Justification: what is it?

Main Idea

Justification does not make a person right in that it cannot reverse what has been done nor does it change a person. But rather, justification reckons or declares a person righteous. It is not something we work out or work towards. It has been imputed, or accounted, (Romans 4:24) to us by God made possible by Jesus Christ dying on the cross for our sin.

Justification is a legal fact, and contends that God will not account your sin towards you, and therefore you will not be condemned. This is only possible if you believe on Jesus Christ. Thus, it is legal fact that a Christian will not be punished for his or her sin, but rather, God declares that person legally righteous, using the language of the court.


Justification is about our status before God, not what God does in us.

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

Note that we are not given righteousness so we can be justified (medieval theory) – for if this were true we have no assurance of salvation. But rather by grace we are saved through faith in Christ Jesus; and because of our faith we are declared just and thus righteousness is imputed to us (See Romans chapter 4).

Here we note that grace is not something at work in us – grace is God focused – it is an action of God towards man, therefore grace is said to be extrinsic to our nature. A person is declared righteous based on the future, that is, the finished work of Christ in that person, accomplished when we are taken to heaven. Notwithstanding, a Christian's position today is one of being justified before the Lord (Romans 5:1) – the key word in this verse is peace. Until justified we were enemies of God; justification brings peace.

Our worthiness is in Christ, not in ourselves – we are dead in our sin, therefore we cannot contribute to our salvation. It is only by faith, and faith alone, that we can be justified – through the work of Christ who died on the cross for our sins.

Life only comes from the Lord Jesus Christ, the son of God. Prior to life we were dead – dead in our trespasses (sins) (Ephesians 2:5). Yes, we may still have blood being pumped around our mortal bodies, but our bodies were just that – mortal, and on death we will judged and thrown into hell. Since life comes from Christ, and not from our feeble selves, justification tells a believer that he or she is saved, indeed, is assured of it – and more so, saved to life.

He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. (1 John 5:12-13)

We are declared righteous by God

We are sinners by nature – and therefore we cannot ourselves render ourselves righteous.  We are justified in Christ, but we continue to sin; we are declared righteous by God’s declaration, but in reality, we are still sinful (Romans 7). Why? There is no practicable action we can take to move from a state of unrighteous to a state of righteous – our sin will always get in the way. But a believer before God has been justified, and therefore made holy – God remembers our sin no more (Hebrews 8:12, 10:17). Therefore, we note that:

  • We are not proved righteous – there is no way for a human to become righteous on his own, since our very nature is unrighteous from birth.
  • We do not earn righteous –humans are incapable of working for righteous, which would mean keeping all the commandments of God; he or she will always fail (Romans 3:12 etc.).
  • We do not work out our righteous – if we did, we would boast, and hence fail, for pride causes all of us to fall (Ephesians 2). Indeed a worker incurs a debt if he works for righteousness (Romans 4:4) – if this were the case it would not be grace.

An example is given in Scripture – David found that a man is blessed if God imputes righteousness apart from works (Romans 4:6).  It is only external to ourselves can we be justified. Keeping the law does not do this, nor does being ‘’good” because man cannot be good (Mark 19:17, Romans 3:10 etc.), indeed our heart is deceitful and terribly wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). Sin causes unrighteousness – we ourselves cannot remove this stain.

Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh [person] will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20)

We fail again and again. We vow not to partake in a particular sin, but a few minutes later we fall into the same trap and sin. Our earthly nature is to sin – for this reason we cannot be justified by works. On the other hand our fruit (such as love, patience, gentleness etc.) is evidence that we have been declared just (i.e. on being justified) – our duty on being justified is to please God – this is what bearing fruit means, and what James explains in his book.[1]

Justification is a change in status before God

Justification is a change of status, not a change in nature. The issue is that we cannot change our nature – we are sinners, therefore, of our own selves cannot become righteous. As Jesus stated – one does not put new things in old worn out objects, for the old will merely fall apart (Mark 2:21-22). A believer must be born again (John 3) and therefore a Christian is a new creation (1 Corinthians 5:7, 2 Corinthians 5:17). Furthermore, a sinner cannot use the old to become new – the old needs to be reckoned dead (Romans 6:11), and the Holy Spirit renews the hearts and minds of that sinner. Indeed scripture says there is no good in us (Romans 3:12m 7:18) – hence we do not even have a good atom from which we could grow into a new ‘self’.  We need to be declared righteous by God to be justified.

Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:24)

Our Justification by Faith

Our justification is free – there is nothing we need do, or indeed, can do, but believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.
(Romans 3:28)

Why does God do this? Because He loves us, and therefore God caused Christ Jesus to become our redemption (Ephesians 1:7), which is the basis by which grace can be extended to all peoples.

One more matter we need to attend to which the popish church and all her descendants have imbued into their dogma and hence church teachings. This is the apostate notion that justification can take place without cost. Confessing one’s sin to a priest cannot make one sinless. For justification to take place, the wrath of God needed to be averted – no human priest is able to do this – even Aaron could not take away the guilt of sin (Hebrews 9). Only Christ was able and was perfect propitiation which appeased God’s wrath.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:23-26)

God is able to justify a person because of the propitiation provided by Christ. Note that some English, and no double other languages, substitute this word for others, such as “sacrifice of atonement”, which do not render a true meaning. Propitiation is not atonement; it concerns God and whether He will be satisfied with the sacrifice that Christ provided on the cross. In propitiation, God sees the suffering of Christ, and God’s justice is satisfied – and His wrath is appeased. In this, it provides an avenue for God to exercise love toward the sinner.  Note also faith only occurs because God first loved us.

We love Him because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

That is, Christ’s intercession for us does not change the size of the debt of our sin – He satisfies what is required by God for the sake of justice – it is a legal issue which has been solved. Jesus Christ becomes our substitute and assumes our responsibilities and obligations for the expiation of our guilt. This is why we can be justified. That is, it is only possible to be justified because Christ died on the cross, judging our sin and providing a means for redemption. As Edward Mote (1797-1874) writes – “All other ground is sinking sand”.[2]

[Christ] who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification. Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 4:25-5:1)

[1] Many mistake the book of James as saying one needs "works" to be justified. This is wrong - the book of James does not say we work out our justification through do good deeds, or keeping the law, but rather, a person is declared just by God demonstrates his or her righteousness in the works they perform. These works are the fruit of being make righteous.

[2] The Solid Rock < >


David L Simon (January 2018)
\Doctrine\Justification: what is it?


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