What is Justification?

Question: What is this word “Justification” that Christians keep using?

Answer: Basically speaking, justification means “right” and it is something we all spend a lifetime struggling to attain; justification for our actions, our beliefs, and our decisions. We endlessly seek justification from a variety of people, but the problem is that even when our decisions are justified, they’re only derived from other people. We are too often content to be justified before men when in fact, what we really need is to be justified or right before God.

According to God and simple observation, men are naturally rebellious against the Creator and because of our guilt, we can never do or say enough right things to make up for the bad we’ve already done in our lives. In other words, our good deeds will not and cannot justify the evil we’ve already willfully done. This is not good news! In fact, if this was the only news we had, we’d be most assuredly hopeless. Thankfully there is more to the story. The rest of the story is great news, however it does not center around us rather it focuses on God. Almost 2,000 years ago, God stepped into history, was born of a virgin, grew up walking a faultless life, died upon a Roman cross, and rose on the third day just as the Old Testament Scriptures said He would. (See Isaiah 7:14, 9:6, 53, and Psalm 22.)

Jesus did all this to perfectly display His heartfelt obedience to His Father in Heaven, obedience even unto death. Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection were perfect, making Jesus perfectly right, perfectly just. And since He is perfectly just, He can legally be the One Who justifies sinful mankind before our Heavenly Judge. Let’s say I stand guilty before a judge and the bailiff hands him a note. The note is written by a man offering to take my place in jail. Here’s the problem. The man who wrote the note is already serving a double life sentence for his own crimes. If he’s already serving his own sentence, it is impossible to take my place. If Jesus would not have lived a perfect life, He couldn’t have been justified to pay the penalty for others. Therefore the Bible calls Jesus both the Just and the Justifier of our souls. “To declare, I say, at this time [Jesus’] righteousness: that He might be just, and the justifier of him which believes in Jesus” Romans 3:26.

“Okay,” you say, “but how do I get this justification?”

There are only two possible options to receive God’s forgiveness. 

  • Option 1: We can work hard enough in an attempt to impress God. 
  • Option 2: We must simply turn from our pride, humbly asking God to forgive us based on the life, death, and resurrection of His only                   begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

Many have accurately said we are either forgiven by works or forgiven by faith. While true, it is also accurate to say that both options involve works. Either we are forgiven by our work or we are cleansed by Jesus’ finished work on the cross. Since all people are already serving life sentences due to our previous sins, it’s simply foolish to believe we can somehow be good enough in the future to get an early release. Following the law perfectly is what the law requires. We get no bonus points for that, and since we’ve sinned against the eternal God, our penalty is eternal. Option 1 is simply not a credible or reasonable choice. Throughout time, men have been willing to be deceived into this option only to discover the truth after it’s too late. God reminds us, “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” Hebrews 9:27. There are also many who believe they are Christians, but have trusted their efforts, not God’s work upon the cross. They too will sadly stand unjustified before Him. Jesus reminds us of this in Matthew 7:22-23, “Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name? and in Your name have cast out devils? and in Your name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, you that work iniquity.”

The only way to access the full and free forgiveness of God is through placing our faith in the finished work of Christ. By doing this we are admitting several things. First, we are admitting we are sinners and deserving of Hell, not Heaven. We are also saying we are, at the core, helpless and hopeless, in desperate need of not only the Savior’s forgiveness, but also of handing over the full reins of our hearts and minds. If God truly reigns, and He does, then we should have no problem handing over the reins. The Apostle Paul reminds us, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20. We must also admit that even after receiving God’s forgiveness that we are daily dependent upon our Lord and Savior. After receiving the Lord’s forgiveness yes, we are justified, but never because of our own decisions or our own actions. The realization that our need for Jesus is total and complete shouldn’t decrease over time, but rather increases more and more until we fully embrace the truth that God really is our all in all.

Once a sinner is born again by the power of God from the Gospel of God, he is justified to stand before the Judge of the universe, guiltless and faultless before His throne. This justification is not only a biblical reality, but an absolute necessity for every soul of every man. Justification before God by faith in Jesus Christ alone is not a religious preference. It is the truth with eternal significance!

“For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continues not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, the just shall live by faith.” Galatians 3:10-11 

“Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in [God’s] sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith in Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” Romans 3:20-24.

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