The text says God accepted Abraham’s faith and counted it as evidence for righteousness, which is how we understand it: our faith is the spiritual evidence and fruit of salvation.The text says NO SUCH THING!!Gen 15:6 And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
Rom 4:3 For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness."
Rom_4:9 Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness.
Gal_3:6 So also Abraham "believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness."
There is absolutely nothing in any of those verses that speak of evidence. All are very straightforward in what is said and what is meant. In each and every instance the clear meaning is that it was Abraham's faith in God that was reckoned, counted, credited to him as [for] righteousness. Abraham believed God, believed in God, had faith in God and based upon that faith God declared Abraham to be righteous.
There is no amount of twisting and distorting of any of those verses for which it could be argued that Abraham's faith was reckoned as evidence of anything.
The difference is significant~ is legal justification conditional, or is it unconditional? Is faith the means of righteousness before God, or is it only the evidence of righteousness?
You speak of legal justification as if there is any other kind of justification. There is not legal or illegal or unlegal justification. Justification is a legal term. I have taken much of the following from my favorite theologian, Dr. Jack Cottrell:
We may think of justification both as a specific act of God upon the sinner by virtue of which the sinner passes from the lost state to the saved state, and as the continuing state in which the saved person exists. The Christian may say both “I have been justified” (the act), and “I am justified” (the state). Our main concern here is the act. We can rightly hold that Justification means something God does. Indeed, it means a very specific thing God does. It is true that God also regenerates, sanctifies, and glorifies; but these are not the same as justification.
Justification has a distinct meaning. What is this meaning? A brief look at some Greek terminology will put us on the proper track. The noun usually translated “justification” is dikaiosis; the verb “to justify” is dikaioo. These terms are from the same word family as “righteous” (dikaios) and “righteousness” (dikaiosyne), which suggests that justification has something to do with righteousness. The problem is to identify the proper connection between them. In Christian theology since the Reformation there have been two main competing views of the meaning of justification as it relates to righteousness. One is that justification means that God declares us righteous by imputing righteousness to us; the other is that justification means that God makes us righteous by imparting righteousness to us.
Most Protestants believe that God actually does both of these things; the issue is, which is the proper definition of justification? In the latter view “imparted righteousness” is the personal obedience and good works God enables us to perform by the power of his grace working in us; it is the right moral character character we are enabled to attain by this power. Justification as God’s act is thus his ongoing process of making us more and more righteous or holy. To Protestants this process is actually sanctification, not justification; but in classic Roman Catholic theology this is how justification itself is understood. In Catholic doctrine “faith justifies, not by uniting the sinner to Christ, and making him a partaker of Christ’s righteousness,—but by ‘working’ in him, and ‘sanctifying’ him.” In this view faith justifies by producing within the believer “a real inherent righteousness, which is, on its own account, acceptable to God, and which constitutes the immediate ground of his acceptance;—in short, by making him righteous, subjectively”. The official conclusion of the Catholic Church’s authoritative Council of Trent (1545–1563) was that justification “is not only a remission of sins but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man through the voluntary reception of grace and gifts whereby the unjust man becomes just”. The formal cause of this justification “is the justice of God . . . by which he makes us just [i.e., righteous], . . . and not only are we reputed but we are truly called and are just, receiving justice within us” .
According to this view justification is a subjective process that takes place within the individual, an inward change in one’s moral character. This means that justification is tied to one’s works in a direct way, and because it is a process, one can never be certain that he has reached a level of works that makes him acceptable to God. Herein lies one of the major differences between classic Roman Catholicism and Reformation Protestantism.
To most Protestants this view of justification is seriously wrong and is a major stumbling block to a proper overall understanding of salvation and to a Christian life of peace and assurance. We understand God’s act of justification to be not the impartation of righteousness, but the imputation of righteousness. “To justify” means not to make righteous, but to declare righteous, to count or reckon or accept as righteous. The state of justification is not an ever-increasing holiness of character, but a complete right legal standing before the law of God and a freedom from the law’s penalty.
That justification means to declare righteous rather than to make righteous is seen in the use of the verb dikaioo in Luke 7:29, which says literally that the people who heard Jesus’ teaching about John the Baptist “justified God” (KJV). Obviously this cannot mean that the people made God righteous; they were simply declaring or acknowledging him to be righteous. Thus the NASB translates this as “They acknowledged God’s justice,” and the NIV says they “acknowledged that God’s way was right.” Likewise when God justifies us he is not making us righteous but is declaring us so.
That this is the proper meaning of the concept is also seen in the fact that in Scripture justification is basically a legal (judicial, forensic) concept. That is, in the Bible it is a judge’s verdict or finding after he has considered the evidence and found a person to be innocent. “To justify” is always the opposite of “to condemn.” For example, Deuteronomy 25:1 says that when men go to court, “the judges decide their case, and they justify the righteous and condemn the wicked.” Likewise Proverbs 17:15 condemns a corrupt judge “who justifies the wicked” and “condemns the righteous” (see Isa 5:23). This same contrast between justification and condemnation is seen in God’s own judicial verdict: “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns?” (Rom 8:33-34; see Matt 12:37). Obviously when a judge condemns someone he does not thereby make that person guilty; he only discovers and declares him to be so. Likewise when a judge justifies someone he does not thereby make that person innocent or righteous; he simply declares him to be so.
There is a major difference between justification as an act of a human judge and justification as a saving act of God. Human judges, unless they are corrupt (Prov 17:15), justify only the innocent; they declare someone righteous only if he is indeed already righteous or innocent. This is what the law requires. But in the act of salvation God justifies guilty sinners (Rom 4:5); he declares the unrighteous to be righteous! How can God go against the standards of his own law (Deut 25:1) and do the very thing that he himself has forbidden in Proverbs 17:15? When God justifies us, he is declaring that, even though we are sinners, we are now “square” with the law. How can this be since we as sinners have broken the commands of the law? First we must remember that the way of salvation is grace, not law; and the principles by which grace operates are the very opposite of law, as we saw in the previous chapter. But this is not the whole story.
In order to understand precisely what is happening in justification, we must remember that law consists not only of commands but also of penalties. There is no longer any way that a sinner can be right with the law (i.e., justified) in reference to its commands, since we are guilty of breaking them. When God justifies us, he is not declaring that we are innocent and have never broken the law’s commands. Rather, justification is God’s declaration that we are right with the law in reference to its penalty. It means that God treats us not as if we are innocent, because we are not; rather, it means that he treats us as if our penalty has already been paid—which it has! The best way for a Christian to understand what it means to be justified is to picture himself as a defendant standing in a courtroom before God as the presiding Judge, and to hear God pronounce his verdict: “No penalty for you!” Many will say that God’s judicial declaration is “Not guilty!” but that is not so. Justification does not remove our guilt, but it deals with it by removing the condemnation that goes with it (Rom 8:1).
Thus the Judge’s precise declaration is “No penalty for you!” To be justified thus does not mean that God treats me just as if I’d never sinned, but rather just as if I’d already paid my penalty. remission of sins, and the washing away of sins (in the sense that God removes them from the books and does not hold them against us). This becomes clear as we follow Paul’s line of thought from Romans 3:27 through Romans 4:8. After asserting the fact of and using the language of justification throughout this passage, Paul proves his point by citing Psalms 32:1-2, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD will not take into account.” This shows that justification and forgiveness are one and the same. God justifies sinners by forgiving them, by not holding their sins against them.
It is important to see that justification is thus not a change in our character or in our inner nature; it is a change in our relationship to God and especially to God’s law. The change is objective, not subjective. It solves the problem of guilt, not the problem of corruption. It is also important to see that this change is not a gradual process, but is an immediate and complete change in our status before God. By God’s pronouncement, at a specific, instantaneous moment we are changed from being 0% unforgiven to being 100% forgiven before God. The abiding state of justification begins in that instant and continues in its fullness (100%) for as long as we remain in union with Christ. Justification is not just the forgiveness of individual sins, but the forgiveness of the entire person.
Now all of that dealt with the theological meaning, the definition, of justification of the sinner by God. You can find most of this in the book The Faith Once For All
, by Jack Cottrell, published by College Press. I highly recommend his book.
It remains to determine the basis for that justification. I will leave that for another time and I apologize for the length of this post, but I think, under the circumstances, it is important.