Salvation is not simply justification. Justification is the foundation of the salvation process that God will work in His children.
God’s work to bring us into His Kingdom is more than walking down the isle, repeating a prayer, and being told to live a good life. The magnitude of what God did through His Son Jesus is so much more. So what does it mean to be justified?
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”
- Romans 5:1-2
Through Jesus, we are no longer enemies of God due to the righteousness given to us. Jesus imparts to us what we could never do. We are not pure, but the pure righteousness of Jesus is given to us who could not be pure. Our righteousness is Christ's righteousness. As our planet relies on the energy of the sun to make it habitable, so our very salvation is founded upon the radiant righteousness of Jesus. His righteousness is our only way to stand before God, blameless. This faith that we place in the righteousness of Jesus is the way in which we gain access to grace. The grace where we will not receive the wrath that is due to us for our sins. We stand behind Jesus as the righteous firestorm of punishment of sin is poured out upon Jesus. Jesus fixes the sin that we have before God. His blood is our way to righteousness.
In the process of salvation, justification is the foundation and we are founded upon his righteousness.
When we understand how we are justified, we receive better insight into how we are being saved. Paul shows us through the example of Abraham that he was considered righteous because of his faith in the work that God was going to do. Paul expounds on this and proclaims that we too are able to be made righteous before God based on nothing but faith in the work of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. For this reason, we would define justification as: the gracious gift of righteousness, through faith in Jesus, to be reconciled to a righteous God.
My hope is that we can all see the need for this undeserved involvement of Jesus to redeem us. What other King has declared the slayers of His Son righteous? The love involved to redeem us cannot be completely understood.
Due to its foundational importance, we need to be clear and wise on why Paul, the writer of Romans, and James, the writer of James, seem to proclaim differing messages about justification. Here are a couple examples.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
- Romans 3:23-24
“You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”
- James 2:22-24
Both of these verses are very specific in their use of the term justified. The Greek term (δικαιόω)[3b] is simply termed as, “to render right or just.” This is where we find our dilemma. No matter how much our righteousness is dependent upon faith in the gospel of Jesus, according to James, truly being justified will be completed in works.
To state that something is not completed is to show that there is a process in the working of the faith. James famously states:
“But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
- James 2:18
The two words that we need to draw our attention to is “show” and “by.” In these two terms we see that the faith that James has, because of the imputed righteousness of Jesus, is shown by his works. He uses verse eighteen in his opening argument to display that those who are justified by faith will not only be justified by faith. The justification that they have received will result in an overflow of works displaying to the one redeemed, and the world, the reality of the justification that has taken place.
Everyone knows that in order for me to drive a car there is really a very vital part in order that I drive a car. I need a car. Now that I have a car it is pretty important for me to get in the car and use the steering wheel, gas, and brake in order to drive this car. If I wanted to, I could proclaim all day that I have an amazing track record for driving cars. I could say that I could win the Daytona 500 with my Honda Civic, or successfully drive my car out of a flying airplane onto the side of a mountain in Nepal without scratching it. I could do all of this while standing right next to the car! But the obvious response that everyone will tell me is, "Prove it."
God has given us a car and that car was a free gift that He has bought. Not only that, He has paid for the insurance, gas, and every other expense. All we have to do is get in drive and trust that the vehicle that He has given will get us to Him. We don't walk around our cars only taking pictures and talkinging about it. If you want to display the greatness of your vehicle you will tell others to come and sit in it and see for themselves how great the car is. Thankfully we have been given something of greater magnitude and value than a car. In turn, we show the world and our soul who the owner of the justification is, and that anyone can get one too. All you have to do is get in and drive, showing the world the object that you put your faith in; and it is not a car.
We have a God who has given us the ability to be a doer of His word. He did this by justifying us through the righteousness of His Son. This justification leads to the indwelling of the Spirit by faith. The result of this faith in the righteous work of Jesus will lead to works that we would have never done on our own.
In reality, James is displaying sanctification (to make holy) by showing us the outflow of the results of justification. Abraham’s justification was proven in the obedience that he had in bringing his son Issac to the altar. We see this displayed in James.
“Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works.”
- James 2:21-22
A completed faith is not only in the free gift of righteousness through the work of Jesus. A completed faith has works that overflow from our being justified. Justification is through faith and the effect of this justification is works.
But would Paul agree? I believe that Paul would also agree with this in his letter to the Romans.
“For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.”
- Romans 6:20-22
We have been “free in regard to righteousness,” due to our justification. And because we are “set free from sin and have become slaves of God,” we now enter into the effect of our justification. Paul states that those who are justified produce fruit that leads to sanctification (to make holy). The effect of those who are justified is that they will work and there will be fruit as we travel toward eternal life. Notice that justification does not end in eternal life. Sanctification, at its end, is eternal life.
We can state that we are not justified based on our own works, but in response to the indwelling of the Spirit of Jesus, we will produce fruit. Paul tells us what the renewing work of the Spirit to purify us as He is pure looks like.
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
- Galatians 5:16-24
Today we have to ask our self if we are truly being molded into the likeness of Jesus. We are still in the flesh that constantly desires gratification but the justified have the indwelling of a Spirit who pushes us to be slaves to righteousness. This Spirit gives us the ability to crucify the desires of the flesh and all of the destruction that they try to place upon us.
If we indeed have truly placed our faith in the work of Jesus and have seen the magnitude of what He has done to redeem us then we will have a very different lifestyle than we had before we were justified. I am not pushing for a sinless perfection, but we do need to strive for such.
We are in the process of experiencing heaven and earth collide and the Spirit is getting us ready for such. The Spirit working in us to make a new creation is the proof that we have indeed been made righteous. Not that the Spirit’s work is qualifying us for heaven, but that the seal of approval has been made through the justifying work of Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection.
This is how we are assured. This is how we know “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” The Spirit propelling us to become doers of God’s Word is how we know that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Thankfully James does not proclaim a works based understanding of salvation but the effect that being justified has upon our being. We thank God that those who are justified will be sanctified. And those, whose sanctification is completed by the work of the Spirit, will be glorified.
 1 Corinthians 15:1-2
 Genesis 15:6
 Romans 4:20-25
[3b] "G1344 - dikaioō - Strong's Greek Lexicon (ESV)." Blue Letter Bible.
 James 1:22
 Acts 2:37-39
 “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” -1 John 3:3
 Philippians 1:6
 Romans 8:1
--- Schreiner, Thomas. "Do Paul and James Disagree on Justification by Faith Alone?" The Gospel Coalition. 2017
Caleb Rawls – is the pastor of Pleasant Home Baptist Church in Laurel Mississippi, and husband to Taylor Rawls. Together they strive to lead the church to reach out to their community and world. And yes, they have a dog named Tiglath-Pileser.