A Greek Study on Justification
I have seen Antinomians take a verse like this one to say that justification is God declaring us to be righteous even while we are actually unrighteous:
“But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” Romans 4:5
But the Bible says, “He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the LORD.” Prov. 17:15
There certainly is no salvation without repentance and as believers are called “sanctified” and “saints” it is evident that salvation includes a change of moral character.
My thinking is that “justification by faith” as opposed to “by works of the law” was not about God “declaring us to be righteous while we are actually unrighteous” but rather than faith is the means by which we actually become righteous in character.
When Paul spoke of “the law” He was chiefly referring to the Torah. There were Jews who said that the Gentiles needed to obey the Torah to be saved. And many of the Jews, like the Pharisees, obeyed the letter of the Torah outwardly through tradition and culture and thought that they were righteous because of it, though they did not truly have faith in the promises of God or in faith. So Paul argued that it is not by works of the law that a man of justified or made righteous, as Abraham was justified or made righteous by faith before the Torah even existed.
So if a Gentile believes in Jesus Christ, and is not circumcised and made obedient to the Jewish Torah, his faith in Christ itself is considered [imputed] righteousness by God. And as a result of that faith, he will obey God just as Abraham obeyed God by faith. I think that is the real reason why faith is imputed or considered righteousness by God, because it is the root of all true obedience.
But does the word justification itself include a change of moral character? I think so.
The word for justified or justifieth is “δικαιόω” and it can mean to be “declared righteous” as in a court of law when you are falsely accused and are consequently “justified,” but it can also mean “to render righteous.” In other words, I understand justification by faith as meaning that by faith we are made actually righteous in character.
There are times in which “δικαιόω” seems to be used in the scriptures to refer to a legal declaration of righteousness and also to expression the pardon or forgiveness of sin, but I think that a change of moral character is strongly taught in the word itself.
The root word is “δίκαιος” and refers to being upright, virtuous, keeping God’s commandments, etc.
For example in Matthew 1:19 when it says, “Then Joseph her husband, being a just [δίκαιος] man…” Or, “And they were both righteous [δίκαιος] before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” Luke 1:6. Or, “I came not to call the righteous [δίκαιος] but sinners to repentance.” Luke 5:32. And “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous [δίκαιος].” Rom. 5:19. In these passages δίκαιος is used to refer to a righteous moral character.
And another related word is “δικαιοσύνη” which also comes from the same root word “δίκαιος.” It also refers to virtue, purity of life, etc.
Examples would be:
“But in every nation he that feareth him, and worth righteousness [δικαιοσύνη], is accepted with him.” Acts 10:35
“Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness [δικαιοσύνη].” Rom. 6:18
“Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness [δικαιοσύνη] is righteous [δίκαιος], even as he is righteous [δίκαιος].” 1 John 3:7
“In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness [δικαιοσύνη] is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.” 1 John 3:10
In these passages we see that δικαιοσύνη refers to the righteous things that a righteous man does.
One verse that uses all of these words is this one: “To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness [δικαιοσύνη]: that he might be just [δίκαιος], and the justifier [δικαιόω] of him which believeth in Jesus.” Romans 3:26.
And the word for “justification” is “δικαίωσις.”
This word is only used in two passages:
“Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification [δικαίωσις].” Romans 4:25
“Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness [δικαίωμα] of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification [δικαίωσις] of life.” Romans 5:18
The above passage also introduced a new word to this discussion – “δικαίωμα” which means a righteous act or deed in this passage. In other passages it is translated as “justification,” “ordinance,” “righteousness,” etc.
δικαίωσις, – justification
δικαίωμα, – justification, righteous act, etc.
δικαιόω – justifieth, justified
δικαιοσύνη – righteousness
δίκαιος – just, righteous
And so justification, as I understand it, is not a pronouncement of being righteous while you are actually unrighteous, but actually making a person righteous in heart and life by faith in Christ. Paul argued that it is not obedience to the Torah that God imputes or considers as righteousness, but faith which results in good works and works by love which God imputes or reckons as righteousness. It is by faith that a person is made righteous because faith is what God considers righteousness and because faith results in a righteous life.
“And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Cor. 6:11
BDAG says, “In the context of 1 Cor. 6:11, ἐδικαιώθητε means you have become pure.”
Lutherans have always tried to separate “sanctification” from “justification,” and have taught that when a person trusts in Christ they are declared righteous even though they keep sinning, but then throughout their Christian life they are being sanctified whereby they sin less and less. But I see sanctification as a definite part of justification. Gospel justification includes the forgiveness of sin but also includes the making of a person righteous in character by faith in Christ.
Charles Finney said, “Men are justified by faith in Christ, because they are sanctified by faith in Him. They do not have righteousness imputed to them, and thus stand justified by an arbitrary fiction, while they are personally unholy, but they are made righteous by faith, and that is the reason why they are justified.” The Oberlin Evangelist, July 19, 1843, Holiness Of Christians In The Present Life:–No. 11, Justification.
In other words, justification by faith is not justification in sin. Rather, justification by faith is being made righteous by faith.