Description: A series of classes on the 'Doctrine of Salvation' using Berkhof's book 'Systematic Theology'.
The Doctrine of Salvation 8
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
[Opening prayer] Dear Father, we thank you for light. We thank you, Father that you will give us
light in this hour. Father, we pray that you will show us more and more of your own sovereignty and
that you do things on your own by your own power apart from our help. Father, that’s why we’re here
because of your love that created us without our aid. Thank you, Lord, for the great reassurance
that brings us — that things happen that we ourselves have not caused to happen. Thank you,
Father, that it brings us more into the place that we were made to have as creatures who are
dependent on their Creator. Thank you for showing us our Father that worry and anxiety come from
our trying to be a creator instead of creature.
O Lord, we trust you that this hour we will sense more and more that you are the great mover and we
are the ones who are moved. You are the great initiator, and we are the ones who receive the
effects of your initiation. Father, we trust you that you will bring real peace to our hearts as we
enter into that truth more and more, and live by faith for your glory. Amen.
Dear ones, the subject that we deal with today is the subject of justification, and I think I could
explain it like this if I bring you back to the basic plan of salvation that God offered us the Holy
Spirit. We refused and developed a selfish will that of course made it impossible for him to
continue to offer the Holy Spirit to us, because we would have simply misused it. Then God saw our
predicament and then crucified that selfish will in Jesus.
Those are three steps, loved ones, in the way the predicament and the solution to it developed. Now
you remember that we said when we were talking about the doctrine of salvation, we were talking
about how we entered into this. Now when we talk about justification we’re saying that this is one
of the things that results from step three. And what we’re really trying to discover this afternoon
and next day is what exactly this justification is. Justification results from step three. What
we’re trying to find out today by studying the scriptural terms for justification is just what that
actually is, that justification.
Now I would like to – maybe it would make the study more relevant to you if I could outline to you
three alternatives. Maybe you could just take this down because I don’t think that I could write it
so that you could read it fast enough on that. The first alternative is that justification means
God’s treating us as right. God treats us as right. Now it always means that, but it’s the follow
up that is the alternative. Treating us as right. Justification always means that, treating us as
right, but treating us as right in being alive for 70 years to have the opportunity of receiving the
Now is that what justification means, that it’s as a result of him crucifying us in Jesus, he’s
treating us as right in being alive for 70 years to have the opportunity of receiving the Holy
Spirit? To elaborate on that you see the argument would be that God said, “The wages of sin is
death so you should all be flooded out with a flood, but instead of flooding you out again with a
flood as I did in Noah’s time, I’ve put you all in Jesus and crucified you there and I’m treating
you as right in being alive. As justified in being alive for 70 years to have the opportunity of
receiving the Holy Spirit.
Now that is one possible meaning of justification. Or, does it mean treating us as right, and I’ll
just use those ditto marks again, with him if we receive the Holy Spirit? In other words, God
crucified us in Jesus and crucified that old self, and if we respond to that by receiving the Holy
Spirit then we are justified, we are treated as right. Or, does it mean God treats us as right with
him, which would be the same as with him, because Jesus has died for our sins, and obeyed God
Now it seems to me at least those three possibilities are there. That you could say, “God said, ‘If
you receive the Holy Spirit you can live with me forever, if you don’t receive the Holy Spirit
you’ll die and I have to destroy you all.’” And then instead of destroying us he put a rainbow in
the sky, and he put us into Jesus and destroyed us there.
So we are justified, we experience justification in the sense that we are now justified in being
alive for 70 years to have the opportunity of receiving the Holy Spirit, and that’s what
justification means. It means a reprieve from the death penalty. Or, does it mean that God treats
us as right with him if we receive the Holy Spirit? That is he treats the selfish will as crucified
in Jesus, and says to you, “Now you have the power to receive the Holy Spirit if you want. If you
receive the Holy Spirit then in my eyes you’re justified, you’re made right with me.” Or, does he
mean that the death penalty has been paid for us by Jesus and therefore, he does not demand that we
pay the death penalty. But as well as that, perfect obedience has been offered for us by Jesus, and
so we are justified by that perfect obedience.
Now those are tricky questions loved ones. I don’t expect you to sort them all out but maybe you
could have some of those questions, even if all they do is create wonder in your mind or
bewilderment even, it’s better to go into the study of the scriptural terms with some thought in
your mind as to the various meanings that justification may have.
Now the scriptural terms, the Old Testament term for justification is the word “tsadoq.” Maybe it’s
better to just put it to spell it like that, ‘sadoq’ and it means to declare judicially. To declare
judicially that one’s state is in harmony with the law, or in harmony with the demands of the law.
That one’s state is in harmony with the demands of the law. Now that’s basically the meaning that
runs through the Hebrew and Greek words as well. But you get it in Exodus 23:7, to declare
judicially that one’s state is in harmony with the demands of law.
Louis Berkhof [Theologian, October 14 1873 – May 18 1957] is very adamant in pointing out that it
means to treat as righteous, not make righteous. So that you get fully the thrust of his
presentation, I would like to give his arguments. He says, “First of all, the fact that it is a
forensic term, that is, that it is a judicial thing.” What he’s trying to guard against is that
we’re not saying that God makes every sinner who believes in Jesus righteous at that moment, but
that he treats that sinner as righteous even though the sinner may not actually be righteous
himself, because he believes in Jesus, then God treats that sinner as righteous, rather than makes
Sanctification is “sanctus” in Latin, holy and “theo” to make holy. That’s to make holy where as he
says, “Justification is to treat us holy,” and he says, “The fact that it’s just a forensic judicial
term emphasizing a change in relationship, rather than a change in condition is proven, not
condition, is proven by the following facts.” And he says, “First of all the terms placed in
contrast to it are forensic, it is contrasted with condemnation.” And the word condemnation,
obviously, doesn’t mean to make bad, it means to treat as bad. Contrasted with the term
condemnation and you get that in Deuteronomy 25:1.
Secondly, from the passage, he has two other arguments but I’ll just give you the last one. From
the passage Proverbs 17:15, maybe it would give you a break just to look up that passage Proverbs
17:15. Proverbs 17:15 runs like this, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the
righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord.”
Now if “justifies” there meant make righteous, then there wouldn’t be too much sense in it. Because
it would read, “He who makes righteous the wicked is an abomination to the Lord.” So Berkhof points
out the word justify, at least there, does not mean ‘make righteous’ but means ‘justify in the sense
of treat as righteous.’ So he who justifies cannot mean make righteous but must mean treat as
righteous. And that person who treats the wicked as if they’re righteous in that context is an
abomination to the Lord. So Berkhof pushes strongly, loved ones, that it means to treat as
righteous not to make righteous.
Now he does have a couple of interesting passages that you may want to look up yourself Isaiah
53:11, and Daniel 12:3, He says there it seems that the Bible is saying declare righteous but
really it means alter the condition so that the man can be considered righteous. So he still argues
that this is considered righteous, but you can look at it a little more. But I don’t think we would
disagree, I think that what he says is right that justification is to sink from sanctification.
Justification means you treat a man as righteous. He of course, would take the normal approach, you
treat them as righteous because Jesus has already died for them and so no man needs to die twice for
one sin so that man can be treated as righteous. So that’s his position.
Now maybe I could just do the New Testament terms, and then perhaps we could begin a discussion of
the doctrine. The verb is “dikaioo” and in fact, it really has two o’s, and it looks like “dikaioo”
and a long o at the end. “Dikaioo” and that means to declare a person to be just. You get that in
Matthew 12:37, and again he goes to great trouble to point out that it’s a legal term, to declare
forensically that the demands of the laws is a condition of life are fully satisfied with regard to
a person. He has a couple of other references, Acts 13:39, and Romans 5:1&9.
So he’s saying again you see, if God declares, if God justifies Joyce because she believes in Jesus,
it doesn’t mean God is making Joyce perfectly holy, and perfectly righteous, but that he’s treating
her as if she were perfectly righteous, because Jesus has died for her, and there’s a distinction
there. Then he has the adjective “dikaioos.” And for instance he points out that in classical
Greek “dikaioos” always means something about a relationship. And he uses the term “dikaioos” for
instance in classical Greek is applied to a wagon, a horse, or something else to indicate that it is
fit for its intended use. So, “dikaioos” is declaring that a person is right in the relationship
to the law.
Not that they are perfectly right you see, for instance the word “agathos” is the Greek word for
good, but it is not “agathos” it does not mean a person is good in themselves. It means they are
right in the relationship to the law. Primarily, of course, that they owe death to the law, and
Christ has paid that death for them, that would be the normal understanding.
Then thirdly, he deals with noun “dikaiosis” which is justification. “Dikaiosis which is the noun
justification. And he gives a couple of references, Romans 4:25, and 5:18. And I’ll just dictate
it several times so that you get it. It denotes the act, denotes the act of God’s declaring men
free. It denotes the act of God’s declaring men free from guilt, and acceptable to him.
The last point I’d like to make before opening into discussion, dear ones, is that he deals with the
English word, justification and points out that it does create a little problem in that it’s from
the Latin “iustitia” which is just or good and it really literally means to make just or to make
holy. But he points out that it does not in the scripture, New Testament, refer to a change in the
condition, not change in the condition of the man, but in the relationship. Or, we have sometimes
said it’s the position of the man in regard to God. Not a change of condition but a change of
position. Change of condition is brought about by sanctification, the change which God works in a
So he gives two – well, two possible meanings of the word justify. One it can mean as in James
2:21, it can mean to justify the righteous. That is just to say the righteous are worthy of
justification, and we justify them, to justify the righteous. Or it can mean and he says this is
the main term in the New Testament, to impute to us the righteousness of Christ.
Now maybe, dear ones, you have all born that well — you could just listen and I think I could state
that some of the issues that you need to begin to think about in connection with justification. It
seems to me that there’s no doubt in any of our minds that when God was faced with all of us
rebelling against him and going our own way, and refusing the Holy Spirit, he had to do something
that’s plain. He obviously signified the kind of reaction he had to take by the flood that he
brought in Noah’s day.
Now the big issue is what he actually did next, and what effect that had on our relationship with
him. Did he simply see millions of us with our own miserable little selfish wills that in turn made
it impossible for him to give us the Holy Spirit, or to risk giving us the Holy Spirit? What was
he after by destroying the thing inside us that made it impossible for him to give us the Holy
Spirit? Or, did he himself have to be satisfied in some way after having said that we ought to die?
Did he have to either kill us in Jesus, or kill Jesus in our place in order to justify himself
continuing to offer us the Holy Spirit? In which case does he feel that we are justified in his
eyes after he has carried out the death penalty on us, or are we only justified in his eyes after we
have done what he originally wanted us to do that is receive the Holy Spirit?
Now I think that Berkhof would go close at times with many Evangelicals to saying, “Whether you
receive the Holy Spirit or not in God’s eyes you’re justified because in his eyes Jesus has died in
your place and Jesus has obeyed the law in your place. Therefore God does not require that you obey
the law anymore really in order to be justified in his eyes. That really you are justified in his
eyes whether you end up obeying the law or not.”
I think that that’s close to the position that for instance Billy Graham would be in, when he would
say, “I do not obey the 10 Commandments now, and no man or women can keep the 10 Commandments.
That’s why Jesus has died for you.” I think Graham would speak for many Evangelicals when he would
say that. That Jesus died for you, he paid the death penalty for you, and he obeyed God perfectly
in his own lifetime. So, God regards his paying the death penalty and his perfect obedience to the
law as yours and God imputes that to you. That’s how God justifies you.
I would feel probably that God justifies us in Jesus in the sense that he has destroyed in Jesus our
selfish wills, and therefore God is justified in offering to us the Holy Spirit which would
otherwise be a mad thing to do because it would be tantamount to condemning his universe to
destruction by giving us such a powerful life force as the Holy Spirit. But God is justified in
giving to us the Holy Spirit. We ourselves by Jesus’ death are justified in continuing to be alive,
but we are finally only justified in God’s eyes when we receive the Holy Spirit.
Now if you pressed a man like Berkhof and said, “Do you really mean that you think we’re justified
in God’s eyes whether we receive the Holy Spirit or not?” I really think if he was pressed to the
wall, he would say, “Well, no, the proof that you are of the elect and the proof that you believe
that Jesus has died for you, is that you do receive the Holy Spirit.” But strictly speaking, loved
ones, I think he would say that the righteousness of Jesus is imputed to you independent of whether
you receive the Holy Spirit or not. Now it’s hard to say that, but I think he would press it that
far. Ok, could you press me a little please so that I could make the distinction at least clearer?
Could you mean that being justified is really being born again?
Being born of God, sorry, that’s what I mean. Yeah, let’s keep it clear of any belief of baptism of
the Holy Spirit, or fullness of the Holy Spirit. No I mean new birth, yeah, I mean regeneration.
Would it be right in saying there are several parts to the new birth?
Al, that’s good that you’re bringing this out. Loved ones, I’m not claiming for a moment that
Berkhof does not believe in regeneration but what I’m saying is that we would all split conversion
up into several parts. Regeneration, the new birth part, forgiveness of sins would be part of
conversion. Another part of conversion would be justification, another part of it would be
adoption. Now Billy Graham, Berkhof, Calvin, Luther, Wesley, all of them would believe that all
those things take place when a person is truly born of God. But I think many of them would differ
on how much justification includes. They would differ on how much it includes, and that’s where the
discussion would range.
Does justification – does God only treat us as just – does God treat us as just if we simply believe
that Jesus died for us? Or, does God treat us as just if we, in the light of that fact, know that
we can go before him and receive the Holy Spirit? And we receive the Holy Spirit. Or, does he
treat us as just only when we enter into the victorious life and begin to obey the law? I don’t
think that any of us would take that last one as an option. But the heart of it is what – in what
way does God feel we are justified? Does he feel Carol is just – in what sense is Carol justified
by believing that Jesus has died for her? What is she justified in thinking? Is she justified in
thinking that by believing that God will accept her when she comes to the end of this life? Or,
does she have to believe that and receive Jesus into her own life? Or, does she have to believe
that — receive Jesus into her own life, and then allow Jesus to live out through her life a Christ
like life? Now what justifies her in God’s eyes? I think that’s the issue really. Justification
is to treat us righteous.
There is quite a big difference in what Billy Graham, Calvin, Berkhof and Wesley believe about
justification. Can you clarify it?
Well I think – I’m sure that’s part of it Al, but I’m not – honestly I don’t have an angle here or
an axe to ground, I’m just – I know that they differ – I know that they differ on all that they
believe justification is. Maybe I could – maybe I could elaborate it a little more for instance if
I read old Berkhof further on. He says, “That justification has a negative element and a positive
element.” He says, “The negative element is the remission of sins on the ground of the atoning work
of Jesus Christ. God has destroyed Jesus, and so he doesn’t need to destroy us again. That we’re
justified in not being destroyed.” But he says also, “There’s a positive element which is based
more particularly on the act of obedience of Christ.”
Now that’s where you come into this bit, where some dear ones will say, “Well I remember a dear
brother saying to me – coming to me after service one Sunday morning and saying, ‘You know you were
talking about the need to live a Christ like life, but if I’m a Christian and believe that Jesus
died for me. It doesn’t matter what my life is like. Once I believe Jesus has died for me, God
justifies me. He imputes the righteousness of Christ to me, and it doesn’t matter what my life is
like. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a righteous life or not, God keeps imputing me to the
righteousness of Jesus.’” And I said to him, “But, do you mean that if you murdered somebody
tomorrow that you would still be regarded by God as just?’ And he says, “Yeah. Yeah, God would –
has imputed to me the righteousness of Jesus.”
Now Berkhof would be saying, “There’s also the positive element which is based more particularly on
the act of obedience of Christ. Christ has obeyed perfectly the law for me, so I don’t need to obey
it myself in order to be saved. I am saved by the perfect obedience of Christ.” That is okay until
you get a person going to the other extreme and saying, “I can disobey it as much as I want, and
still live perfect righteousness of Jesus that he’s imputed to me.”
Now then he would say, he would attack these old miserable Armenians that are his aunt Sally’s, he
would say, “According to them,” and this is where I would find myself a little more, “According to
them, justification leaves man without any claim on life eternal. It simply places him in the
position of Adam before the fall. I would tend to feel that, that Jesus dying for us lifts from us
the death penalty. No longer do we run the risk of God destroying us tomorrow, and we’re back in
the position of Adam before the fall and there’s the tree of life and now we have the opportunity to
choose it or not to choose it.
Whereas Berkhof would tend to say, “Jesus by his obedience has chosen the tree of life for us, and
whatever we do as long as we believe he has chosen it, we really don’t need to choose it ourselves.
We just need to believe in Jesus, and then that justifies us.” Now, that is okay when a dear one
has such a gratitude to Jesus and such a love for him because he has died for him, wants to live
like him, and therefore grabs him with all his heart. But it is a real problem for the person who
rather ruthlessly and coldly, and intellectually says, “I believe Jesus has died for me, and I
believe that he has obeyed God’s law perfectly for me, and therefore Jesus’ righteousness is imputed
to me. And I know I’m a rat, and I know I steal every day, and I know I hate people, but God has
imputed Jesus’ righteousness to me, even though I have none of my own.” And that’s the problem.
What I’m asking you to begin to think of is to what extent is there an imputation of righteousness
to us? See I think in some sense there is an imputation of righteousness, but to what extent?
Certainly we would all agree – well it does seem that there are verses that imply that Jesus’ death
is imputed to us. God regards Jesus’ death as our death. It seems that there is that, there’s the
imputation of Jesus’ death upon us, so that we don’t need to die that’s why we’re all alive today.
Otherwise God would see Joyce, would see one selfish act she does and just wipe her out with a local
flood. But instead of that he has put her into Jesus and destroyed her there. So obviously Jesus’
death is regarded as her death.
Now I’m pushing you all on his obedience, what about his obedience as Jesus’ obedience imputed to
So justification comes into fruition as we obey?
It seems to me it’s always on the basis of Jesus’ righteousness, but Jesus’ righteousness being
fulfilled in us. Not by our own effort, but by the Holy Spirit bringing Jesus’ righteousness into
our lives. For instance we did it – we came across it in Romans just recently. It must be
somewhere in Romans 8, and you remember I – yeah, I don’t know which verse it is.
Could it be Romans 8:4?
Romans 8:4 it’s that verse and then we can look at John, Romans 8:4, “In order that the just
requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according
to the Spirit.” And Don says, “So now yield.” It’s Romans 6:19, “I am speaking in human terms,
because of your natural limitations. For just as you once yielded your members to impurity and to
greater and greater iniquity, so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification. When
you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.” And verse 22, “But now that you
have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and
its end, eternal life.”
So I have no question Al, that we can never be good enough to please God ourselves by our own power,
it is only by the righteousness of Jesus. But my question is, is it by the righteousness of Jesus
being imparted to us by the Holy Spirit as we yield to the Holy Spirit, or is it by the
righteousness of Jesus being imputed to us in some way by God in a purely judicial and forensic way?
I’m not saying that it’s impossible to believe that, I’m just saying that one of the great
weaknesses that it opens up, it’s one of Berkhof’s dear honest weakness, his famous weaknesses that
he admits are there. It opens up the possibility of “antinomianism” which is what that fellow was
falling into who came up to me after the service and said, “Yeah, even if I committed adultery,
Jesus’ righteousness is imputed to me, and I am going to be accepted by God, because he has imputed
Jesus’ righteousness to me even though I have no righteousness of my own.”
Now I would stand beside him and say, “That’s right I have no righteousness of my own either, but I
have the righteousness of Jesus being fulfilled in me through the Holy Spirit and through my
yielding to the Holy Spirit.”
What about the Bible verses that talk about forgiveness?
That’s right I think there’s no question about 1 John 1:9, if we confess our sins he was righteous
and just to forgive us our sins and he cleanses us from all unrighteousness, that he will forgive us
until 70 times seven. But it seemed to me in his attitude of course there was rather willfulness in
it, because he was kind of almost – he almost felt he was free to do this kind of thing, you know,
and that despite that the righteousness of Jesus was to be imputed to him. I think it would be a
very different situation where you fell into it and you didn’t want to fall into it, yeah.
Is there not a freedom or license we have after justification?
Yes, I think he should run up against that, but then I think that’s – it’s that kind of verse that
partly operates against this idea that there is such a thing as a legal imputation of Christ’s
righteousness simply because of a verse like that. That the implication is that – that God treats
as just those who do not use their license as a – or their new freedom as an excuse for license,
In a way, are we talking about is a relationship which respects the righteousness freely given but
only if the relationship is based on active belief?
Okay I’m with you, that maybe the fact that a person does take that kind of attitude, “Okay, I can
commit adultery tomorrow and it doesn’t matter, Jesus’ righteousness will be imputed to me,” that is
proof that he does not really believe that Jesus has died for him. My question is, would God leave
a loop hole like that? Now maybe he would. Would God leave a loop hole for him to do that kind of
thing you see? Would God set – would God mean by justify, “I impute to you the righteousness of
Jesus, irrespective of how you think about Jesus, irrespective of whether you really receive him
into yourself or not? You see, would he impute – would he allow that?
[Audio ends abruptly 45:16]