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God as Your Witness

04 October 2012 by Frank Turk

Let's explain the meaning of these phrases: "To be justified in the sight of God" and "to be Justified by faith or by works."

A man is said to be justified in the sight of God when in the judgment of God he is judged righteous, and is accepted on account of his righteousness; for as iniquity is monstrous to God, so neither can the sinner find grace in his sight, so far as he is and so long as he is reckoned as a sinner. Therefore, wherever sin is, there also are the wrath and vengeance of God. On the other hand, he is justified who is accounted not as a sinner, but as righteous, and as such stands acquitted at the judgment-seat of God, where all sinners are condemned. As an innocent man, when charged before an neutral judge, who judges according to his innocence, is said to be justified by the judge, as a man is said to be justified by God when, removed from the catalog of sinners, he has God as the witness and judge of his righteousness.

In the same manner, a man will be said to be justified by works, if in his life there can be found a purity and holiness which merits an attestation of righteousness at the throne of God, or if by the perfection of his works he can answer and satisfy the divine justice. On the contrary, a man will be justified by faith when, excluded from the righteousness of works, he by faith lays hold of the righteousness of Christ, and clothed in it appears in the sight of God not as a sinner, but as righteous. In this way we simply interpret justification, as the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as if we were righteous; and we say that this justification consists in the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ.

-- John Calvin, Institutes, III:11.2 [paraphrase]