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And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness (Rom. 4:5).
Standing Before the Judge
On Friday, Justin Bourque, who shot and killed three RCMP officers, was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 75 years. It is the longest sentence in Canadian history, and the harshest since the death penalty was abolished.
The writer of Hebrews states, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27). That’s a sobering thought. One day I will die, and then I will stand before God. And without God’s provision of justification there wouldn’t be hope for any of us.
What Is Justification?
The most common meaning of the word “justify” is “to prove or show (something) to be just, right, or reasonable.” When you justify a purchase, you declare the rightness of the purchase.
What does it mean to be justified by God? It means to be righteous in God’s sight (i.e., innocent of wrongdoing).
When God justifies a person he declares that person to be innocent of wrongdoing.
But how is it possible to be justified? Paul repeatedly states in Romans 3 that everyone is guilty of wrongdoing. “None is righteous, no, not one” (3:10). “By the works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (3:20). “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23).
Justification is possible because of Christ. Sinners “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (3:24-25). All who put their faith in Christ are justified (see 2 Cor. 5:21).
People sometimes ask, “Why did Jesus have to die? Why didn’t God excuse our sin?” When people ask these kinds of questions, they reveal that they are underestimating the awfulness of sin in God’s eyes (like a baby not realizing he has filthy hands). There had to be atonement for our sins.
Paul writes, “We hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (3:28). Since we aren’t justified by works, “our boasting” is “excluded” (3:27).
In 4:1, Paul asks, “What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather, according to the flesh?” (v. 1). “With the word ‘then’ Paul connects what he is about to say about Abraham with what precedes (3:21-31), where he claimed that a righteousness of God comes through faith in Christ apart from the law.”  Is Abraham an exception? Was Abraham justified by works? Paul says no.
1. Justification is not a reward earned by works.
Paul writes, “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God” (v. 2). What does Paul mean by “but not before God”? John Piper puts it this way: “But before God such a thing is inconceivable.” 
2. Justification is a gift received by faith.
Paul quotes from Genesis 15:6: “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God’” (4:3). In Genesis 15, God said to Abraham, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.... So shall your offspring be” (v. 5). Abraham was childless and was in his nineties. But Abraham believed God’s promise. His faith revealed that he was relying on God, not himself. Because Abraham believed, his faith “was counted to him as righteousness” (4:3).
Paul writes, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (vv. 4-5). Thomas Schreiner comments, “Righteousness is obtained not by working for God but by believing in a God who works for us in that he justifies the ungodly.” 
Is Justification Just?
Does justification violate the principle of Proverbs 17:15: “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD” (cf. Exod. 23:7; Isa. 5:23). God condemned a righteous person (Jesus) and justifies wicked people (e.g., me). How is God not an abomination to himself?
First, when judges acquit a guilty person, they often do so because they are bribed. But to justify sinners, God gave. He “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all” (Rom. 8:32). Second, when judges acquit a guilty person, they the acquitted person is a high risk to reoffend. But those whom God justifies, he also transforms. Douglas Moo writes,
…God’s “justifying the wicked” cannot be seen in isolation. Yes, it is clear that God puts us right before him when we are still sinners and that justification in itself does not change our moral status or basic nature. But Paul insists that God does more than “justify” us when we become Christians. He also “regenerates” us, “sanctifies” us, and causes his Spirit to indwell us. These acts of God change us “from within.” Paul is one with James in insisting that a genuine Christian must always reveal the transforming work of God in a new life of obedience.The person who claims to be justified but has no interest in doing works is an abomination to God.
It's been said that we don't truly worship God until we are amazed by him. The truth that God justifies us by grace through faith should amaze us. We sing songs about God’s “amazing grace” and his “amazing love,” but have we stopped being amazed?