Research * Examine * Verify * Educate * Assist * Liberate
International Churches of Christ (ICC) * Boston Movement * Crossroads Movement

The International Churches of Christ are said by many observers and former members to teach and practice a subtle form of "works salvation" (Christian justification through works). The ICC organization denies this. In this article, Chris Lee provides, for perspective, a study of the Protestant doctrine of justification.

Justification: the core of the Protestant Reformation


1.      What does justification mean?

Justification is the noun form of "to justify," meaning also "to declare as righteous." It is a legal term. In our legal system, we have "not guilty" and "guilty." The big differences are that "not guilty" usually means that there is reasonable doubt, whereas "righteous" really means "innocent on all charges." Thus, "unrighteous" means "guilty on any charge." Therefore, someone who is justified is someone who stands innocent on all charges.

2.      Why is justification important?

a.       Read Romans 1-3:23a.

All men sinned; we are without excuse.

The Gentiles have natural revelation through conscience and creation that point to a Creator and immutable laws; the Jews have special revelation through the Old Testament Scriptures (the Law).

b.      Therefore, for everything that we have done (and left undone), through thought, word, deed, (even our thinking and emotions and desires) we have failed to live up to perfection.

c.       Therefore, we should have received condemnation.

d.      However, read Romans 3:23-25.

We were not condemned, but by faith -- trusting in Christ's sacrifice alone, this is sufficient atonement for our sins.


The background is that this is the Epistle to the Romans, who were Christians. Paul had also never visited the Roman church, so this book is basically a summary of what He considers core to the Christian belief.


                                                         i.            What does atonement mean?

Atonement means that there was a substitutionary sacrifice.

Something had to die, and but something took our place -- namely Christ.

This had to be a representative of man.

Yet, to be a sacrifice of infinite worth, it had to be perfect, and thus truly God at the same time.

And this was to restore honor to an infinitely holy God.

e.       The doctrine of justification is that it is through faith (trust) in Jesus and his sacrifice that we stand righteous in the eyes of God.  We trust that His sacrifice is sufficient for us. We cannot add to this to make us more righteous.

f.        We can never arm-twist God into forgiving us.  Forgiveness is always something God must initiate (Rom. 5:6ff), because we were powerless to get God to forgive us.

g.       Analogy: Say I'm going to a concert. I buy a ticket, and it costs me $50.

Is it the ticket that gets me in, or the fact that I have paid $50?

I argue that the ticket is a receipt that I paid the $50, but that it is actually the amount of money that I paid that got me.

Likewise, Christ paid the ticket to get me admission into a right standing with God, and that faith (and works) are the receipt of His work in me.


3.      The doctrine of justification

a.       Is extremely clear in the Bible: It is spelt out clearly in Romans 3:23ff, 5:1ff.

b.      Is linked to the doctrines of atonement, of God (attributes of God), of man, and of sin.

c.       Is linked with the doctrine of sanctification:

                                                         i.            What does sanctification mean?

It is a noun form for "being made holy." We are in partnership with God because both God can make us holy, but we can also choose to be holy.

                                                       ii.            Read Romans 5-6.

Paul seems to be arguing that Christ's death brought justification, and thereby, we no longer live to sin but now we strive to live for Christ.

Does this mean we are completely free from the sinful nature or that we ought to be perfect?  No. (Read Romans 7, which seems to be a balance to Romans 6)


Implication: If someone is justified and understands what this means, they should strive to become sanctified.


According to the Protestant Reformation:  Salvation (Justification) is:

Sola Gratia (only initiated through God's grace)

Sola Fide (only through faith)

Sola Cristos (only by Christ's sacrifice)

Sola Scriptura (only according to the Bible)

Soli Deo Gloria (to God's glory alone)


4.      Implications:

a.       You only stand righteous in the eyes of God because of what Christ does, not because of what you do.

Even our best efforts fall short.  For instance, I don't perfectly obey and perfectly live by faith every moment of my life.

b.      Even faith, you cannot perfectly believe or understand God. Therefore, we cannot even boast in our faith.

c.       Faith is also initiated by God:  God causes us to believe (cf. John 6:44).

d.      Our only response is to trust in Christ, and to appreciate the love of God. We then can praise God for His love for us, and also live a life to try to please God in response.


Feedback or responses? Please send them to Chris Lee.


©2002 by REVEAL. All rights reserved.

Home Page | REVEAL Autoresponder | REVEAL Webmaster