John Owen on Justification and Justifying Faith

By Evan Knies

What is Justification?

John Owen gives a helpful definition of justification: “Justification is ascribed unto the Spirit of God, as the principal efficient cause of the application of the grace of God and blood of Christ, whereby we are justified, unto our souls and consciences; and he is so also of the operation of that faith whereby we are justified: whence, although we are said to be justified by him, yet it doth not follow that our justification consists in the renovation of our natures”.

Owen shows that, “By our actual believing with justifying faith, believing on Christ or his name, we do receive him; and thereby, on our first justification, become the “sons of God”; that is, “heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ”. Again, “For the whole security of our present and future condition depends on the actings of God towards us, according as he hath manifested himself in Christ”. Christ secured salvation for the ones who believe in him.

With that explanation of justification, Owen also helpfully explains the nature of justifying faith. He shows that, “The nature of justifying faith, with respect unto that exercise of it whereby we are justified, consisteth in the heart’s approbation of the way of justification and salvation of sinners by Jesus Christ proposed in the gospel, as proceeding from the grace, wisdom, and love of God, with its acquiescency therein as unto its own concernment and condition”. As believers in Jesus Christ, we are to have renewed minds and new hearts. Because of our heart change, it shows we are justified. Our new hearts show that we are justified by what we care for hereafter.

He also states that, “Justifying faith, in that act or work of it whereby we are justified, respecteth Christ in his priestly office alone, as he was the surety of the covenant, with what he did in the discharge thereof. The consideration of his other offices is not excluded, but it is not formally comprised in the object of faith as justifying”. Jesus Christ is the surety of the covenant. Because of the work of the Son, the Christian can rest in his work. If one believes and confesses in Jesus (Romans 10:9-10), they are justified before God. At the Cross of Christ, Jesus stood in place of the rebel. The blood of the cross justifies the rebel/sinner before the Father because of the Son’s work. If the rebel/sinner is united to the Son, then the rebel is justified.


Evan Knies is Student Pastor at Bullitt Lick Baptist Church in Shepherdsville, Kentucky, and a student at Boyce College, the undergraduate school of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter at @Evan_Knies.

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