How God Justifies the Ungodly

Article 11 of the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines provides the justifying circumstances which precludes an otherwise criminal from incurring criminal liability, to wit: (1) self-defense; (2) defense of relative; (3) defense of stranger; (4) avoidance of greater injury or evil; (5) fulfillment of a lawful right or duty; and (6) obedience to a lawful order issued by a superior.

In state criminal law, to be justified does not mean that one has not committed any crime but that in spite of having committed a crime, no penalty thereafter attached to the same. It means that although an act which would have otherwise been a crime had been committed, the person cannot beheld criminally liable because of the existence of reasonable—hence, justifiable—grounds therefore. In other words, there is a crime but there is no criminal.

In a similar way, when we talk about our justification before God, we are actually pertaining to God’s sovereign act of grace in Christ Jesus our Lord. The apostle Paul speaks of God as He “who justifies the ungodly” (Romans 4:5 NASB) and that “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved” (Romans 10:9-10 NASB). But why do we need to be justified in the first place? We all need to be justified “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed” (Romans 3:23-25 NASB) “for the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NIV).

According to Dr. J.R. Williams, to be justified means to be declared or pronounced righteous. It comes from the Greek word “dikaiōsis”, which, in its verb form, is “dikaioō” as used frequently in Romans and Galatians. Dr. Martin Luther describes Christians as “simul justus et peccator”, or “righteous and at the same time a sinner”. This justification before God has two aspects: On the one hand, our sins are no longer imputed to us; and on the other hand, the righteousness of Christ is in turn imputed to us. Therefore, when God looks at us, He no longer sees our sinfulness but the righteousness of Christ. Oh, how great is the love of God that He gave us His own righteousness in exchange for our unrighteousness! To Him be all the glory, honor and praise, Amen!

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