Made Right to Live Right: A Study of Justification (Part 3)

Practical Justification: A New Quality of Living

We have looked at legal justification (a new standing), and spiritual justification (a new nature). Both of these aspects of being made right with God occur at conversion. Now we will consider practical justification (a new quality of living).

In terms of God’s role,

legal justification is what God does FOR us,
spiritual justification is what God does IN us, and
practical justification is what God does THROUGH us.

When someone is truly justified before God, this new standing and nature will be noticeable. The Lord Jesus declared that a tree is known by its fruit. Even so, the true believer is recognized (confirmed) by good fruit in his or her life (see Matt. 7:16-20; James 2:14-26).

Much of the New Testament calls God’s people to cultivate “practical” righteousness in their character and conduct (their soul and bodily actions). Christ described the eager desire for righteous living in the beatitudes: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matt. 5:6).

This “hunger” reminded a devotional writer of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s deprivation during his expedition to the South Pole.

“In the Antarctic summer of 1908-9, Sir Ernest Shackleton and three companions attempted to travel to the South Pole from their winter quarters. They set off with four ponies to help carry the load. Weeks later, their ponies dead, rations all but exhausted, they turned back toward their base, their goal not accomplished. Altogether, they trekked 127 days. On the return journey, as Shackleton records in The Heart of the Antarctic, the time was spent talking about food feasts, gourmet delights, sumptuous menus. As they staggered along, suffering from dysentery, not knowing whether they would survive, every waking hour was occupied with thoughts of eating. Jesus, who also knew the ravages of food deprivation, said, ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for RIGHTEOUSNESS.’ We can understand Shackleton’s obsession with food, which offers a glimpse of the passion Jesus intends for our quest for righteousness.”

Right conduct is the obvious fruit of the inner reality of justification. The apostle Paul warned, “Do you not know that the UNRIGHTEOUS will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9,10). Although a believer may fall into such sins, he would repent and/or be chastised. Likewise, the apostle John warned that if one’s conduct does not move in the direction of righteous living, one’s conversion is doubtful (1 John 2:29; 3:7,10). Instead, Paul prayed that the Philippians would be, “filled with the FRUITS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:11; 2 Cor. 9:10). The Holy Spirit’s empowerment of the believer’s actions is in “all goodness and righteousness and truth” (Eph. 5:9).

The more we appreciate the blessings of our justification, the more inclined we will be to live consistently with our new standing, nature, and calling. The apostle Peter links this motive with our redemption by Christ, “who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness …” (1 Peter 2:24).

As the Good Shepherd, God leads us in paths of righteousness for His names’ sake. This responsibility to live righteously was important enough for the apostle Paul to include in his pastoral counsel to Timothy: “But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness” (1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22). The whole aim of God’s Word is to equip justified ones to live according to God’s right directives: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness …” (2 Tim. 3:16).

Scripture declares of the Son,
“You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness;
Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You
With the oil of gladness more than Your companions” (Psalm 45:7; Heb. 1:9).

Likewise, as we abide in Christ, His life in us will be expressed in our righteous actions.

Walking in righteousness will mean that we will be out of step with the world–so much so that Christ warned us to expect persecution. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10). Even though it’s not politically correct to live rightly, we are in step with the God who is the creator and judge of all. Thankfully, we can joyfully anticipate the future age of God’s Kingdom when all will be made right: “But in accordance with His promise we are expecting new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness will dwell” (2 Peter 3:13, Weymouth trans.).

John Newton lived a wretched life in his younger years, spending a decade involved in the African slave trade. After he was converted in 1748, he was filled with gratitude for the miracle of justification. He eventually became a preacher and writer of beloved hymns such as “Amazing Grace” and “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds.” In the London church where he served as pastor, there was placed an epitaph that Newton wrote for himself. It read, “Sacred to the memory of John Newton, once a libertine and blasphemer and slave of slaves in Africa, but renewed, purified, pardoned, and appointed to preach that Gospel which he had labored to destroy!”

Dear reader, if you are not right with God, now is the time to respond to His invitation: “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:9,10).

If you have been justified legally and spiritually, will you–like John Newton–devote yourself to cooperate with God in righteous living and faithful ministry?

May we respond with the hymn writer:

“Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after Thy will,
While I am waiting, yielded and still.

Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Hold o’er my being absolute sway.
Fill with Thy Spirit till all shall see
Christ only, always, living in me.” [1]

Part 3 of 3

[1] “Have Thine Own Way,” by Adelaide Pollard

Copyright 2002 by John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint this article for non-commercial use. Please credit Scripture quotations (unless indicated otherwise) are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.