At the time of the Reformation Luther's resounding words, “The Just shall live by faith” became the battle cry of those who faced persecution, torture, and death for the sake of the Gospel (Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38, Habakkuk 2:4). Since that time, those words have brought peace, hope, and assurance of eternal life to untold millions. Yet, because those words express the very heart and core of the Gospel, Satan's greatest efforts have been directed at concealing, corrupting, and denying what they say. For that reason, every Christian needs to understand the doctrine of “Justification by Faith” and be prepared to defend it against all the wiles of the devil. [1 Peter 5:8, 1 Peter 3:15, Jude 3, Galatians 1:6-9 and 3:11, Acts 20:29, John 8:44, 2 Peter 2:1.]
    To justify someone is to absolve them of guilt, vindicate them of any wrongdoing, free them from blame, or show them to be innocent. Therefore, spiritually speaking, a just person is someone who is innocent, righteous, or blameless before God. That being the case, when the Bible says, “The Just shall live by faith” it is saying that those who are innocent, righteous, or blameless before God do not receive eternal life because they have earned it or deserve it, but because they trust in Christ. [Romans 1:17, Romans 3:28, Romans 5:1,2 Titus 3:5, Ephesians 1:7, John 3:16, Acts 16:31.]

    The importance of justification lies in the fact that only the just can enter heaven. Therefore, since we are all sinners in the sight of God, the only way we can ever hope to enter heaven is by being justified. Moreover, because Christ died so that we could be absolved of guilt, Justification by Faith is central to the Gospel, and thus to all that the Bible teaches. For, even though it is the blood of Christ that cleanses us from all sin, it is by faith alone that we have access to that cleansing (1John 1:7, Romans 5:2). In other words, faith is the hand that receives the forgiveness Christ won for us (Galatians 3:22), and without that forgiveness no one is free of condemnation before God (Romans 3:10-20, Hebrews 11:6).

    The difficulty many have in coming to faith in Christ, lies in the fact that we want to cover up, excuse, and gloss over our own sins and shortcomings (Jeremiah 17:9). It is easy to point out the faults of others, but no one likes to admit his own faults. Like the Pharisee, in the story of the Pharisee and the publican, we would rather think that God is pleased with us than be honest about our sins. However, in the eyes of God that is self-deception (guile John 1:47). And, all who deceive themselves in that way are rejecting God's grace by denying their need for it (Luke 18:14).

[Note: If we could in any way make ourselves worthy of God's favor we would not need to be saved to begin with (Romans 5:12-21, 1John 1:7-10, Romans 3:10-28, 1Timothy 1:15, James 2:10).]


    The faith by which we are justified, is our reliance upon (or trust in) Christ. In other words, we depend on Him, and the sacrifice that he made, to free us from condemnation and get us into heaven (Isaiah 53:10). Furthermore, that faith is a gift of God, not something we do (Ephesians 2:8-9). However, one trick that Satan uses to keep people from understanding what faith is all about, is to shift the emphasis from Christ to faith, as if we were saved by simply believing something rather than trusting in Christ. Therefore, we need to make it clear that our faith is not what absolves us of guilt, faith is simply our acceptance of what Christ did for us (Galatians 3:22). It is what He did that absolves us of guilt, thereby justifying us in the sight of God (Ephesians 1:6,7, 1 Peter 2:5, Colossians 2:14).

    Because faith looks to Jesus for forgiveness, it cannot exist in the heart of someone that has no desire for forgiveness, or thinks that he has no need of forgiveness. For that reason, those who are not sorry for their sins, trust in their own righteousness, or are trying to atone for their own sins, are not trusting in Christ (Galatians 5:4, Romans 10:3-4). [Philippians 3:3, 2Corinthians 1:9, Jeremiah 17:5, Psalm 32:2,5,10, Romans 9:31:32 and 10:3-4.]


    Although the ancient church condemned the doctrine of salvation by works, by the time of the Reformation people were being led to believe that God’s favor depended upon their works. Moreover, the system of masses and purgatory made Christ look like a harsh judge and His sacrifice seem irrelevant. Faith was seen as simply believing facts, while grace had been redefined as works. Therefore, in order to make it clear that we are justified by what Christ did rather than what we do, Reformation theologians portrayed our justification as a “forensic” (courtroom) acquittal, by which God declares us righteous for Christ’s sake.
    While the forensic terminology has its place, it sometimes gives people the impression that our justification is only a legal fiction. For that reason, we need to make it clear that our justification consists of having every sin washed away by the blood of Christ (Romans 5:9, 1John 1:7-9). In other words, the forgiveness that is ours in Christ not only gets us declared righteous, but actually removes our guilt thus making us righteous in the sight of God (Romans 10:3-4).

    When it comes to pleasing God, the world at large finds it almost impossible to think of righteousness apart from the law. As a result, most people think that someone who is trying hard to keep the law, is the opposite of someone who is living in sin. However, as far as God is concerned there is no difference between the two, for a self-righteous person is just as unrepentant as a practicing homosexual (Luke 18:10-14).

    The delusion becomes even stronger when people try to use the threats of the law to motivate themselves. Once a person has fallen into that trap, they find it hard to see freedom from the law as anything other than license to sin (Romans 7:4). What they fail to understand is that it is the law that condemns us. Therefore, we cannot be righteous unless we are freed from the law. They also fail to understand that people who are trying to make themselves righteous can not only be rude, critical and unloving but also often come across as hypocrites because they always want to excuse their own faults (Luke 11:46).

    It is only as we come to see ourselves as God sees us, and can say with the Apostle Paul, “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing,” that we can see freedom from the law as the freedom to walk in a clean conscience without being condemned for sins that we are often not even aware of (Romans 4:4-8). Therefore, when it comes to the question of how we should behave after we have been freed from the law, what Evangelical Christians actually teach is that we do what is right and good and pure, not in order to become righteous, but because we are righteous through faith in Christ. Or, to put it another way, the fruit that grows on a tree does not make the tree bad or good, it simply reveals whether the tree is bad or good. Likewise, the works that we perform do not make us bad or good, they simply reveal whether we are bad or good (Matthew 7:20). Furthermore, because the good in us does not come from our old nature, our good works are not something that we do in the flesh, but are instead something that the Holy Spirit works in us after he comes into our heart, through faith in Christ (Galatians 3:2 and 5:22, Romans 7:6).
    Because we know the love of God that is ours in Christ, the last thing that we would want to do would be to place ourselves back under the law by willful sin and rebellion against God (Hebrews 10:26-27, James 4:4). Therefore, we walk in a clean conscience, not to earn God's favor, but because we value the freedom from condemnation that we have in Christ. We do that which is good and right and kind, not because our salvation depends upon it, but because we love Jesus and want to do His will. In fact, God does not want us trying to make ourselves righteous, because those who seek to make themselves righteous do not really believe that Christ has made them righteous (Romans 10:3-4, Galatians 5:4).


    Once we realize that justification is through faith in Christ (rather than the works of the law), that knowledge helps us to understand everything else that the Bible says. In fact, the law itself cannot be understood as God intended until we see that it was not given to make us righteous, but to show us our sin and need for the forgiveness Christ won for us (Galatians 3:24, Romans 3:19-20).

    Once we understand the purpose of the law, we can understand the importance of teaching it in its full strictness. For, those who water down the law, excuse sin, and deny their need for forgiveness undermine the very purpose for which the law was given (Matthew 15:6, Mark 7:13). Nevertheless, because of the deceitfulness of the human heart I often encounter people (pastors included) who excuse sin, instead of confessing and forsaking it (Proverbs 28:13). They fail to realize that God does not accept excuses, or that the words, “Whosoever shall keep the whole Law and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” indict every one of us (James 2:10).

    As we learn to see the law in its proper perspective, it becomes clear that the fear of God is not a morbid fear that drives us to seek righteousness by the law, but a healthy fear of God’s justice that leads us to admit our sin and look to Christ for mercy (Romans 3:19-20, Galatians 5:4, Proverbs 28:13). Likewise, once we realize that the purpose of the law is not to make us righteous but to show us our need of forgiveness in Christ, we can see that true repentance is what happens when the law succeeds in getting us to admit our sin and look to Christ for mercy (2Timothy 2:25, 2Corinthians 7:10).

    In addition to helping us to understand doctrine, the knowledge that we are justified by faith gives us insight into many passages of Scripture. For example, since works do not make us righteous, “The lips of the righteous” spoken of in Proverbs 10:21 are the lips of those who are righteous through faith in Christ (Romans 10:4). Furthermore, those lips “feed many” because through them others learn the wisdom of trusting in Christ (1Corinthians 1:30).


    Since those who are truly repentant want to be righteous, they will do many things that the law requires, and will never live a life of willful and wanton disobedience to God. However, they will never deceive themselves into thinking that what they do is good enough to please God, or that it in any way makes them righteous before God (Luke 18:10-14). On the contrary, because they have a repentant heart, they know that they are sinners, and that it is the blood of Christ alone that absolves them of guilt, making them pure, righteous, and perfect before God (1John 1:7).