Given that the doctrine of justification is so primary to our joy and assurance in the gospel, it would be wise for us to give effort to grow in our understanding and clarity of what the Scriptures teach. For this reason, I am giving several posts to the subject of justification by walking through various paragraphs given to this in the 1689 Baptist Confession. (Part 1 and part 2 of this series provides a bit of explanation and setup for this current post.)
PARAGRAPH 3: The Transaction of Justification
By His obedience and death, Christ fully paid the debt of all those who are justified. He endured in their place the penalty they deserved. By this sacrifice of Himself in His bloodshed on the cross, He legitimately, really and fully satisfied God’s justice on their behalf. Yet their justification is based entirely on free grace, because He was given by the Father for them, and His obedience and satisfaction were accepted in their place. These things were done freely, not because of anything in them, so that both the exact justice and the rich grace of God would be glorified in the justification of sinners. — Confessing the Faith, Chapter 11.3
First, the confession speaks to the payment of Christ’s offering for our debt. This is most certainly a substitutionary payment as it was “in their place” and “the penalty they deserved.” The only way this horrendous debt could ever be paid was through the obedience of Christ’s own death.
Secondly, we are told of the demands of God’s justice being met. We are assured of the Scriptural promise that Christ “really and fully satisfied God’s justice.” This is the thrust of Paul’s writing in Romans 3:
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. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and 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. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21–26, ESV).
It is at this point that we are reminded of the tremendous assurance that justification by faith affords us. Our newfound freedom from the guilt and penalty of sin is not arbitrary, it is not based upon the supposed “niceness” of God, who suddenly decided to forgive sin. The surety of our forgiveness is anchored in the satisfaction of God’s justice.
Lastly, we are well served as we consider the wonders of God’s grace being seen in this. The confession is clear, the death of Christ which secures the payment for sin is founded in the free grace of God, “not because of anything in them.” Because of this, not only is the justice of God satisfied but the “rich grace of God would be magnified.” All of this is “to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:6).