validity in any of these “orders” the observance of the Lord’s supper under the presi­dency of an unordained person reduces the service to something comparable to the offering of strange fire. But if on the other hand the ministry of “sac­rament” is in opposition to the truth of Scripture, then the offer of “sacramental grace” is fraudulent imposition as well as a reversion to paganism.

Faith and Holiness

“Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” was an issue raised in Paul’s day. Men turned the grace of God into lasciviousness. Need we be surprised that in later ages men have found an antithesis between faith and holiness of life? Faith excludes works as a basis of justification. But faith of the apostolic character is creative of good works. No one can appreciate the need for the sacrifice of Jesus as God’s provision of forgiveness, and at the same time wilfully pursue the path of sin. The very response to God in faith is such a repudiation of sin and self that in John’s sense of the phrase such a one “cannot sin”. The love of God evokes love. “We love because he first loved us.” And the love of Christ so constrains that the one who has learned Christ does not live unto himself but unto him which died for him and rose again. A man who has learned of God’s grace seeks to walk worthy of God. The Lord’s life is seen as an example that we should fol­low his steps. “Be ye followers of Christ” becomes not only a reasonable but an essential attitude for a “justified” man. The very grace that brings salvation teaches us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts we should live soberly, righteously and godly, in this present world. “As he which has called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of behaviour.”

Excerpt from Delight in God’s Law

John Carter, August 1959