Rebecca Stark is the author of The Good Portion: God, the second title in The Good Portion series, a series written to encourage women to immerse themselves in the depths of Christian doctrine.

The Good Portion — God explores what Scripture teaches about God in hopes that readers will see his perfection, worth, magnificence, and beauty as they study his triune nature, infinite attributes, and wondrous works. 

Rebecca also blogs at Out of the Ordinary.


« Quiz Key: Justification, Questions 2 and 3 | Main | Quiz: Justification »

Quiz Key: Justification, Question 1

I know I said I’d post a complete answer key to the little quiz on justification today. However, once I began working on the key, I could see that if giving the answers involved giving the reasons for those answers, a complete answer key wasn’t going to be a document of blog post length. So I’ve decided to divide the key into parts and post each part as I complete it.

This post includes the answer to question 1 and the reasons for that answer. The quiz has quite a bit of redundancy built into it, so I’m hoping that as I move through it, I can simply refer back to previous proofs as evidence, and then I’ll be able to include more than one question in each post. 

I’ve also decided that when I can, I will use the recently posted Westminster Catechism questions and answers as proof of the historical reformed protestant answers to the quiz questions. I will also try to give some scriptural evidence for each answer. 

Do you have your red pencil ready? 

Question 1

1. Justification is

  • a. an act of God’s grace.
  • b. a legal or judicial act of God.
  • c. a progressive work of the Spirit.
  • d. a and b.
  • e. all of the above.

The correct answer is d: Justification is an act of God’s grace, and a legal or judicial act of God.  It is not a progressive work of the Spirit.

Justification is an act of God’s grace.
This one is easy. From the Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 70:

Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners…

And in Romans 3:24 we are told that sinners are

justified by his grace as a gift….

Simple enough, right?

Justification is a legal or judicial act of God.
The reformers understood the word justify to mean “to declare righteous.” The medieval church, following Augustine’s teaching on the subject, understood it to mean “to make righteous,” and this is one of the points on which the reformers parted ways with the Roman Catholic church. According to the reformers, justification is a judicial (or forensic) act: God declares guilty sinners to be righteous in Christ. In Christ, sinners have a new legal status.

When you see the words accounted, credited, imputed, or declared in regards to righteousness, it is an indication that justification is understood to a legal declaration. When the same catechism question from which I quoted above says, then, that in justification, God

accounteth [sinners] righteous in his sight…for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them….

it is teaching that justification is a legal or judicial act. And when it says that justification is “not for any thing wrought in them or done by them,” it is a purposeful denial of the Roman Catholic doctrine that justification itself involves making sinners righteous. (Don’t take this to mean that the reformers didn’t affirm that God makes sinners righteous as a progressive act in this life and as a complete act upon their glorification. They did. They just didn’t understand justification to be referring to making sinners righteous.)

Scripture? This is a definitional question: What is the real meaning of the word justification as used in scripture? There isn’t a place in scripture that says, “Justification is legal act.” The reformers did find warrant in scripture, however, for this understanding of the word. They looked at how the word justify is used and determined from that it cannot mean “made righteous”, but must be used to refer to a legal declaration that someone is seen as righteous.

First of all, there are the places where justification is used in contrast to condemnation, like Romans 8:33-34: “It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?” If condemn means to declare someone guilty, not to make them guilty, then justify must similarly mean to declare someone righteous.

And there are places in scripture where justify clearly cannot mean “to make righteous.” In Luke 7:29, we are told in the ESV that people “declared God just” where  the Greek says, literally, “they justified God.” That people justified God can’t mean that they made him righteous, can it? It simply means that they proclaimed that God is righteous (or just). For a few more places where justify cannot mean “to make righteous,” see Deuteronomy 5:21, Job 27:5, and Proverbs 17:15. 

Check out Romans 4:5-6, as well.

And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works.

God justifies “the one who does not work,” and he justifies (counts righteous) apart from works. If justification is separate from the works someone does, then to justify cannot mean to make righteous, because being made righteous involves doing good works.

Justification is not a progressive work of the Spirit.
This statement is the flip side of the statement that justification is a legal act. If justification means to “declare righteous” rather than “make righteous,” it cannot be a progressive work of the Spirit. I’ve already highlighted the statement from the catechism that  teaches this:  Justification is “not for any thing wrought in them.”
And Romans 4:5, also quoted above, could be used as a scriptural argument against the idea that justification is a progressive work of the Spirit.
I am indebted to John Frame’s Salvation Belongs to the Lord and Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology for the scriptural evidence that justification means “declared righteous” rather than “made righteous.” 
Stay tuned for the answers to the rest of the questions.

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