Does Divine Justification Exclude Human Obedience?

By Wayne Jackson

A friend insists that the word ‘justified’ in the New Testament is in the passive voice, therefore, it is something that God does, not man. Therefore, a human action, such as baptism, could be no part of the justification process. Is this correct?"

Your friend’s argument could not be more incorrect. While the passive form “justified” emphasizes the fact that ultimately only God can acquit sinful man of his guilt, the passive voice does not nullify the fact that Jehovah may set conditions in his own plan for the justification of sinful humanity.

Justification may be defined as the divine process by which God acquits the sinner and reckons him as righteous. The noun dikaiosis (“justification”) is used but twice in the New Testament (Romans 4:25; 5:18). The cognate form, “justified” (dikaioma) is employed ten times in the New Testament, and it describes the result of the process of justification.

There are some exceedingly erroneous ideas regarding justification in the community of “Christendom.”

The Roman Catholic dogma of justification on the basis of meritorious works does not conform to the teaching of the New Testament (Ephsians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5). On the other hand, the reactionary doctrine of Protestantism, that justification is on the ground of “faith alone,” is equally spurious (Galatians 5:6; James 2:14ff; esp. v. 24). Incidentally, if the passive form, “being justified,” eliminates all human response, then faith itself would be excluded from the plan of redemption.

Biblical justification involves the following elements:

(1) Because all accountable people are sinners (Romans 3:10,23), and therefore deserving of condemnation (Romans 6:23), if there is to be any hope for fallen humanity, a process of justification must be divinely extended.

(2) No person can earn justification (Matthew 18:21ff), or merit it (Ephesians 2:8-9).

(3) Justification can be extended only on the basis of Christ’s death as the sinless sacrifice for man (1 Peter 1:19; Romans 3:24-26).

(4) Justification will be bestowed only when man responds to God’s plan of redemption by faith (Romans 3:26; 5:1). It is the nature of that “faith” that is crucial to this issue.

In the book of Romans, as elsewhere in the New Testament, faith is not mere mental assent, or even just a disposition to trust the Lord. Rather, it is a willingness to submit to the requirements mandated by the Creator. Genuine faith issues in obedience (Romans 1:5; 16:26).

Note this: Man is justified by faith (Romans 5:1). “Justification” is the equivalent of being “free from sin” (Romans 6:18). But freedom from sin comes only to those who have been “obedient from the heart” to the “pattern” of gospel teaching (Romans 6:17). Thus, justification is predicated upon obedience (cf. Hebrews 5:8-9).

Again, “justification,” or “being made free from sin,” occurs when one is “raised” to walk in “newness of life” (Romans 6:4). These expressions are equivalent. The process of justification is therefore consummated when one is “buried with [Christ] through baptism” and “raised” to the “new” life (6:4a).

(5) Finally, the result of justification is “peace with God” and a rejoicing in “hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2).

A consideration of these biblical facts clearly reveals that God’s justification, and man’s response to the divine plan of redemption, are not in conflict, or mutually exclusive. The person who truly seeks salvation will trust in God for the justification (acquittal from sin), but, at the same time, will seek that pardon in accordance to the sacred plan revealed in the New Testament.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.