Just as with every crucial aspect of salvation, Satan has provided a counterfeit justification, by which salvation is promised but not delivered. Just as there were false gospels masquerading as the truth in Paul's day, so we have false gospels today promising what they cannot deliver. And multitudes of sincere Christians have bought into Satan's version of the gospel, because it sounds so good. What is this popular counterfeit of true justification? Basically, it is limiting justification to Lesson 9 alone. It is restricting justification to God's declaration that we are righteous. In other words, it is making half of justification the whole gospel. Many Christians believe that justification is limited to pardon and forgiveness and declaration alone. In this lesson we will see that there is another vital aspect of justification. Without this dimension, justification is hollow and unsatisfying.
Look carefully at how God saves us. The washing of regeneration does not refer to the waters of baptism, but to the washing of the heart. This is a heart experience--a complete transformation. It happens in the mind. It changes my values and my attitudes. The Holy Spirit renews my mind. No longer am I self-centered; now I am Christ-centered and others-centered. Now I have the mind of Christ.
When this washing and renewing have been accomplished by Christ and the Holy Spirit, then I am justified and saved. There is more to justification than being pardoned from past sins. This is justification experienced in the inward life. It is crucial to understand that justification follows regeneration and renewing.
Jesus did not use the word justification as often as Paul did to describe the work of salvation, but Jesus was very clear about how we are saved. He said that the new birth is an essential prerequisite to salvation. In its most basic expression, justification experienced is the new birth. The new birth does not follow justification; it is justification.
To be in Christ is to be in salvation, or to be saved. The one who is "in Christ" is a new creature, a new person. God creates a new person with new motivations and desires. Jesus compares this process with being born all over again.
The old man is our old way of living, in which selfishness and self-love rule our lives. This old man must die and be replaced by the new creature which is produced by Christ and the Holy Spirit in the new birth. Notice that to reckon ourselves to be dead is the same as actually being crucified. To be declared dead is to be actually dead. And when the old man is dead, sin is dead at the same time. Just as the old man and sinning are synonymous, so the new creature and obedience are synonymous. Thus justification and obedience should also be one and the same thing. It is because this is not always true that we begin to doubt our experience and wonder if we are really justified. It is at this point that we must once again rely on the first half of justification, because we must be forgiven again for sins committed.
Because of God's great mercy, He continues to forgive us if we sin after the new birth. But we must never think that sin is necessary or inevitable after being justified, because it is God's plan and desire that we do not sin. He really wants us to be dead to sin, and alive to obedience. We must never mistake the mercy of God with the plan of God. He does many things for us because of His love and mercy which He wishes He would not have to continue to do, namely, to continually forgive us for continued sinning. God's plan of justification includes making us new creatures, which means being dead to sin.
If this text is really true, then there is a way to participate in God's plan. If we daily walk with Christ and behold Christ and commune with Christ, then by a miracle of the Holy Spirit we will actually think like Christ and make decisions like Christ, and resist sin like Christ. The seemingly impossible becomes a reality! Perhaps we need to spend more time and energy learning how to have the mind of Christ each day.
Additional Study: "God's forgiveness is not merely a judicial act by which He sets us free from condemnation. It is not only forgiveness for sin, but reclaiming from sin. It is the outflow of redeeming love that transforms the heart. David had the true conception of forgiveness when he prayed, 'Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.' Psalm 51:10." (Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 114) God's forgiveness is more than declaring; it is reclaiming, transforming, and renewing. It is a clean heart created within us. This is not sanctification. It is part of forgiveness. Justification transforms at the same time that it declares. Pardon is an inward transformation.
"Having made us righteous through the imputed righteousness of Christ, God pronounces us just, and treats us as just....'Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.' " (Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 394) This statement is not in harmony with the current definition of justification in the Christian world. It says that before God pronounces us just, He makes us righteous. Justification by faith is being made righteous. Current Christian theology says that justification is being declared righteous, and making righteous comes later, in sanctification. But what we have studied tells us that justification is making us righteous inwardly as well as declaring us righteous legally.
"As the sinner, drawn by the power of Christ, approaches the uplifted cross, and prostrates himself before it, there is a new creation. A new heart is given him. He becomes a new creature in Christ Jesus....God Himself is 'the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.' Rom. 3:26." (Christ's Object Lessons, p. 163) Justification is receiving a new heart from God, becoming a new creature. Right now there is a major attempt being made to separate the transforming power of the Holy Spirit from justification; to put transformation totally within the process of sanctification. But what we are finding in these statements is that transformation and making righteous are part of the justifying process, after which God declares us righteous. Justification is simply another name for the new birth, the new creation, the new heart.
"By receiving His imputed righteousness, through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, we become like Him." (SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1098) Notice that imputed righteousness comes through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Some today want to say that we are justified by Christ and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Nowhere does inspiration support this separation of the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Both are involved in justification and sanctification. It is clear that imputed means more than accounting and crediting. "To be pardoned in the way that Christ pardons is not only to be forgiven, but to be renewed in the spirit of our mind. The Lord says, 'A new heart will I give unto thee.' The image of Christ is to be stamped upon the very mind, heart, and soul." (Review and Herald, August 19, 1890)
Conclusion: The first part of justification is to be pardoned--forgiven--of my sins. The second part of justification is to be transformed in the new birth experience. Justification is both declarative and experiential. The current popular understanding of justification is that it is the first part only. The second part--new birth--is said to be part of sanctification. This means that we can be justified and saved before the new birth happens. This means that even if the new birth experience is not changing my life from the inside out, I am still justified and saved. This unbiblical separation between declaring righteous and making righteous is doing more than any other teaching to allow Christians to tolerate sin in their lives, since they believe that they are justified even when open, unforgiven sin is active in their lives.
The reality is that we are dealing with two different gospels here, both competing for our allegiance. Satan's counterfeit of the gospel is no less real and destructive than his counterfeit of God's day of worship. We need to be very sure that we know from our own study and experience what the gospel really is, so that we can say with Paul, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth." Romans 1:16.