In the past for posts like this, I’ve presented a relatively broad topic, and posted a full 80-minute playlist of gospel songs dealing with that topic. I’m going to change things up a little bit here and go after a specific Biblical doctrine, and go more in depth on a few songs that deal with it.
The doctrine of justification is one of the most glorious of the Scriptures. Simply put, justification is the aspect of salvation in which the guilty is declared righteous. An essential key is that the saved does not become righteous in the sight of God, through doing righteous things. The believer is made righteous in the sight of God, through the blood of Jesus alone. We are certainly sinners saved by grace, but God views us as having never sinned at all! And it’s all because Christ took those sins and paid their debt, once and for all, on Calvary, and because that payment has been applied through salvation.
One of the central texts for the doctrine of justification is found in Romans 3:
21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;
22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:
23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
Notice the emphasis is that righteousness is declared on the believer. In ourselves, there is nothing even close to righteous, but don’t tell that to God. If you’re washed in the blood, He won’t know what you’re talking about.
If we were to search for a “central text” on justification in gospel songs, I believe it would be found in “When You Look at Me,” a Dianne Wilkinson composition recorded by the Kingdom Heirs in 2009. There is not a gospel songwriter today more keyed into Bible doctrine than Wilkinson, and this song is a tremendous example. The doctrine of justification is presented so plainly throughout the lyric, but I’ll highlight the chorus:
I faced you then in the rags of my sin
Helpless and hopeless, I stood there condemned
But Lord, when you saved me, you cleansed me that day
You clothed me, and threw all my old rags away
When others see me, I look just like them
Imperfect, as they all can see
But You see me righteous, forgiven and free
Lord, that’s what You see, when You look at me
I highly recommend watching this video and taking in the entire lyric.
One beautiful song that deals God’s view of us, that many southern gospel listeners may not be familiar with, is “In My Father’s Eyes,” a song written by Gary Duty and recorded by the bluegrass gospel group The Rochesters several years ago. The second verse ends with a wonderful play on words: “And maybe then I’ll understand just what He saw in me…but I’m sure I’ll find He was blinded by the Son.” Then the chorus: “In my father’s eyes, there’s no wrong I’ve done…In my father’s eyes, I am the perfect son.” Watch the ultra-talented Ben Rochester set up and deliver the song:
Legacy Five’s iconic anthem “I Stand Redeemed,” written by Christina DeGazio, Kelly Garner, and Belinda Smith, also presents this doctrine, in a most powerful manner: “When He looks at me, He sees the nail-scarred hands that bought my liberty…I stand redeemed!”
I covered in detail one more magnificent song on this topic a couple of months ago. The bridge of Rodney Griffin’s “God Saw a Cross” and the last chorus, speaks of the justification of the sinner: “When God sees me, He only sees the cross”.
The idea of being made and declared righteous is contained beautifully in the lyrics of Greater Vision’s “Unworthy, But Made Worthy,” written by Joel Ritchey: “Unworthy, unworthy, but made worthy through the blood of the Lamb…Forbidden from heaven, but forgiven through the blood of the Lamb.”
A song that deals with justification in a direct and obvious way is “Justified,” written by Chris Binion and recorded by the Kingsmen. The chorus brings it home with a summation of the condition of the justified: “Just if I had never sinned, just if I was always cleansed, just if I had never strayed so far from home”.
One angle to the doctrine of justification is the forgetfulness of God. The only thing God ever forgets, and He’s the only one who can do so willingly, is the sin of those who trust Christ. There are several well-known and not-so-well-known songs that deal with this specific topic:
- “In the Depths of the Sea,” Cathedrals (Phil & Carolyn Cross): ” My sins are separated as darkness from dawn…Praise God, I’m forgiven, my sins are all gone”
- “What Sins Are You Talking About?” Speer Family (Harold Lane): “Each time that I bow to give Him thanks for removing my guilt and shame…He cannot recall what I’m talking about, for His answer is always the same…What sins are you talking about? I don’t remember them anymore”
- “Grace Doesn’t Remember,” Perrys (Joseph Habedank, Kelly Garner, Amy Keffer): “Grace doesn’t remember what Jesus forgives”
- “He Forgot,” Perrys (Joseph Habedank, Matthew Holt): “I remember what I used to be, but He forgot ‘em all when He set me free”
These are just a few wonderful songs that tell us how we are justified through Christ. I’m sure there are more…what songs can you come up with? In general, I challenge you to seek out good doctrine in your gospel songs…it makes the music all the more powerful when you really grab hold of the message!