What is God’s Justification of Man?
Definition of Justification
While there are many things which happen in the experience of the Christian at the moment of salvation, there are also a number of things which happen outside the realm of experience which are nevertheless just as real. The conversion/regeneration experience coincides with a legal declaration of our righteous standing before God. This aspect of salvation is called “justification.” This exciting aspect of the doctrine of salvation gave birth to the Protestant Reformation.
Justification is the act whereby God declares a person righteous when he or she trusts Christ. It is the means by which God establishes a legal relationship between God and people. It doesn’t make people perfect but rather declares them perfect in God’s sight. Someone has put it this way: “Justification means God sees me ‘just-as-if’ I’d never sinned!”
Justification is Non-experiential
It gives us a new standing before God and is the means by which we enter into a new position in the heavenlies (Eph. 2:6). It is a judicial act on the part of God that results in our having peace with God (Rom. 5:1). The Bible describes justification in several contexts. The possibility of our justification was accomplished by the atoning death of Christ (Rom. 3:24-25). Justification is applied to the life of the Christian when he or she exercises justifying faith (Rom. 5:1). We give evidence of the reality of our justification by the good works which issue from our life (James 2:18, 24).
Abraham is the first person in Scripture who is described as having been justified by faith (Gen. 15:6).Abraham did not consider the circumstances of his life which made the realization of God’s promise to him seem impossible, but was “fully persuaded that, what he (God) had promised, he was able also to perform” (Rom. 4:21). This faith in God resulted in his justification (Gen. 15:6). Later, Abraham demonstrated the reality of his faith by doing what God wanted Him to do (James 2:21).
Some people fail to understand the relationship between faith and works in justification. They attempt to impress God with a variety of good works hoping to be accepted by God. But the Bible teaches that our sin has separated us from God. Even if we were to live perfect lives from this day until the day we die, the sins we have already committed would stand in the way of our being declared righteous. The only way we can be justified before God is to accept Christ’s righteousness by faith. Then when His righteousness has become our righteousness, we will naturally want to do the kind of good works He did, demonstrating to others the change which has already taken place in our life.
In justification, God declares us not guilty of sin and we have a perfect record in heaven. When He looks at us, He sees the record of His Son and applies it to our case.
Justification is the act whereby our legal position in heaven is changed. This act in and of itself does not change the person being justified. But as that person begins to realize what was involved in his or her justification, it will be expressed in a new lifestyle. When a person is declared a citizen of a new country, there is no physical change in the person. But as he or she begins to apply the benefits of citizenship, that person begins to do things that would not have been allowed or done previously (voting, enjoying certain liberties, etc.).
We are Justified at Our Conversion
It often takes time to experience the change which has taken place in our life. The process by which we apply our salvation to a lifestyle which becomes more Christlike is called “sanctification.”
The key to sanctification is letting Christ live His life fully through our life (Gal. 2:20).The apostle Paul describes this process throughout his epistles, but perhaps never so clearly as in Romans 6. In that chapter, he used four verbs to describe the practical steps in working out our personal salvation into a consistent Christian lifestyle.
The first of these four verbs is “know” (Rom. 6:3, 6, 9). Our actions as Christians are the result of certain attitudes which are based on biblical truth. Paul wanted us to know that we have been identified with Christ in His death. This means that just as Christ had victory over death, so we also can have victory over the old nature which has been crucified with Christ. Knowing we can have spiritual victory is the first step in experiencing that victory.
The second word used by Paul is “reckon” (Rom. 6:11). This word means to count on or rely upon this to be true. If we know the old nature is “dead,” we should count on this to be true when we face temptation. If that part of our life is dead, we should not try to revive it by encouraging it to sin. Rather, reckon it dead and don’t sin.
The third key verb in this chapter is “yield” (Rom. 6:13). It is not enough to simply not respond to sin with the old nature. We also need to respond positively to God with our new nature. Yielding to God means that we give Him the “right of way” in our life.
Finally, Paul also used the word “obey” (Rom. 6:16-17) to describe the fourth step in this process. Obedience is the natural implication of recognizing Jesus as Lord in our life. Regardless of what we say, the one we are most ready to obey is the real Lord in our life. When we fail to obey Christ, we deny His lordship in that area of our life.
The process of sanctification is similar to a child learning to walk. As the child takes his or her first steps, that child begins walking. But usually the new walker will stumble and fall many times before walking becomes second nature. This is often the experience in the Christian life as we attempt to “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called” (Eph. 4:1). As you begin taking these steps, there may be times when you stumble and fall. This does not mean you will never be successful in living the Christian life, only that you are learning. Like the child who stumbles, you need to get up again and try taking another step. At first, you may have to concentrate on each step and strive to keep balance in your Christian life. But as you become more experienced in your Christian life, you will find these steps in your walk becoming a second nature.