Understanding The Bible
Douglas B. MacCorkle "God's Own VIPs"
CHAPTER FIVE - How God Works Justification for Our Good


Chapter Five


Justification is a big word in the Bible. It ascended to major theological stature in the Reformation. It is one of the 5 major words in these pages. But it is equal in importance to the other four. How shall we understand this important term? Is it possible to mishandle it? Is it possible to mishandle any important Bible term?

A young man was sharing with an astronomer. The astronomer asked, "Do you want to hear my philosophy of Christianity?" The young man replied, "Yes!" "My philosophy is the Golden Rule, doing unto others as you'd have them do to you, and God will treat you all right." The young man quickly responded, "Would you like to hear my philosophy of astronomy? Twinkle, twinkle little star!"

How phony we sometimes become when we are toying with simple terms that often hide major disciplines. Like the tattered definition for justification that stoops to euphony. I refer to what passes in some theological circles for a definition," just-as-if-I'd-never-sinned." What a cop out.

One day when I was going through semi-aimless motions in the field of commercial art and coping with a married life that was only weeks old, I was stopped in my tracks by an unidentified and veiled individual. He spoke of a subject no one had ever personalized for me before. Finally, through His official representative--a pastor--He singled me out in a morning worship service. It was as if no one else were present. I immediately was convinced of the truth that I was in total need of what He alone could provide. He made me face the fact that I was the total sinner and admit it so that I could be helped. He asked me if I would be willing to plead my total sinful condition and my total need before an ultimate Judge. He also showed me His credentials as the only attorney and advocate allowed to appear before the supreme court of the universe.

He briefed me in the ante room. Then He led me before His Father. I was asked about my plea--if I was indeed making the sinner's case. I replied, "Father, I would probably never tell another soul this, but You know everything about me. Yes, I am a sinner and capable of committing any sin in the Book." He told me the exciting and wonderful story about the One Who went to the Cross to take away my sin and bring in a victory that would free Him to share His excellent assets with all who operated at a spiritual loss. Then He made this very pointed and penetrating statement, "My Son voluntarily took the judgment upon Himself that you, the sinner, would have received and He paid for every individual sin you have committed. It you accept that transaction for you and trust that One Who made it, will you be willing for me to declare you righteous in His rightness and sentence you to life eternal? And go out of this supreme courtroom under the personal custody of My Son, Your Savior -- forever?"

I replied instantly, "Do you mean that I have this high privilege of His presence, oversight, direction, and delight forever? 0, thank you, thank you, thank you!"

To be declared righteous in the righteousness of Christ is the meaning of justification, the fourth word in our series of five factors that the Spirit works together for our Summum Bonum - that is, for our supreme good. It would certainly be just-as-if-I'd never lived before, but certainly not just-as-if-I'd-never sinned.

Three Graphic Bible Illustrations of Justification

It is easy to become aware that there are several attempts abroad to put constructions on what justification really is. One cannot stop people from misusing the term. So first we must recognize that the Greek term dikaioosis refers to the act of justifying. Second, that the same noun in cognate forms means righteousness or even rightness and right.

The first illustration is of a Tax Collector, Lu 18:9-14. It is used by Jesus in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Please take note of four brief points about the subject of our exposition:

        (1) The problem that precipitated the parable was that of self-righteousness. Jesus had been in contact with some people who were confident of their own righteousness. This was bad enough, but they added to this arrogance a belittling of everyone else, Lu 18:9.

        (2) The religionists are represented by a Pharisee who went to the temple to pray about himself and talk down the nearby tax collector who represented everyone else, Lu 18:10-12.

        (3) The realists were represented by the tax collector who beat himself and looked down on himself and saw his total need. His was a universal cry, "God be propitiated for me the sinner."

        (4) The verdict was given immediately by Jesus on which kind of righteousness God accepts. It is on the one who pled for a Substitute of God's own choosing to satisfy God with what he, the tax collector, knew he totally lacked.

Now notice our operating term. This man went down to his house justified. Moreover Jesus equated self-righteousness with self-exaltation.

Is it any wonder that when the dispensation of the Law closed, failures were pointed out in its leadership. Jesus had previously and specifically arraigned them; "Except your righteousness should exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees and Scribes you will certainly not enter the Kingdom of Heaven," Matt 5:20. In other words there had to be a higher righteousness and therefore a higher standard of righteousness.

The second Bible illustration of justification is the ultimate patriarch of Israel. It is given from a New Testament, post-cross perspective, Rom 4:1-5. Again we need to note four points briefly:

        (1) The Discovery that Abraham made, Rom 4:1, was that justification was something he knew nothing about until God met him and revealed it correctly to him.

        (2) The Debt Abraham owed God by being divinely justified was much greater than he formerly owed to himself for his own self-righteousness, Rom 4:2.

        (3) The Declaration of Scripture is a major one, Rom 4:3. "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." It is not said "Abraham believed what God said," but He believed God Himself. God could have said anything to Abraham and Abraham would have rightly believed it. But Abraham believed God, he trusted in God's Person. So it was counted or credited to him for righteousness.

        (4) The Definition states that this crediting of v 3 is a gift of credit. For v. 4 clearly states that what one works for obligates someone to pay for the work; but the credit of righteousness is a gift. The other side of this statement is that the man who does not work in this sense, but trusts in the God Who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.

It must be mentioned that this patriarch Abraham was declared righteous by trusting the God Who does the justifying, and that this was all accomplished before there was any such thing as the Mosaic Law -- just as now it is done after the Mosaic Law has stopped serving to show up self-righteousness.

The third Bible illustration of justification is a king, Rom 4:6-8. It is King David of Israel. He is known for a very great sin but like all of us he should be known as a very great sinner. Three points must be made about his illustration and briefly:

        (1) Imputation is involved and it is identical to Abraham's, Rom 4:6. Righteousness was imputed to David by faith. Sin, as with Abraham, would not be imputed to either man. One major matter must be noted in this regard. David, unlike Abraham, lived under the Mosaic Law. Yet the status of justification was not changed by the Law. It was still and ever would be justification by faith.

        (2) God's grace intervened where sin abounded in a justified man, Rom 4:7. The forgiveness and covering of King David was based judicially on the blood of his substitutionary sacrifices, and in a forward-looking sense on the blood of the Lamb God provided for Calvary's cross. If you are tempted to join the crowd questioning how David could be forgiven such great sins; you should ask yourself if you are a sinner and forgivable -- and for how many sins. Certainly no man would intervene, but God did.

        (3) There is a certain divine immunization of King David, Rom 4:8. It is all because of the justification of David by faith prior to the sins he committed. God will not impute sins where a man has been divinely and previously justified.

So, King David describes the blessedness of the man to whom God will not impute sin but will impute righteousness-- the righteousness of Another, Christ. Even under the Law this carried through and there was absolutely no suspension of that which preceded the Law, namely justification by faith.

A Bible Diagnosis of Justification

There is a constant need to reexamine the Bible's diagnosis of self-justification because exhibits of it abound on every side. Self-justification is the intimidating kind around us.

Let us skim three important concepts involved:

  1. The record stated, Acts 13:38-39:
    Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.
    Here we face the claim of the Law itself that it can justify no man. This is why man's righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees and Scribes, Matt 5:20. These leaders were possessed of self-righteousness. So the record states it very clearly.

  2. The reasoning behind the recorded claim is given in Gal 3:11:
    But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.
    The citation of Hab 2:4 is the reasoning behind this way of divine justification -- The just shall live by faith in both Testaments. That is, the justified one will begin to live and continue to live by faith. This the self-righteous or self-justified ones do not do at all.

  3. The reality of self-justification is that the Law does not give the knowledge of how to be justified, Rom 3:20. Rather it gives the knowledge of sin. One had to go to God personally to be justified by faith.
    Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
    All attention of the law-keepers is fixed on meriting favor from God through works. When such men credit themselves with works of righteousness they consider themselves justified. This is the Bible diagnosis of self-justification. In truth, this is auto-soterism -- self-salvation. It is salvation by the do it yourself method.

When it comes to diagnosing divine justification we must skim 4 of the points that the Bible makes in this regard:

  1. It operates by simple faith, Rom 3:27-30.

    Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Is He the God of the Jews only? is He not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is One God, Who will justify the circumcision by faith and the uncircumcision through that same faith.

    It is simple and obvious, faith alone brings justification, and in no case does works bring it. This is the first step in diagnosing divine justification. It operates by simple faith.

  2. It operates with sensitive faith. Gal 2:15-21:

    1. It is sensitive in that it depends totally on Christ, 2:15-16.

      We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners from the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

    2. It is sensitive in that it is dead to other claimants. Gal 2:17-19.

      But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves are also found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid. For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.

      In other words faith is sensitive to the fact that the divinely-justified one is actually dead to the claims of the law because it has been positioned as dead to all other claimants from the position of self-justification.

    3. It is also sensitive to its dedication to the finished work of Christ, 2:20-21.

      I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God Who loved me, and gave Himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness comes by the law, then Christ died for nothing.

      The death of Christ, in that He finished the work of salvation for us (i. e. the work of justification) is a matter about which the believer is most sensitive. This shows up clearly in our diagnosis of divine justification.

  3. Our Bible diagnosis of divine justification shows the sophistication of faith. Gal 3:24.

    Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.

    We now know that the Law of Moses no longer structures our spiritual thinking and living. It was made obsolete by the death of Christ and His resurrection emphasizes that He is now in charge of our lives -- the supervision is His. This is sophistication in spiritual things (i. e. maturing).

  4. Under divine justification there is a new system of faith. Gal 5:4-6.

    But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

    The Spirit of God is in control supervising the system that He has set up -- not the old law, but the new faith. He puts a new eagerness in our hearts tor the full blaze of righteousness that will soon be ours.

The Bible Truth About Our Justification

How does justification operate for us now that we have been justified? We want to look at two aspects of it:

        (1) The foundation for its operation.

        (2) The enjoyment of its operation.

The foundation for the benefits of justification is laid in two claims made in the Epistle to the Romans.

  1. The first claim for this foundation is found in Romans 4:25 and pinpoints the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    Christ was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life on account of our accomplished justification.

    This claim is that Christ's crucifixion was substitutionary and first removed our sins problem and then justified God in declaring us righteous in Him as our Substitute in both death and life. He was raised to life on account of the fact He had indeed achieved on the cross our legal justification.

  2. The second aspect of the foundation of our justification lies in what the Spirit of God set up as a new structure for the new life, Romans 8:1-4.

    Therefore, there is now no judgment to condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by our sinful nature, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so He condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the standards of our sinful nature but according to the standards of the Spirit.

This claim is that the Spirit has a new structure set up, outfitted with His own standards for living the new life in Christ as a justified person. Whatever was rightly required by the law can now be fully met. This is positional/foundational truth as to how justification sets us up on a foundation for action. It is not the experiential aspect that follows in Romans 8:5ff.

Another aspect of how justification operates tor us is the enjoyment of this being declared righteous, legally. Because of space limitations I will simply refer to the positional items in the first text, Romans 5:1-11. Verse 2 shows the way when it says, "through Whom we have received a permanent introduction by faith into this grace in which we now stand. Our standing is what is set up by justification, and in that standing we will make our own discoveries exponentially of those benefits and blessings that go with the new territory: peace with God, bubbling hope, persistence, new character, godly love, etc.

The enjoyment of justification comes, first, from oneness with God.

The enjoyment of justification comes, second, from our escape from the domination of the sin nature, Rom 6:7:

Because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

Please be sure to notice, freed from sin, not sins or sinning, but from the sin nature's dominance. This has turned out to be one of the deep secrets of our day. Very little has been taught about this truth. As a matter of fact the psychological annex of evangelical Christianity appears to be working hard at the elimination of all revelation of such a thing as a sin nature. But the Bible speaks to the unchangeability of truth of God not to the changing fads of men.


  [1] The Writings of Douglas B. MacCorkle (also see brief Biography)

Prophetic Peaks, Exposition of the Olivet Discourse. Copyright 1968 by Douglas B. MacCorkle. Third Printing 1972. Printed by Careers With Christ Press, Philadelphia College of Bible, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Printed in the United States of America. Published by the not for profit MacCorkle Bible Ministries, Inc. Books. P.O. 320909, Cocoa Beach, Fl 32932-0909. Used by permission through the generosity of Judith and Ray Naugle.

God's Own VIPS, Copyright 1987 by Douglas B. MacCorkle. MacCorkle Bible Ministries, Inc., Printed in the United States of America. Published by the not for profit MacCorkle Bible Ministries, Inc. Books. P.O. 320909, Cocoa Beach, Fl 32932-0909. Used by permission through the generosity of Judith and Ray Naugle.

Dr. MacCorkle's Books and Study materials on this website are made available here free, through the generosity of Judith and Ray Naugle, and may be copied for use in Bible study groups, in limited numbers, providing that no charge is made for them.  No further distribution or use of these materials is allowable under U.S. or International Copyright Law without express permission.

Additional copies of Dr. MacCorkle's books are available from Judy Naugle, 2201 Harmony Hill Dr, Lancaster PA  17601.