What is Justification?

Churchatthegates   -  

I wanted to call this Theology 101: Justification. But I thought that it would send the wrong message. 101 would indicate that this is a truth for beginner’s that we should aim to graduate past but some truths are not meant to ever be moved on from. So whether you have no idea what justification is or you have heard it a million times it is worth diving into one of the foundational truths to our Christian faith. So for lack of a better title, welcome to: What is Justification?

Definition: Justification is (1) the legal act of God to declare someone as “not guilty” before him and (2) to be righteous in his sight because of Jesus Christ.

Part 1: Declared “Not Guilty”

You and I have a legal problem. We know that breaking a law makes one legally guilty. God has given us a perfect law that reflects his character and points humanity towards flourishing. Yet you and I have continually broken this law. We call this sin. We are legally guilty before God. What does this mean?

  1. It means we have broken God’s law.
  2. We are guilty in his sight.
  3. We are deserving of a punishment equal to the magnitude of our crimes (rebellion against an infinitely good and holy God…so pretty bad).
  4. And for God to punish us would not make him cruel or unloving, it would in fact be the just result of our sinful choices.

The case against us in the court is insurmountable. We have no defense. We have nothing to bring to the courtroom to argue our case. God is a just and righteous judge who will by no means allow the guilty to go unpunished (Exodus 34:7).

Then in an instant everything in our world changes. What we owe God we could never pay. We would need someone else, someone untainted by sin, to do everything we were supposed to do. We would need someone to be perfect, untouched by sin, to fulfill the law on our behalf. We would need someone totally and completely not guilty under the law to stand in our place.

But even more than that, if we could find someone who would do that, we would need them to then offer to take the punishment our guilt deserves. We would need someone to pay our fine, to do our jail time, to receive the capital punishment we deserve. We need someone who is not guilty, to pay the punishment for our guilt.

And this is exactly what Jesus Christ does. As the perfect Son of God, God himself, yet fully human and able to represent us, Jesus dies in our place.

God response to this death is to credit it to our account. Our sins are forgiven. Our slate is wiped clean. Our guilt is paid for and no longer impedes our relationship with our loving heavenly father (who happens to also be the judge).

This is justification. That we are declared righteous. We are not righteous. We are guilty. We are declared righteous.

To declare someone not guilty is to say they will be seen, treated, and thought of as not guilty.

Why are we not seen as guilty? Because the punishment our crime deserved has been paid for, the debt has been paid, we owe nothing. In fact, for the judge to exact further payment from us would be unjust because he would be taking twice the payment for the wrongs. If you are justified, declared not guilty, it is because your sin is paid for, so for God to require further payment from you would actually be unjust. And God is perfectly just, and he will never require payment from someone whose debt is paid. (Insert mind blown emoji here).

It gets even better. We are now beneficiaries of the double jeopardy clause meaning that we can never be tried again in this courtroom because the one who died in our place said it is finished (John 19:30).

Oh but there’s even moooooore! Let’s get to the second part of our definition.

Part 2: Declared “Righteous”

We are declared righteous in his sight (Romans 3:20-22). Through Jesus Christ our guilt is taken away but we are not merely moved to a spiritually neutral state, rather a divine trade takes place. Christ takes our sin on himself, and then gives us his righteousness in exchange.

2 Corinthians 5:21 – For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Christ became our sin. He took it on for our sake, because of his love for his people, and traded us the perfect righteousness that he had. Justification is a legal declaration that we are not only free from our guilt but we are declared righteous.

We are to be seen, treated, and thought of as having Christ’s righteousness.

And this is not because we actually are perfectly righteous but it is because Christ is perfectly righteous and through his death and resurrection we have been spiritually united to him (Galatians 3:26-28).

This is referred to as double imputation. Our sin is imputed to Christ and his righteousness is imputed to us. We lose our guilt and we gain his righteousness.

Does this mean Christ is infected with our sin still? By no means! He died for our guilt but was raised from the grave and conquered sin and death and disarmed the very powers that held us captive (Colossians 2:15).

Justification is the greatest news in the world. But we should ask ourselves what initiates this decree of God on our behalf? Faith.

Justification is God’s response to our faith.

You see, justification cannot be earned or achieved. It is not given because someone is worthy or deserves it more than someone else. We are powerless to achieve it on our own.

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

If you’ve made it this far and you are a visual learner you’ve earned this. Here you go! (Credit to our Ministry Assistant Katie for making this).

Clarifying Statements:

  • Justification is a one-time event (Romans 5:1).
  • Justification does not mean you no longer sin (Romans 3:23).
  • Justification is not a license to sin all the more (Romans 6:2).
  • Justification cannot be earned (Romans 3:28).
  • Justification cannot be overturned (John 6:39).
  • Justification is by faith alone not through works, but being justified by God changes our life so that our works more and more resemble Jesus Christ (James 2).

We are closing in on 1200 words so now I’m going to give you the cheat code for how to remember being justified.

Just as if I’d never sinned.” If you don’t get it, say it out loud.

Application: What does this mean for our lives? Well, everything, but let me share a few that come to mind.

  • If our faith is in Jesus Christ we can have the utmost confidence in our salvation and standing before God. It will not change. It has been declared.
  • We can have confidence that difficulties in our life are not a punishment for sin because the punishment has already been given out.
  • When we do sin, we can approach God with boldness knowing that he will grant forgiveness because we have been justified and given Christ’s righteousness.
  • We never have to wonder about the look on God’s face when he thinks about us…it is the same look he would give Jesus because of all Jesus has done on our behalf.