By God’s providential hand upholding all things, we celebrate the New Year. The New Year brings thoughts of the past and the future, and with thoughts of the old and new, how appropriate to think of the doctrine of justification and its definitive character. Justification, the pardon and acceptance of God, is a once and for all act by God because of Christ’s merit alone. Our standing before God past, present, and future is secure, the Apostle Paul clarifies, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1). Paul explains that our present standing has been changed— we now have peace with God. Not only our present situation, but because we are secure, we have confidence for our future standing. Our peace with God gives confidence that we never need to fear the wrath of God, Paul continues, “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (5:9). Our past, present, and future sins do nothing to our standing before God, once we have been justified. The Heidelberg Catechism asks in Q60, “How are you righteous before God?”
“Only by true faith in Jesus Christ; that is, although my conscience accuse me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil; yet God without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sin, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.”
Our standing before God is based on a definitive legal act of God. Justification is a once and for all act. God declares us righteous not by our work or transformation, rather our justification is grounded on the merit of Christ, his active and passive obedience. Of course, the instrumental cause of our justification is faith alone. Therefore, “by faith into this grace in which we stand…we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:1–9 ESV).