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Justifying God

God justifies people.  This is amazing, and is arguably the most powerful expression of His might.  But what do we make of it when we encounter people justifying God?
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There’s a family of words we come across in scripture:  justify, justified, justification.  Near as I can tell, both the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament words mean just what we would expect from the English words.  To “justify” means to show something or someone or some action to be just, right, or reasonable.  In some modern translations these meanings are used rather than the “justify” family—in the KJV the verbal links are more apparent.

We’re familiar with the idea of “justification” gained in Christ.  It’s the centerpiece of the apostle Paul’s treatise on the atonement in Romans.  We are, he says, justified by grace; justified by faith; justified by Christ’s blood.  We read that God justifies the ungodly.  Isn’t this a contradiction?  If we’re not right, how can we be shown to be right?

This, of course, is the heart of salvation in Christ.  It’s not a contradiction because sin is forgiven, washed away.  No excuse is made for it—it’s condemned.  But it is obliterated, made to be not there.  In Christ, by God’s grace and our faith, we are shown to be in the right, even though previously we were certainly not.

we depend on grace, and for grace we pray

God justifies people.  This is amazing, and is arguably the most powerful expression of His might.  But what do we make of it when we encounter people justifying God?

  • When Jesus praised John the Baptist, the people “justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John” (Luke 7:29).  This is pretty straightforward.  These people were declaring their faith that God is right, in the way He goes about things.  We can do that—we can ascribe rightness to God, even if we fall short ourselves.  There were those who didn’t like the outcomes of the way God works, in this case the acceptance of sinners.  The clear inference to be drawn is that they didn’t justify God.  Didn’t declare God right.  Therefore were not right themselves.
  • In the midst of Paul’s exposition on our justification, he writes, “Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, ‘That you may be justified in your words, and prevail in your judgment.’ ” (Romans 3:4, quoting Psalm 51)  This is similar and reinforces the point.  Paul is emphatically declaring God to be in the right, no matter what anyone else says.  Specifically, God is right in His words, in what He says.  And He is right in His judgments.

We all want to be justified.  We’re well aware we aren’t justified by our own works: we depend on grace, and for grace we pray.  While we’re doing so, we might think about justification in the other direction.  When we confess, “I am in the wrong,” we ought also to confess, “You are in the right.”  Declare, from the heart, that God is right in what He says, right in how He goes about calling people, right in the outcomes.

This is harder than just saying the words.  Like every single aspect of discipleship, it runs contrary to the thinking of the flesh.  We encounter something God has said, or something He has done or is doing, that in our minds doesn’t seem right.  What then?  We need to remind ourselves that part of the justification we have received is justification by faith.  Believing, trusting the God who justifies.  Justifying Him.

Love, Paul


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