Larger Catechism, #70 [pt. 2]

The Larger Catechism

Questions 70

70.       Q. What is justification?

A. Justification is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners,[286] in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight;[287] not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them,[288] but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them,[289] and received by faith alone.[290]


Forgiveness of Sins

The LC further states that justification includes forgiveness of sin: “in which he pardoneth all their sins.” In Rom. 4:6, Paul cites David’s statement in Ps. 32:1, 2 as the “blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works (ᾧ ὁ θεὸς λογίζεται δικαιοσύνην χωρὶς ἔργων).” The verses he cites to support his statement on justification deal with the forgiveness of sins: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” Justification includes forgiveness of sins. God is able to forgive because of the propitiatory work of Christ (Rom 3:15, “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”). Jesus covered our sins because He paid the penalty for them. For that reason, God may forgive justly and mercifully.

Justification is more than forgiveness. Yet, Wesleyans principally focus on this as the sum and substance of justification. Forgiveness is the “vital fact of justification.”[1] We must distinguish forgiveness of sin from justification but we cannot separate or equate them.

That a man is forgiven of all his sins is indeed wonderful but positive holiness is also required of man. A pauper may be forgiven of his debt; he is still penniless. Forgiveness is important but justification is more than forgiveness. With the forgiveness of sins, the believer is also accounted righteous!

Accepts as Righteous

            So the LC further states that in justification, God “accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight.” In the verse cited above, Paul says that the man is blessed whom God “counts righteousness” apart from the works of the law. The critical verb in Ps. 32 is “counts” (λογίζεται) — God does not make the person righteous but counts, reckons, declares them righteous. Paul cites Ps. 32 (Rom. 5:7,8) and in v. 6, he summarizes the point he will prove with the citation. Paul says that God does not count the sins against his people (v.8) and this has the net effect of counting the person righteous (v. 6). “To be counted as righteous apart from works is to have one’s lawless deeds forgiven, one’s sins covered, and one’s sin not taken into account.”[2] John Murray says this about the Romans passage:

We may not say that Paul intended to define the whole nature of justification as consisting in remission of sin. Where justification is, remission must be and vice versa. That is why he makes virtual equation in these verses. But as Paul has shown already (cf. 1:17; 3:21–26) and as he will show later (cf. 5:17–21; 10:3–6), remission does not define justification, though justification must embrace remission.[3]

The two verses from 2 Corinthians used to support the doctrine (5:19, 21) are also worth citing: “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them… For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (ἵνα ἡμεῖς γενώμεθα δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ).” Our trespasses are not counted against us because he became sin for us (ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἁμαρτίαν ἐποίησεν) that we might become the righteousness of God — that is, just as God did not count sin against us, so God counts us as righteous all on account of Christ. Though two different verbs are used (reckoned and become), the parallel is assumed because in Christ God reconciled us, and in Him we become the righteousness of God. One commentator demonstrates this very point:

“To become the righteousness of God” is to gain a right standing before God that God himself bestows (cf. Rom. 5:17; Phil. 3:9). It is to be “constituted righteous” in the divine court, so that gene÷sqai dikaiosu/nh qeouv = κατασταθήσονται δίκαιοι (Rom. 5:19).[4] Although the term logi÷zomai is not used in v. 21 (but cf. v. 19), it is not inappropriate to perceive in this verse a double imputation: sin was reckoned to Christ’s account (v. 21a), so that righteousness is reckoned to our account (v. 21b).[5]

Another commentator puts it this way, “We do not simply have righteousness from God, we are the righteousness of God as a result of being in Christ (see 1 Cor 1:30; 6:11). We are given his righteousness only as we are in him, and will be raised like him only if we live in him.”[6] These are ours in Christ, in Him.

The LC states that God “accounteth their persons righteous in his sight” — it is in God’s sight and not per se in man’s sight that we are accepted and accounted righteous. His judicial verdict is what matters and this forensic alien righteousness accounted to us is our standing before God.

[1]Miley, Systematic Theology, 2:310-11.

[2] Thomas Schreiner, Romans, BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1998), 219.

[3] John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1968), 1:134-5.

[4] Rom. 5:19, “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous (δίκαιοι κατασταθήσονται οἱ πολλοί).”

[5] Murray J. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians: a Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 455.

[6] David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians (NAC 29; ed. E. Ray Clendenen; Accordance electronic ed. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 302.

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