Justified (Saved) by Grace Alone (2) – H. Hoeksema

Rom8-30

But here several questions arise. The first of these is: how is it possible that God can justify the unjust? How can He pronounce a sentence of justification upon him who is guilty and corrupt? Does not Scripture teach everywhere that God is righteous and just, and that He will by no means clear the guilty? How then is it possible to believe in God as the God Who justifies the ungodly?

The answer of the Word of God is: through Jesus Christ our Lord. We are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. The righteousness that is ours through the grace of justification is by faith of Jesus Christ. It is in Christ that God revealed Himself as the God Who justifies the ungodly. Christ is the righteous one. In Him there is a righteousness that is so great and mighty that it blots out all our sins and clothes us with an eternal righteousness, makes us worthy of eternal life. In the judgment of God Christ took our place. He assumed full responsibility for us. All our sins He took upon Himself, and He bore them away for ever. For He not merely suffered the punishment for the sins of His own; but in suffering the wrath of God He was perfectly obedient, even unto the death of the cross. His death was an act. He laid down His life. He sacrificed Himself. Voluntarily, motivated by the love of God, He went down into lowest hell, that there He might bear the wrath of God against sin. And thus He satisfied the justice of God. He made an atonement. He removed the guilt of sin and merited eternal righteousness. And God justified Him and pronounced the verdict of perfect righteousness upon Him, when He raised Him from the dead and gave Him everlasting glory and immortality. In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead God revealed Himself as the God Who justifies the ungodly. And if we believe on Him, we receive by that faith the sentence of God’s justification in our hearts. For this righteousness of Christ is imputed to all those for whom Christ died and was raised, so that we are as perfectly righteous before God as if we ourselves had performed that act of obedience on the cross which Christ performed for us. And by faith we lay hold upon this verdict of justification, so that we know that even though all things testify against us in this world of sin and death, we are righteous before God and heirs of eternal life.

But another question arises here. How can the righteousness of Christ be reckoned as ours? Or how could, in the justice of God, Christ die for our sins? Do we not rather meet here with a double injustice, namely, that the righteous is punished, and the guilty is acquitted? If in a worldly court one is found guilty of murder, would a judge inflict capital punishment upon another instead of the guilty one, even though that other would voluntarily offer himself to take the murderer’s place? Would that not be considered a double perversion of justice? Moreover, how can the death and obedience of the one be the righteousness of countless sinners?

But here we must remember that Christ is not merely another man, but He is the Son of God come into the flesh. No mere man has a life to substitute for another’s: for his life is not his own, and, besides, he is himself a sinner under sentence of death. But Christ is the Son of God, very God Himself, Who took our flesh and blood upon Himself voluntarily. He became man by an act of His own will. He had power to lay down His life for others, if He so pleased. And before the world was, He had been appointed the Head of all the elect, so that He represented them and was responsible for them. By God’s eternal decree of election they are one body, one legal corporation, represented by Christ Who is their Head. Christ, therefore, can be summoned before the bar of God’s judgment and appear there for all His own, assume responsibility for them, take all their guilt upon Himself, and pay for their sins by an act of perfect obedience on His part. And again, because He is not a mere man, but the Son of God in the flesh, His death is of immeasurable value, infinitely precious, capable of blotting out the sins of all His own and of procuring for them eternal righteousness and everlasting life and glory. This, then, is the marvelous grace of God in justifying the ungodly. He Himself came down to us, assumed our human nature, and in that human nature assumed responsibility for our sins, became obedient unto death, yea unto the death of the cross, thus blotting out the handwriting of our sins that was against us. In Christ He is the God Who justifies the ungodly. By grace are ye saved!

You say, perhaps, that we must believe in order to be justified before God, and that, therefore, it is faith that makes us righteous before God. And it is true enough that we are justified by faith only. He that believeth on Him Who justifies the ungodly is righteous, and he only. And that means that we must believe on God as He revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, crucified and raised from the dead. For this righteousness is imputed to us “if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead.” (Romans 4:24) There is no other way than that of faith to become righteous before God. We must try no other way. All our good works are but filthy works. All our own goodness and piety, our very religiousness and the very best of our religious acts must be utterly discarded as a ground of righteousness; and we must come before God as naked sinners, but believing on God Who justifieth the ungodly, if we would obtain righteousness and life. By faith we are justified. But let us beware, lest we make of faith another good work on our part on the ground of which we are justified. Faith is not the ground of our justification. We are not justified because we believe. Nor are we justified by faith because through faith we become holy and capable of doing good works. Christ crucified and raised is the only ground of our righteousness. And faith is only the means whereby we are united with Christ and the spiritual power whereby we lay hold on this righteousness, so that we know and wholly rely on God Who justifieth the ungodly.

Besides, let us not forget that faith itself is a gift of God. No man can or will of himself accept Christ and believe on God Who raised Him from the dead. God through Christ by His Spirit works within our hearts the justifying faith. And so it is all of grace. By grace God came down to us in our sin and death, and in the Person of His only begotten Son assumed our flesh and blood. By grace Christ died for our sins on the accursed tree and was raised on the third day for our justification. By grace God chose us and ordained us to eternal righteousness and life in Christ before the foundation of the world. And by grace He gives to us the power of faith, thus uniting us with Christ and causing us to believe on Him Who justifieth the ungodly. By grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God!

Taken from chapter 8, “Justified by Grace,” in The Wonder of Grace by Herman Hoeksema (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1944), pp.70-71. This work has now been republished by the Reformed Free Publishing Association.

For the first installment on this gospel truth, see this post.

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