The Joy of Justification

Theologians have often considered justification by faith alone to be "the heart of the Gospel" for the simple reason that justification is a legal declaration of pardon and righteousness--a once-for-all judicial act of God toward believers. Justification is judicial not transformative in nature. The justified believer has been acquitted before the divine tribunal and declared righteous "only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone (WSC 33)." Nevertheless, there is a real joy produced in the heart of the believer on account of the imputed righteousness of Christ. Just as Jesus experienced sorrow on account of the imputation of our sin, believers rejoice in the fact that God has clothed us in the righteousness of another. Hugh Martin, in his book The Shadow of Calvary, explained:

"The believer's own unworthiness ought not to avail to impair His joy, because a true righteousness is imputed to Him, and he has the blessedness of Him to whom the Lord imputes not his sin. The Surety's own unspotted holiness cannot avail to prevent His sorrow, because sin is imputed to Him and He has voluntarily therefore assumed what misery must belong to Him to whom the Lord imputes--not His holiness--to whom the Lord imputes nothing but sin.

The fact that the righteousness which the believer rejoices in is not his
own, not only does not diminish his joy, but on the contrary adds to it an element of wonder, a thrill of unexpected and surprising delight. To be exalted from a relation fraught with guilt and wrath and fear and death, and to be brought at once, on the ground of another's merit, into one of favor and peace and blessedness and eternal life--to have the angry frown of an incensed avenging judge turned away, and all replaced by the sweet smiles of a Father's love--this, the fruit of the imputation of another's righteousness, hiding all my sin, quenching all my fear, wondrously reversing all my fate, this is not only joyful but surprising--wonderful, the doing of the Lord and marvelous in our eyes!

And so, for Jesus to be accounted a sinner by imputation must have added a pang of amazement to the sorrow and humiliation which ensued. In point of fact, this very element in His sorrow is pointed out. He began to be "sore amazed." Not but that He fully expected it. Yet when it came, the change was in its nature "amazing." To pass from a state of unimpeached integrity to one in which He was chargeable with all grievous sins--from a state in which His conscious and unsullied love and practice of all things that are pure and lovely and of good report caused Him to obtain the announcements to his Father's complacency and love-- ("I do always those things that please Him")--to a state in which that love and practice still unimpaired, He nevertheless justified his Father's justice in frowning on Him in displeasure by the very horror and the struggle in which He would, but for His Father's will, have refused to be plunged: this must have struck into the very heart of all His sorrow an element of amazement amounting to absolute agony and horror. If an ecstasy of wonder thrills through the believer's joy in the Lord His righteousness, there must have been a deeply contrasted paralyzing amazement when the Holy One of God realized Himself as worthy, in the sins of others, of condemnation at His Father's tribunal."