The doctrine of forensic justification holds a critical place in the Christian faith, as it explains how an individual can be considered righteous before a holy and just God. At its core, the doctrine teaches that through faith in Jesus Christ, God not only imputes the believer’s sin to Christ and carries out His wrath on Christ, but also imputes the righteousness of Christ to the believer, and thus they are justified or declared to be in a state of right standing with God. It is a legal or judicial transaction, hence the term forensic.
This doctrine is rooted in the Bible, and can be seen in passages such as Romans 3:21-22, which states, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” This passage, and others like it, make it clear that it is through faith in Jesus Christ that an individual is made righteous before God.
It is important to note that the doctrine of forensic justification does not teach that an individual becomes inherently righteous through faith in Christ. Rather, it teaches that through faith, an individual is credited with the righteousness of Christ, and is thus considered righteous before God. This is known as an “imputation” of righteousness, and it is a key aspect of the doctrine.
This is compared to the Roman Catholic teaching of justification. According to Catholic dogma, justification is not an event that takes place at the moment of faith, but it is an ongoing process. This is sometimes referred to as “infused righteousness” rather than the biblical doctrine of “imputed righteousness.” Catholics believe that through the sacraments, particularly baptism and the Eucharist, along with faith and good works, the grace of God is “infused” into the individual, enabling them to grow in righteousness and holiness over time.
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While Catholics do believe that faith is necessary for justification, they also believe that good works are necessary for an individual to maintain a state of justification. This can be seen in the Catholic teaching on mortal and venial sins, which states that if an individual commits a mortal sin, they lose the grace of justification and must go to confession to regain it. This emphasis on the necessity of works in order to earn God’s favor is contrary to what is taught by Scripture and, according to the Scriptures, a damnable doctrine.
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” —Galatians 3:10
The doctrine of imputation is significant for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it teaches that it is only through faith in Jesus Christ that an individual can be justified before God. This is a powerful reminder that salvation is not something that can be earned or achieved through good works, but rather it is a gift that is received through faith in Jesus. Ephesians 2 teaches us that these good works are a result of our salvation rather than a cause:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Additionally, the doctrine of forensic justification also reminds us of the holiness and justice of God. Because of our sinful nature, we are all guilty before God and are in need of righteousness and teaches that it is only through the righteousness of Jesus Christ that we can be considered righteous before God.
This doctrine is an essential aspect of the Christian faith, as it teaches how an individual can be considered righteous before a holy and just God through faith in Jesus Christ. Through this doctrine, we are reminded that salvation is a gift that is received through faith and that it is only through the righteousness of Jesus Christ that we can be considered righteous before God. As believers, it is important to understand and embrace this doctrine, as it serves as a powerful reminder of our need for salvation and the grace of God.