The following is a guest column by Gladys M. Hunt, author, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

For the most part we can be thankful for modern translations of the Bible that have made truth plainer and sharpened the Two-edged Sword. But some biblical concepts just can’t be simplified in translation, and the choice of a simpler word, if it is lesser in content, weakens the understanding of great truths and is unfaithful to biblical inspiration.

Justification is one such word. No one single word or phrase can translate into simpler language a concept as enormous as this. Justification by faith is the bedrock truth of our salvation. We must wrestle with its meaning. To translate it “being put right with God” or “made right in God’s sight” is not enough.

Our need to be justified implies a profound lack. Something is missing. And Paul in Romans 3 has made amply clear what it is that we lack: it is the righteousness of God. We fall short of God’s glory. We are in want, like the prodigal son in the pigsty in a foreign land. We are in want of the righteousness of God.

It isn’t just that we sinners have a few black marks against us that need to be taken care of; it is that we lack the positive quality of righteousness that could make us acceptable to God. None is righteous; no not one. Our state is desperate.

The remarkable, awe-inspiring transaction that takes place in response to our personal commitment and faith in Jesus Christ is that God gives us what we need. He gives us the righteousness of Jesus Christ. He justifies us.

Justification is not only the removal of our sins, a slate wiped clean, but a slate inscribed with the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. It is not a process but a legal declaration made by God: he declares us righteous by faith through the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Surely Romans 3:24 is one of the most important verses in the Bible: We are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

That is grace indeed: that deserving the wrath of God we should be given the righteousness of Jesus Christ. What we need most, we have been given as a gift.

Does it matter so much if the fine points of justification are not understood? Indeed, I think so. It is too great a truth to be neglected, and it profoundly affects the quality of our Christian living. How much of the instability in Christian living could be traced to failure to understand that God has done what needed doing?

On the basis of our having been given the righteousness of Christ we immediately possess three important privileges. We have peace with God (Rom. 5:1)—not the peace of God, but peace with God. The enmity has been removed. God sees believers clothed in his Son’s righteousness.

Secondly, we have access to God because we stand in this grace (Rom. 5:2). No merit of our own allows us to approach a God who is infinitely holy. No, it is the righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ given to us as a gift that makes it possible for us to come into his presence. Therefore, we come boldly. How this should encourage our prayer life and our sense of belonging to God. We are in Jesus Christ loved and forgiven. We come to our Father as his children, standing in grace.

And thirdly, we rejoice in our hope of the glory of God. Our hope of being with him in glory is based solely on our having been justified. It is no small concept!

Righteous living is expected of those who have been given the righteousness of Jesus Christ. But unless our understanding of our position is adequate we can easily live out a kind of theology that feels it is necessary to supplement justification, as if we could add to the work of Christ or the dedication of God on our behalf.

Our personal hang-ups come when we disappoint ourselves (and, more importantly, our Lord) and serious doubts arise in us about our peace with God, our access, and our hope. Did we receive them in the first place because of our personal goodness? Satan comes to drag up our past; our conscience accuses us. We cannot tell Satan or ourselves that we are good enough for God. But we can say, “Jesus died for me and God has given me his righteousness.” And because of such grace, we go on to claim First John 1:9—“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” No marvel that this beloved Apostle wrote about “grace upon grace.”

The second word we can’t afford to water down is reconciliation. The word implies that a serious break in relationship exists; it takes sin seriously. It is more than the idea of the restoration of a friendship, which could have been broken by a petty quarrel. No, we were enemies of God, and needed to be reconciled. Anything that weakens the seriousness of our sin problem lessens the wonder of our reconciliation.

Furthermore, it cost God to reconcile us. It is not that we have changed our mind about God, but that he has changed his mind about us. He has changed his mind about us because Jesus Christ died on the cross for us and took care of our heinous sin problem. Look at the cross and see what it cost God to reconcile us!

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All our blessings come to us in grace because of the love of God in our Lord Jesus Christ.

The assurance this offers us as believers is worthy of meditation. We have changed our minds about God only because he first changed his mind about us. He did the reconciling, and he did it through the death of Jesus Christ.

It is God who justifies us; it is God who reconciles us.

Now if we understand all that, it seems inadequate simply to state that we have been put right with God and have been made God’s friends. That much is true. But there is so much more.

God, the just one, becomes the justifier of those who believe because of the death of Jesus Christ. He declares us righteous by his grace. He is our reconcilation.

Who is a pardoning God like thee?

And who has grace so rich and free?

Will we ever really understand it? Surely eternity will be taken up with praise and joy for such mercy and grace.

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