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Justification and Adoption | The Work of Christ and Salvation

As taught by Zach Thompson.

In this equipping time lesson, we learn about the implications of justification and adoption.

Justification and Adoption

Good morning! 

I want to start by reading from Titus 3:4-7. 

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

Let’s Pray

Today, we are going to continue our equipping time series through the Work of Christ and Salvation. Over the past few weeks, we have begun working through what is called the Order of Salvation–the Ordo Salutis. 

We started this particular portion of our equipping time with a discussion of the doctrine of the unity with Christ that undergirds this entire order, then we talked about election, the doctrine that God has a people chosen for himself. 

Last week, we started focusing on that second point on the timeline. That’s the moment of conversion. We saw that God calls us to himself through the preaching of the gospel, he gives us new hearts that are ready to receive that gospel, and then he calls us internally through the Holy Spirit, and as people with hearts prepared for the gospel, we turn from our sins and trust in Jesus. 

And remember this. We don’t turn to Jesus because we are forced to. When the Holy Spirit gives us new hearts, we become aware of our deep need for Christ. We are like a thirsty man in the desert who has just been offered water. We drink deeply of salvation because we have become aware that we are thirsty--that we need it. 

This week, we are moving below the line to the two realities listed there: justification and adoption. 

We’ve mentioned it in the past weeks, but I want to make sure that this is clear. These are happening right at the moment of conversion. At the very moment that we turn from our sins and trust in Jesus, these things become true for us. 

We are justified, and we are adopted. We are made right with God, and we are made sons of God.

As we begin to think on this today, I want to begin by imagining something together that I hope will help us feel the weight of the truths we are talking about. 

Imagine this with me: You are standing in the throne room of God, and that Final Day has come. Your life has come to an end, and there isn’t any more anticipation of what might happen because the moment of Final Judgment has come. You look up at the throne, and you look Jesus in the eyes, and he says, ‘Depart from me. I never knew you.'” 

And in that moment, you know that you are condemned. There is no chance for appeal. This is the final and greatest court. You have no hope, and you know it. You will spend an eternity in torment as you are separated from God and everything that you love. And in that hopeless moment, you know that you deserve it. You know that you don’t even have an argument to make. Because as you stood in the presence of God, you suddenly became aware of how dirty you were. You were like an oil spot on a wedding dress. You were in the presence of a perfect God, and you were filled with dread as you looked into the eyes of Jesus. And now you’ll spend eternity apart from him. 

It’s a dread-filled thought. Isn’t it? 

But friends, this is what we deserve. 

In ourselves, we only earn judgment. 

Remember Ephesians 2:1-3, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

In ourselves, there is nothing meritorious in us for God to acquit us in that final court. In ourselves, we live in the passions of our flesh–children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 

1 Corinthians 6:9-10, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. . .”

In ourselves, we don’t have an inheritance. We don’t have a hope. 

But hear what Paul says next: 

“11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 

Brothers and sisters, we have hope because of this gospel. That by faith, we are united to Christ. And through him, our sins are forgiven, and we are made righteous, and we are counted as Sons.

In his book Knowing God, J.I. Packer writes this. “Were I asked to focus the New Testament message in three words, my proposal would be adoption through propitiation, and I do not expect ever to meet a richer or more pregnant summary of the gospel than that.”

Adoption through propitiation. 

In Christ, our sins are accounted to Jesus, and his righteousness is accounted to us. And through this righteousness that comes from Jesus, we can be counted as sons. 

This is why our topic today matters. On that day when we stand before the judgment seat of God, it will be declared over us that this one is righteous–this one is mine– my adopted son– and it will only be because of the righteousness of Jesus. 


So let’s ponder these realities. 

Let’s start with a definition of justification.

I’ve heard a shorthand explanation of the word justification as, “Just as if I’d never sinned.” And I think this is a helpful tool for remembering a major reality here, but it’s also missing something. Justification isn’t just God giving us a blank slate that we can fill with good works. It’s also a declaration of positive righteousness. 

Here’s a definition that Wayne Grudem gives in his systematic:

“Justification is an instantaneous legal act of God in which he (1) thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us, and (2) declares us to be righteous in his sight.”

In this definition of Justification, there are two realities that we need to make sure and hold together. One is that God counts us as forgiven, and the other is a declaration of righteousness. And we need to hold these two together. It may be that in your mind these are the same thing, but we need to be precise on this. 

In Christ, we aren’t only forgiven of our sin, we are granted righteousness. And both of these are wrapped up in this term justification. 

If I am talking to my wife, and she says, “Zach, I am so pleased with you.” That is going to hit my ears very differently than if she said, “Zach, I’m not mad at you.”

In Christ, our justification doesn’t only mean that we are forgiven of our sins. It means that we receive the declaration of righteousness that Christ earned. 

Also, notice that this is instantaneous. Justification isn’t something that you earn over a lifetime. It’s not something that can happen more than once. It’s something that is granted in a moment. 

Forgiven and righteous in a moment.

It’s instantaneous. 

It’s also a legal reality. 

This is worth pointing out because it actually does have implications for us. In Greek, the word justification is a legal term. It wasn’t used to say whether someone was honorable or whether someone belonged to a group. It either means that someone has been declared righteous or has been shown to be righteous. 

John Murray gives us some helpful commentary on this. Bear with me, this is a longer quote:

“Regeneration is an act of God in us; justification is a judgment of God with respect to us. The distinction is like that of the distinction between the act of a surgeon and the act of a judge. The surgeon, when he removes an inward cancer, does something in us. That is not what a judge does—he gives a verdict regarding our judicial status. If we are innocent he declares accordingly.

“The purity of the gospel is bound up with the recognition of this distinction. If justification is confused with regeneration or sanctification, then the door is opened for the perversion of the gospel at its center. Justification is still the article of the standing or falling of the Church.”

It’s a recognition of blamelessness and righteousness. But how can we get this? How could we possibly be justified? 

We already established earlier that we don’t deserve to be called righteous. So where does this righteousness come from? 

Does it come from our own works or merit? No. It can’t. 

Think of Galatians 2:16, “Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”

Pop quiz. Based on Galatians 2:16, who will be justified by works of the law? 

No one.

How is a person justified? Through faith in Jesus Christ.

There are so many passages that we could look to for this. We can’t be justified by our works. We are only justified by faith.

And as we look at different texts, this is going to keep coming up, but I want to show you where in the Bible we can see these two realities within justification. Forgiveness and imputed righteousness

Let’s start in 2 Corinthians 5:21. I think it’s a really great summary of this. 

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

This sums up this doctrine so beautifully: 

“For our sake,” [for us]

“he made him to be sin who knew no sin

This is talking about Jesus. He was perfect. Entirely sinless, and yet, this text says that he was made to “be sin.” Where did the sin come from? It came from all who would believe in him. Our sin was imputed to Jesus. And through his obedience in life and his obedience on the cross, and through his vindication in the resurrection, our sin was dealt with. Propitiation was made. And he did this with purpose. 

“So that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

The righteousness of God. That’s why this is called the great exchange. He takes our sin, and we receive his righteousness. That’s what this graphic is supposed to communicate. And it is such a beautiful reality. And it’s so clear in the Bible. 

But righteousness isn’t some commodity that Jesus throws at us. Where do we get our righteousness? It’s in the verse. So that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 

It’s in Christ. That’s what this other picture is meant to illustrate. We can only be counted righteous if we are in Christ. 

This is unity with Christ. 

If you aren’t under the headship of Christ, then you are in your sins. He is our righteousness. He is our salvation. This righteousness isn’t inherent inside of us. It’s alien to us. It’s from outside of us. 

That’s why we call it imputed righteousness. It is given to us freely in Christ. It is accounted to us. 

Our justification is like someone with infinite credit paying off all of your student loans and your mortgage and all of your debt, then they hand you their debit credit card, and say, “Keep this, and use it for anything else you need.” 

Forgiven and declared as righteous. 

Let’s look in another spot for this. 

Turn with me to Romans 3. It helps demonstrate both of the realities that we are talking about with Justification. 

Let’s start in Romans 3:21-4:8: 

“21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 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. 26 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. 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

The righteousness of God is for us. It’s a gift that is given by faith apart from works of the law. We aren’t only forgiven, we are made righteous. 

Or listen to Philippians 3:8-9, “In order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—”

Or Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

We could go to so many other places in Scripture, [Isaiah 61:10; Romans 4:1-7; 8:26-39]

but let’s rest in this. Justification is the reason why we can say with the Apostle Paul from Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Deal with James if we have time. 

  • He uses Justify in a different sense in the same way that Spouses might have a disagreement because they are saying the same words but mean different things. 

  • When James uses the word “justify,” it means, “Shown to be righteous.” Not, “To make righteous.” This is demonstrated by what he refers to in Genesis (Gen 22). Abraham’s act of faith here was long after he had been declared righteous (15:6).

And this brings us to our next reality:


In justification, we are forgiven and declared righteous. In adoption, we are made part of God’s family.

Grudem gives a simple definition here: 

“Adoption is an act of God whereby he makes us members of his family.”

Romans 8:14–17 “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

Or Galatians 4:3–7, “In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!' 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God."

In these passages and others, Scripture draws a direct line between our redemption from sin and our adoption as sons and our ultimate hope.

We made the point earlier that in ourselves, we are “children of wrath” (Eph 2:3). In ourselves, not only are we not children of God, we are his enemies (Rom 5) – Children of wrath. 

But you were washed. You were justified. 

Have you ever stopped to think about how God could possibly call you his own? 

Justification is a means to an end. God didn’t make you righteous just so that you can call yourself righteous. 

He made you righteous so that you can be with him. He justified you so that you could dwell with him and so that he could dwell with you. 

Stop for a moment and think about what a deep privilege this is. 

I remember sitting on the sideline of soccer games for people older than me and daydreaming about them asking me to come play on a team where I was obviously smaller and less skilled than the people playing. I wanted to relate to people that were above me. Little girls dream about becoming a princess. People at concerts dream about getting called on stage to sing with their favorite musical artist. 

Do you daydream about getting to be with God for all eternity? Do you understand this privilege that is yours? 

You have been adopted by the perfect and eternal Creator-God who sustains the universe by word of his power.

We think little of our adoption as sons because we think little of God. 

Do you know the one by whom you have been adopted? 

We would tremble in fear in front of an Elephant, but this God could cause every elephant on the planet to disintegrate with a word. We can’t fathom the deepest deeps of the oceans, but this God could dry them with a single breath. 

The universe cannot contain him. He is infinite and perfect in all of his being.

So holy that the slightest sin cannot even be in his presence. 

And this God delights to call us his children. 

God is our Father, and this implies all of the authority, affection, fellowship, and honor that a Fatherly relationship should have. 

According to Rom 8:23-24, there is some sense in which we still wait for full adoption. There is a type of consummation coming to our adoption as God’s children. And that is worth some meditation. 

But it’s also clear that we are already adopted as children of God. We already read from Galatians and Romans 8, but listen to 1 John 3:1–3, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

Through Jesus Christ, God has justified us, and he has adopted us as his own children. And, therefore, we have hope. 

Other adoption texts.

(John 1:12; Gal 3:23-26)

So let’s dwell on some applications.

Some Applications: 

  • Feel the joyous weight of these glorious truths. 

  • That’s it for this first application. Just take a moment to feel it. And don’t stop taking moments to feel this. The God of the universe has pursued your soul because he loves you. He has made a way for you to be righteous and reconciled to him. 

  • Justification and adoption are not temporary or redactable, so confess sin.

  • Neither of these realities is alterable. God has made you his. After you have turned to Christ with the full trust of your heart, and you have abandoned all else, then your sin has been fully and freely accounted for–past, present, and future. You have been declared righteous, so live as one who has been declared righteous. 

  • And shine a light on your sin. Confession is the best way to kill sin. Your identity is secure in Christ’s righteousness and God’s love is unshakeable because it’s founded on Christ. So feel the freedom to shine a light on your sins, knowing that your security isn’t in your own righteous reputation

  • Adjust your view of suffering and divine discipline

  • God disciplines the children whom he loves. And your justification is completed. God is not burning away the extra sin so that you can be with him. He is shaping you into the image of Christ. He is making you more like him. Your suffering isn’t purgatory. It’s God loving you like a Father.

  • Remember these truths and cling to our hope

  • In all of these passages about adoption, Scripture makes a point of looking ahead to our final hope. Our legal righteousness before God and our relationship with God are ours right now, but they point ahead to a day when we won’t only be legally righteous, we’ll have glorified bodies with Jesus, and we’ll be totally righteous, and we’ll see Jesus as he is, and we’ll dwell with God for all eternity. 

  • May God be praised!


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