When God Justifies an Elect Sinner, The Verdict is the Right Verdict, and God is Justified

In human justice, some innocent people get the death penalty. And also some criminals get away with murder. But God’s salvation of elect sinners is not only by grace but also by justice.

Romans 4:4 “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due”. The salvation of the elect (with all its blessings) has been earned by Christ because of His death. It is not grace from God the Trinity to give Christ the salvation of His people.

This does not mean we can say without qualification that the elect are entitled to salvation. Salvation is by grace to the elect. But this salvation is by justice. The Son not only “has it coming”, but God the Trinity’s nature and just character demand that this salvation one day be given to all the elect.

This is important, and it is something which I did not know when I was a lost five point Calvinist for 20 years. We need to avoid a nominalism in which God is only sovereign and not just in His character or actions. God is both just and justifier of the ungodly.

The death of Jesus was not merely one way (among many) God could have saved the elect. Calvin seemed to think that God could have saved by grace apart from the death but only sovereignly chose to do so. John Owen agreed at first , but then changed his mind. See also Abraham Booth, Justice Essential to the Divine Character.

Now some would say that Owen and Booth denied God’s sovereignty to have the option of saving apart from Christ’s death. But God cannot lie. And God cannot save sinners apart from the death of Son.

After Christ died and rose again, God cannot in justice not save all those for whom Christ died. This is not about the infinity of Christ’s person (both divine and human). Christ has earned by his death all future blessings for the elect (access, adoption, resurrection!!!).

Counting is involved in this justice. 1. Christ’s death was offered only for the elect and will count only for the elect. 2. But the death did not count for the elect all at one time. it is imputed by God (not by the sinner, not by the church) to individuals one at a time, both before and after the death. This view (see John Owen in Death of Death) best fits the evidence which says that the elect are both loved and also born under the wrath of God. It fits the evidence that Abraham was not simply tolerated but justified (before his circumcision!)

The soundbite that “Abraham was saved 2000 years ago when I was” is more misleading than helpful. Christ obtained by His work of death the justification He imputed to Abraham years before He died. Christ by His death justly obtained for every last ungodly elect sinner who will ever be justified that correct verdict.

One thing I learned at conversion is that God is justified in justifying. God is not only sovereignly gracious to us. God is right, and we are wrong. God is right in saying that we deserve to die. God is right in the way that Christ dies to satisfy justice. We learn to take sides against ourselves in agreeing with God about this.

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10 Comments on “When God Justifies an Elect Sinner, The Verdict is the Right Verdict, and God is Justified”


    Both imputation and infusion for “final justification” is a false gospel. Yes, it’s predestination, but it’s God predestining certain people to be saved by works (that god enables them to do). What’s wrong with that? It leaves Christ out of it. It leaves the cross out of it. Sovereign regeneration without justification by the cross alone may be “calvinism”, but it’s not the gospel. To only talk about God’s sovereignty but not about God’s justice in Christ’s death is not the gospel.

  2. Kirk Says:

    Thanks for the Article. This does play out in other matters other than the one I posted on facebook such as am I obligated to forgive someone who has sinned (against me) or has done some frivolous act (perhaps against me). Sin is an unlawful thing and God is holy and just. There are demands according to God’s justice that my sins be paid for either I and eternally condemned or my I am counted justified by someone else who is Christ Jesus. God does not forgive the sinner before he believes the gospel truth that it is in Christ Jesus alone that he is counted righteous not because of his righteousness, but of Christ Jesus’ righteousness which God imputes to the sinner by grace through faith (which is the gift of God).

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Bruce Baughus-Calvin, however, develops a different line–one that makes no appeal to the infinite worth of the divine person but looks instead to the decretive will of God. We find this in his discussion of how we can correctly say that Christ has merited grace and salvation for us. Here he argues that,
    When we treat of the merit of Christ, we do not place the beginning in him, but we ascend to the ordination of God as the primary cause, because of his mere good pleasure he appointed a Mediator to purchase salvation for us (Institutes, 2.17.1).
    Instead of an appeal to the divine person of the Word incarnate who was that mediator, Calvin appeals to the arrangement decreed by God out “of his mere good pleasure.”

    –Calvin goes so far as to argue that “Christ could not merit anything save by the good pleasure of God,” meaning that “the merit of Christ depends entirely on the grace of God (which provided this mode of salvation for us)” (2.17.1).
    Curiously, Calvin’s argument has a decidedly Scotist ring to it. In typical Duns-ian fashion, the Scot developed a voluntaristic alternative to Thomas’s appeal to the divine person, arguing that since Christ’s work was accomplished by the Son as a man it necessarily has a finite value. As such, the sufficiency of Christ’s work–its infinite merit–is grounded in God’s counterfactual acceptance of his work as a full satisfaction for sin.
    That, to be clear, is not Calvin’s argument. Although both Scotus and Calvin agree that the will of God is the source of Christ’s merit, Calvin argues that Christ’s work has infinite merit on the basis of God’s decree. The difference may seem subtle but is significant: Scotus’s argument from the divine will to accept Christ’s work as counterfactually sufficient is later developed by Hugo Grotius into his moral governmental theory of the atonement. Calvin’s view precludes such development


  4. markmcculley Says:


    Sometimes rather loosely, Evangelical people especially are tempted (and it is the peculiar temptation of those of us who are Evangelical)–we are tempted to put this whole question of the atonement and of salvation in this way: that it is something the Son of God has done to effect the Father; and that the Son, having done the work, stands before the Father and pleads with Him and has to persuade Him to forgive us because of what He has done for us. Now that is a very terrible way of putting it, but it has often been put like that. There are some hymns that put it like that. I remember being brought up, in a sense, on a hymn in another language which very specifically and explicitely put it like that–that the Son was there pleading with the Father and saying, ‘I have died for them; let them live.’ Now that’s a terrible travesty of the Scripture. Though we realize that the work was done by the Son what we must never forget is this–that it was the Father who sent the Son to do it. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son;” “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself;” God is the actor. God is the prime mover. Salvation is of God the Father; and, therefore, I say it is very wrong to represent God the Father as being passive and being pleaded with and appealed to and persuaded by the Son and His work to grant us salvation and to grant us forgiveness

  5. markmcculley Says:

    though only ungodly sinners are justified
    or need to be justified
    this does not mean that God justifies all ungodly sinners

    you can be a sinner without being justified
    you can know you are a sinner without being justified
    God never will justify all sinners

    Jesus rejects many sinners as His guilty clients, because Jesus was never the mediator for many guilty sinners

    God’s election comes first before Christ’s atonement
    Atonement to satisfy justice is a result of God’s love for the elect
    God’s love for the elect is not a result of Atonement for the elect

    This means that election is not the same thing as the atonement
    This means that election is not the same thing as justification.

    God loved the elect before God made justice for the elect.
    God has already made justice for the elect
    God has already not made justice for the non-elect
    God has already not loved the non-elect

    God loved the elect in Christ before Christ made atonement for the elect alone
    but God does not justify God’s elect apart from the Atonement

    I find it interesting that these very same preachers who are teaching “eternal election is eternal justification” are the very same people who also like to say that “non-election is not condemnation”.

    When they say this, logically they should change their soundbites so that “election is not salvation but only unto salvation”. They quote CD Cole—“Election is not the cause of anybody going to hell, for election is unto salvation (2 Thessalonians 2: 13). Neither is non-election responsible for the damnation of sinners. Sin is the thing that sends men to hell, and all men are sinners by nature and practice. Sinners are sinners altogether apart from election or non-election. It does not follow that because election is unto salvation that non-election is unto damnation. Sin is the damning element in human life. Election harms nobody.”

    Those who refuse to give explanations like to have their cake and also eat it. On the hand, they like to reduce salvation to God’s sovereignty and equate election with justification ( and don’t talk about justification or Christ obtaining righteousness by being imputed with guilt). But on the other hand, when it comes to explaining the non-salvation of the non-elect, these same preachers don’t want to talk about God’s sovereignty but only about God’s justice.

    But guilt is not enough for destruction, because you also have to be non-elect. The elect are also born guilty in sin, under the wrath of God, but all the elect will pass from guilt to justification. But these preachers deny that the elect are ever guilty, and they minimize any idea that Christ was imputed with the guilt of the elect, and in that way obtained justification for the elect. And these same preachers deny that non-election is any factor in some sinners not being saved.

    Romans 9: 11 For though her sons had not been born yet or done anything good OR BAD, so that God’s purpose according to election would stand— 12 not from works but from the One who calls

    Romans 1: 16 does NOT read—For I am not ashamed of the gospel, For in the gospel God’s free and sovereign grace is revealed

    Romans 1: 16 does NOT READ For I am not ashamed of the gospel, For in the gospel God’s love is revealed

    Romans 1: 16 reads For I am not ashamed of the gospel,because it is God’s power for salvation to as many as who believe, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. 17 For in the gospel God’s RIGHTEOUSNESS is revealed

    Romans 1 :17 it is written: The righteous will live by faith

    Romans 1:17 does NOT teach that the elect are already justified apart from faith in God’s revealed righteousness

    Romans 1:17 does NOT teach that election is God’s righteousness

    Romans 1:17 does NOT teach that Christ already obtained justice for the elect before the ages

    Romans 1;17 does NOT teach that God’s purpose in Christ to obtain justice for the elect is the very same as Christ having already obtained justice for the elect

    God loved the elect before God made justice for the elect.
    God has already made justice for the elect

    God does demand justice
    But the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel is not God’s demand for justice
    The Righteousness of God revealed in the gospel is Christ’s death for the Elect to Bring in Justice for the Elect
    God has not placed all the elect into Christ’s death
    God has not yet imputed this justice accomplished and obtained to all the Elect

  6. markmcculley Says:

    Doug Wilson–In a world without sin, two of God’s most glorious attributes—His justice and His mercy—would go undisplayed. … In a world without sin and evil, at least two attributes of God would have gone unrevealed and unmanifested, those attributes being wrath and mercy. Since this is intolerable, God determined to direct our affairs the way that He did.

    Edwards–It is a proper and excellent thing for infinite glory to shine forth; and for the same reason, it is proper that the shining forth of God’s glory should be complete; that is, that all parts of his glory should shine forth, that every beauty should be proportionably effulgent, that the beholder may have a proper notion of God. It is not proper that one glory should be exceedingly manifested, and another not at all … Thus it is necessary, that God’s awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice, and holiness, should be manifested. But this could not be, unless sin and punishment had been decreed; so that the shining forth of God’s glory would be very imperfect, both because these parts of divine glory would not shine forth as the others do, and also the glory of his goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all. If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God’s holiness in hatred of sin, or in showing any preference, in his providence, of godliness before it. There would be no manifestation of God’s grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from. How much happiness soever he bestowed, his goodness would not be so much prized and admired … So evil is necessary, in order to the highest happiness of the creature, and the completeness of that communication of God, for which he made the world; because the creature’s happiness consists in the knowledge of God. And if the knowledge of him be imperfect, the happiness of the creature must be proportionably imperfect.

    Augustine–If all had been transferred from darkness to light, the truth of God’s vengeance would not have been made evident.City of God 21.11

    Augustine –Man’s future evil state … enriches the course of world history by the kind of antithesis which gives beauty to a poem. ‘Antithesis’ provides the most attractive figures in literary compositions … The opposition of such contraries gives an added beauty to speech; and in the same way there is a beauty in the composition of the world’s history arising from the antithesis of contraries—a kind of eloquence in events, instead of words. —City of God 11.17

    Calvin–“man by the righteous impulsion of God does that which is unlawful…Nan falls, the Providence of God so ordaining …that by the will of God all the sons of Adam fell into the state of wretchedness in which they are now involved … Nor ought it to seem absurd when I say, that God not only foresaw the fall of the first man, and in him the ruin of his posterity; but also at God’s own pleasure arranged it.

    Psalms 5:4 “For You are not a God who wills lawlessness
    You are not a God who delights in wickedness;
    evil cannot dwell with You.
    5 The boastful cannot stand in Your presence;
    You hate all evildoers.

    James 1: 13 No one undergoing a trial should say, “I am being tempted by God.” For God is not tempted by evil, and God doesn’t tempt anyone. 14 But each person is tempted when they are drawn away and enticed by their own evil desires. 15 Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, sin gives birth to death

    23 If anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, they are like a person looking at their own face in a mirror. 24 For they look at themselves , go away, and immediately forgets what kind of person they are

  7. markmcculley Says:

    The same guy (Lloyd-Jones) who said that being accused of antinomianism (like in Romans 6) was a test if you taught the gospel was also the guy who said that “the worse your doctrine of the gospel, the greater was God’s grace for you. “One of the greatest proofs of the truth of the doctrines of grace is John Wesley. He was a man who was saved in spite of his muddled and erroneous thinking. The grace of God saved him in spite of himself. That is Calvinist! If you say, as a Calvinist, that a man is saved by his understanding of doctrine you are denying Calvinism. He is not. We are all saved in spite of what we are in every respect. Thus it comes to pass that men who can be so muddled, because they bring in their own human reason, as John Wesley and others did, are saved men and Christians, as all of us are, because it is ‘all of the grace of God’ and in spite of us.”
    So if you can find Arminianism or antinomianism in a preacher, it’s all good, according to this theory

  8. markmcculley Says:

    Donald Macleod—”It was no part of the work of Christ to make God love us, The very fact of his being on earth at all was proof of the divine love. The business of the atonement, therefore, was to propitiate the God who already loves us: to lay the foundation for an advocacy directed towards him specifically as Father (1 John 2: 1). God unequivocally requires such propitiation, but in the last analysis God also provides the propitiation and God even becomes the propitiation. The whole cost of our redemption is borne by the triune God.

    God elects us in Christ because of the God’s love for elect sinners.
    God’s justice in Christ is NOT the cause of God’s love, but it is the necessary means of God’s love. The death of Christ is not the cause of God’s election in love. God’s election in love is the cause of the death of Christ.

    Some have held to hypothetical necessity, a view which says that God could have forgiven sin and saved his people without Christ’s death as legal satisfaction, but that this was the way God chose to do it. Others have held to consequent absolute necessity,, which says that if reconciliation was to take place, reconciliation must happen by means of Christ’s death

    John Murray—“The word ‘consequent’ in this designation points to the fact that God’s will or decree to save any is of free and sovereign grace. To save lost men was not of absolute necessity but of the sovereign good pleasure of God. The terms ‘absolute necessity,’ however, indicate that God, having elected some to everlasting life out of his mere good pleasure, was under the necessity of accomplishing this purpose through the sacrifice of his own Son, a necessity arising from the perfections of his own nature.”

    John Murray–“The kind of necessity which the Scriptural considerations support is that which may be described as absolute or indispensable. … If we keep in view the gravity of sin and the exigencies arising from the holiness of God which must be met in salvation from sin, then the doctrine of indispensable necessity makes Christ’s death intelligible to us and the sovereign purpose of love which Christ’s death accomplished. The more we emphasize the inflexible demands of justice and holiness the more marvelous becomes the love of God ”


  9. Mark Mcculley Says:

    Genesis 18: 19 For I have chosen Abraham so that Abraham will command
    HIS CHILDREN and his slaves to obey the law of the Lord by
    doing what is right and just. This is how the Lord will fulfill to
    Abraham what He promised him.” 20 Then the Lord said, “The outcry
    against Sodom and Gomorrah is immense, and their sin is extremely
    serious. 21 I will go down to see if what they have done justifies the
    cry that has come up to Me. If not, I will find out.” 22 The men
    turned from there and went toward Sodom while Abraham remained
    standing before the Lord.23 Abraham stepped forward and said, “Will
    You really sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 What if there
    are 50 righteous people in the city? Will You really sweep it away
    instead of sparing the place for the sake of the 50 righteous people
    who are in it? 25 You could not possibly do such a thing: to kill the
    righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked
    alike. You could not possibly do that! Won’t the Judge of all the
    earth do what is just?

    Genesis 20: 4 Now Abimelech said, “Lord, would You destroy a nation
    even though it is innocent? 5 Didn’t Abrahaam himself say to me, ‘She
    is my sister’? And Sarah herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ 6 Then God
    said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you did this with a clear
    conscience.I have also kept you from sinning against Me. Therefore I
    have not let you touch her. 7 Now return the man’s wife, for Abraham
    is a prophet, and Abraham will pray for you and you will live

    Gensis 22: 7 Then Isaac spoke to his father Abraham and said, “My
    father.” And braham replied, “Here I am, my son.” Isaac said, “The
    fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt

    flesh=limits Romans 8: 5 For those who live according to the flesh
    think about the things of the flesh, but those who live according to
    the Spirit, about the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind-set of the
    flesh is death, but the mind-set of the Spirit is life and peace. 7
    For the mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not
    submit itself to God’s law, for it is unable to do so. 8 Those who are
    in the flesh cannot please God.

  10. Mark Mcculley Says:

    Habakkuk 1: 12 Lord, You appointed them to execute judgment;
    My Rock, You destined THEM to punish US.
    13 Your eyes are too pure to look on sin
    and You cannot tolerate wrongdoing.
    So why do You tolerate those wrongdoers?
    Habakkuk 2; I will watch to see what God will say to me
    about my complaint.
    Though the vision delays, wait
    since the enddd will certainly come and not be late.
    But the righteous one will live by faith
    what does it mean to say that God is too pure to see sin?
    does it mean that God never sees the sin but only loves the elect sinner?
    does it mean that sin disappears when God looks at sin?
    when God sees sin, sin never threatens God
    when God sees sin, the sinner not yet justified in Christ is threatened

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