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!

The Distinctions and Effects of Original and Actual Sin

Twilight__Apple_by_jrecourt.png

Dr. Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology, defines sin as “any failure to conform to the moral law of God in act, attitude, or nature.” Dr. Millard Erickson, in his Christian Theology, defines sin as “any evil action or evil motive that is in opposition to God. Simply stated, sin is failure to let God be God and placing something or someone in God’s rightful place of supremacy.” He also stated some terms that emphasize the results of sin, namely: (1) agitation or restlessness; (2) evil or badness; (3) guilt; and (4) trouble and further classifies the results of sin as to how it affects our relationship to God, on the sinner, and our relationship to other humans. Moreover, according to Dr. J. Rodman Williams, author of Renewal Theology, sin results in futility of both mind and action; as guilt and punishment; and separation, estrangement and bondage.

Personally, I noticed that there are a lot of people, most notably the unregenerate, who have a warped sense of morality and reason. This is especially true when it comes to the things of God. I suppose this is indeed one of the results of the sinful nature that we have inherited from Adam.

Dr. Williams differentiated Original Sin from actual sin, while Dr. Grudem prefers the term “Inherited Sin” instead of the more traditional nomenclature Original Sin. When Adam and Eve sinned, God imputed to the entire human race the sin of Adam. As Romans 5:18-19 provides, to wit: “Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” This is what Original or Inherited Sin is. Original sin then refers to the guilt and tendency to sin with which we are born (Grudem, p. 495). That is why King David declares, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5). Dr. Louis Berkhof, in his Systematic Theology, posits that “original sin” is called as such because (1) it is derived from the original root of the human race; (2) it is present in the life of every individual from the time of his birth, and therefore cannot be regarded as the result of imitation; and (3) it is the inward root of all the actual sins that defile the life of man (p. 244).

On the other hand, actual sins are those which one commits personally.  A lot of people, especially non-Christians, would object to the doctrine of Original Sin because to them, it seems so unjust that God would impute the sin of one man to the entire human race. However, they should also realize that even without this inherited sin, we would have all personally and actually sinned ourselves. Dr. Williams puts it in point when he said that “it is not just that the first man and woman sinned, but likewise do all those who follow them.” As quoted by Dr. Williams, Ecclesiastes 7:20 declares, “Surely, there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” Moreover, the apostle Paul says to the church in Rome, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23).

This reminds me that just earlier this month, Catholics all over the world celebrated the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Contrary to what most people think, the said feast is not a commemoration of the conception of Jesus by Mary but of the allegedly sinless conception of Mary herself. Catholics believe that the Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived by her mother St. Anne, free from the stain of original sin, not unlike Jesus Christ. Obviously, not being God incarnate like Jesus, this Catholic doctrine goes against what Sacred Scripture generally teaches as discussed above. Yet, Catholic apologists and theologians would say that this is possible as there were certain persons whom Scripture describes as sinless or righteous such as Noah and Job (Gen. 6:9; Job 1:8; 2:3). In this regard, it is vital for us to realize that albeit the Bible pictures Noah and Job as righteous persons, they are not exceptions to the inherited sin of mankind. Noah became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent (Gen. 9:20) and Job was called by God a “faultfinder” or “one who contends with the Almighty,” necessitating him to repent in dust and ashes.

Still on the flipside again, Dr. Grudem states that it is certainly possible for God to bring regeneration to an infant even before he or she is born. This was true of John the Baptist, for the angel Gabriel, before John was born, said, “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15). We might say that John the Baptist was “born again” before he was born! It is clear therefore that God is able to save infants in an unusual way, apart from their hearing and understanding the gospel, by bringing regeneration to them very early, sometimes even before birth. This regeneration, Dr. Grudem stresses, is also probably followed at once by a nascent, intuitive awareness of God and trust in Him at an extremely early age, but this is something we simply cannot understand. See also the case of David’s first son with Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 12:23.

I would say that the above statements by Dr. Grudem are in full accord with what the Catholic Church teaches through the proclamation of Pope Pius IX in 1954:

“The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of the Almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin” (CCC No. 491-492).

Paragraph No. 492 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church further states that—

The “splendor of an entirely unique holiness” by which Mary is “enriched from the first instant of her conception” comes wholly from Christ: she is “redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son”.136 The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person “in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” and chose her “in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love”.

In consideration of the foregoing explanation regarding the Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception, I would now say that notwithstanding my being Evangelical, the same is neither totally unbiblical nor impossible.

To be sure, being a sinner does not only mean that one actually and personally commits sinful acts but also that in our very nature as fallen creatures, our own disposition or state of being is itself sinful. But praise be to God our Father who has sent our Lord Jesus Christ to take the penalty for our sin and enable us to have everlasting life with God (John 3:16)! This is the Good News of our salvation.

The Cleansing Power of Jesus

“Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” (John 13:8b, NIV)

Have you ever tried washing away a stubborn stain on your shirt? The type which simply refuses to vanish in spite of the rigorous scrubbing you do and vast amounts of cleansing chemicals you apply? These types of stains can only be removed by laundry or fabric professionals. Nevertheless, there are times when even the professionals are unable to wash away such stubborn stains.

When Jesus was about to wash Peter’s feet, the latter refused because he felt unworthy to be washed by Jesus, his Lord. However, Jesus replied to him, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” As a result, Peter told Jesus that He could wash his entire body as well! Jesus then said to Peter that only his feet needed washing because he was already clean, but that there was someone in the room with them who was not clean, and that was Judas Iscariot.

In this account of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet, we can clearly see that Jesus not only meant physical washing but also spiritual washing. As human beings, we have been stained with original sin that only Jesus can wash away. No amount of good works on our part can cleanse us from unrighteousness but only the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ which He shed on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian church that we have been saved by grace through faith and not by works (2:8-9). Therefore, let us thank God in faith with sincere hearts for the washing of rebirth in Christ Jesus our Lord.

True Freedom!

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:32, 36 NIV)

When Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command to not eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they and their entire progeny were trapped by the Enemy in sin. The entire human race became slaves to sin. Because of the sinful nature, man became fully incapable of restoring his relationship with the God who created them. By our sheer will power alone, we would not be able to free ourselves from our entanglement with sin and its consequences. So what is the main consequence of sin? Death. The apostle Paul tells us that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23a).

Good thing that God, due to His great love and mercy, provided a way for us to be freed from the bondage of sin through His Son Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23b). Knowing the truth does not simply mean memorizing a set of facts or doctrines, although that is part of it. Jesus said that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). To know Jesus personally as Lord and Savior is to know Truth itself. It is when we know Jesus that we experience true freedom from sin and its consequences.

Jesus is able to set us free because of who He is. As the only begotten Son of God the Father, Jesus had the right to petition our release from the prison of unrighteousness. Therefore, let us live our lives in accordance with the freedom earned for us by Christ, not freedom to sin but freedom from sin. This we can do by the grace of God and by focusing on Jesus