Most of us has studied or are studying the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians. In it we will come across the word – justification – several times. It is a big word (or doctrine, if you like), but what does it mean for the everyday ordinary Christian? First, let me offer an explanation of the meaning of the word from the New Bible Dictionary. In Scripture, God is ‘the Judge of all the earth’ (Gen. 18:25 – “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?"), and His dealings with men are constantly described in forensic terms. God’s Law is a complex of moral goals and standards by which His rational creatures should live. God requires human creatures – those created in His image – to be righteous. That is, to conform to His law. For those who don’t (and all of us, sadly, don’t), the Judge, to show His own righteousness, condemns and metes out punishment on those who fall short of it. To do the opposite of this is to “justify”.
To justify means to acquit, to “declare righteous”. Justifying is the Judge’s act – only the Judge can do that; only He can declare one righteous. It is a judicial term indicating that a verdict of acquittal has been announced, and so the possibility of condemnation is excluded.
In Scripture, justification is always set over against condemnation. Justification is always accomplished on a just basis, which means, the claims of God’s law against the sinner have been fully satisfied. Justification is not because of any overlooking, suspending, or altering of God’s righteous demands, but because in Christ all of His demands have been fulfilled.
Christ’s perfect life of obedience to the law and His atoning death which paid its penalty are the basis for our justification (Rom 5:9). Justification could never be based on our good works, for God requires perfect obedience and this is impossible for man. The means of justification is faith (Rom 3:22, 25, 28, 30). Faith is never the ground of justification; it is the means or channel through which God’s grace can impute to the believing sinner the righteousness of Christ. When we believe, all that Christ is, God puts to our account; thus we stand acquitted. Then God can justly announce that acquittal, and that pronouncement is justification.
The Bible never says we are justified on account of our faith—that would make faith a meritorious work and thus justification by works. Faith is like an outstretched empty hand which receives the righteousness of Christ. The believer is righteous because He is in Christ; God can announce that He is righteous, and that is justification.
The benefits of being justified include: citizenship in heaven (Phil 3:20), membership in a holy and royal priesthood (1 Pet 2:5, 9), membership in the family of God (Eph 2:19) by spiritual birth (John 3:5), marriage (Rev 19:7), and being complete in Christ (Col 2:9–10), possessing every spiritual blessing (Eph 1:3).
To be justified is the blessing of salvation: it is to be under grace, so that we need not continue in sin (Rom 6:14); it is to be freed from the law (2 Cor 3:6–13), and to be indwelt by each Person of the Godhead (Eph 4:6; Gal 2:20; 1 Co 6:19).
If you are not yet justified, would you not want to?
Pastor Robert Chew