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by Arnold Valentin Wallenkampf

4. Justification

According to God’s plan, parents should bring children into the world as a result of their abiding mutual love. Unfortunately, in a world of sin children often are born as the unlucky accidents of lust. Thus frequently they are resented rather than anticipated with joy and happiness. Whether consequences of love or lust, all of us have arrived into this world apart from a choice of our own. The actions—although not always the choices—of others placed us here.

Adam and Eve came into this world because of God’s love and choice, but by no choice of their own. It was His purpose for them and their descendants that they should continuously rise higher and higher in moral development and "that after test and trial the human family might become one with the heavenly family."1 To enable them to reach this goal, He equipped them with free moral choice, the means for unlimited moral development.

Unfortunately, Adam and Eve turned this remarkable gift—this awesome capability either to develop virtue or to accept and perpetuate sin—against God’s expressed will by eating of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. In this way free moral choice opened the floodgate to disaster rather than becoming a stepping stone toward moral excellence. It led to alienation and separation from God and became the gateway to death and eternal extinction.

Every person born since Adam has been weighted with Adam’s nature. And every successive descendant of Adam—with the exception of Jesus Christ—has possessed less strength than Adam and Eve to resist temptation. Through sin, man became "the captive of Satan, a servant ever ready to do his bidding" and is "in harmony, and not at variance, with Satan."2 Man, created for the glory of God (see Isa. 43:7), stumbled into the calamity of sin with its consequent degradation and ultimate death.

But God still loved man. And He had a moral responsibility for His earthly children. He had created them and equipped them with freedom of choice, this fateful capacity leading either to weal or woe. This moral responsibility God did not shirk. He shouldered it through His plan of salvation.

The plan of salvation was designed to preclude any person s perdition. Through it Adam and Eve, and their every descendant, might be saved from sin and its ravages. It made God’s original plan possible—that every person might live in happy fellowship with God and the sinless angels throughout eternity.

God devised His rescue plan before He created the earth and man. God "chose us in him [Jesus] before the foundation of the world" (Eph. 1:4; cf. 2 Tim. 1:9). As a buyer covers his new car with insurance before he drives it from the showroom, so God covered His creation with redemption insurance in case of accident, even before He started His creative work. "The plan for our redemption was not an afterthought, a plan formulated after the fall of Adam. It was a revelation of ‘the mystery which hath been kept in silence through times eternal’ (Rom. 16:25, RV)."3

Immediately after the Fall, God acquainted Adam and Eve with His rescue plan. Genesis 3:15 is its first unveiling. Through this covenant of grace Adam and Eve continued to enjoy life, despite their sin that merited death. Through it they were also given the opportunity to eliminate the eternal adverse effects of their sin. It would do the same for all their descendants by enabling them to overcome both their inherited proclivity toward disobedience and sin, and also sin itself. This rescue plan God implements through the method of justification.

The apostle Paul is the great exponent of the doctrine of justification. He first broached the subject when he needed to correct the legalistic views of the Galatians. Later he expounded on it in more detail in his Epistle to the Romans.

In his Epistles to the Galatians and the Romans, Paul is refuting the teaching that a sinner can be justified, or put right with God, by keeping His law. In his argument Paul presents the sinner as a criminal who stands condemned to death before the law. In Romans 8:33, 34 he asks, "Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn?" In this legal, or forensic, setting, justification is the very opposite of condemnation.

It is difficult to find words in English that adequately cover all that the word justify—the Greek dikaioo—and its kindred terms embrace. In the Greek New Testament the verb dikaioo ("justify" or some form of it) is used only of persons and occurs 39 times. Paul alone uses it 27 times. In Paul’s writings "justify" usually "indicates the act or process by which a man is brought into a right state as related to God."4 So justification is God’s way of putting a sinner right, of placing him into a life-sustaining or life-giving relationship to Himself.

According to the rule of strict justice, the sinner should die instantly as a result of his departure from God’s expressed will. God told Adam and Eve of the dire consequences of transgression in front of the tree of knowledge in Eden. "Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die" (Gen. 2:17), ran God’s immutable verdict.

Through His method of justification, however, God shields the sinner from the instant effect of his sin. God treats him not as he deserves, but as if he were just and righteous; He graciously prolongs his life, although he deserves nothing but death.

Justification rests solely on God’s love and concern for the welfare of His earthly children. He takes "no pleasure in the death of any one" (Eze. 18:32); He created them to live. He therefore "encircled the whole world with an atmosphere of grace as real as the air which circulates around the globe."5

By His grace God purposes to give sinners a chance to choose to come to Him, to avail themselves of His power, and to live in intimate fellowship with Him. Eternal life is possible only in union with God, since He is the only source of life in the universe.

Through justification, God discharges His moral responsibility to the whole human race. It vindicates His fairness. It affords each person an opportunity to consider his predicament in sin. It enables the sinner to escape sin’s ultimate result—eternal extinction—by accepting the gift of eternal life through the restoration of amiable fellowship with his Creator and Life-giver.

There are two modes of justification: temporary universal (or forensic) justification, and justification by faith. Temporary universal justification affords human existence on earth. It confers neither salvation nor the gift of eternal life. Justification by faith, on the other hand, grants not only temporal life with salvation from sin but also confers eternal life. In the next two chapters we shall look at these two modes of justification in greater detail.


1 The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, Vol. 1, p. 1082. [back]

2 Ellen G. White, "That I May Know Him" (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1964), p. 16. [back]

3 _________, The Desire of Ages, p. 22. [back]

4 Marvin Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Win. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1957), vol. 3, p. 39. [back]

5 White, Steps to Christ, p. 68. [back]

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