What is Justification?
Where We Stand With God
Each of us can be transformed by understanding our position with God. First, we must understand how to enter this new position. The doorway to our new position is justification by faith (Rom. 5:1). Our new position is not an experience based on feeling. We are now to be considered as sons of God with all the privileges of living in the heavenlies. This position involves our legal standing before God, not our struggles of everyday life.
The Christian life has a heavenly standing and an earthly state. By justification, we have a legal standing by which we are declared righteous before God, and, on the basis of this judicial act, the Christian enjoys the life and peace of God. He no longer has to worry about offending God; God is pleased with him because of justification. God has graciously accepted the Christian into his family. By faith the Christian “acts” on the account that is once and for all settled in heaven.
Faith of Abraham
Abraham is the first person in the Bible described as having been justified by faith (Gen. 15:6). This is not saying he was the first person to become a child of God. When God made a promise to Abraham, he accepted it as possible and trusted in God as though the results were actual although it would be thirteen years before God would fulfill the promise. Abraham’s act of believing resulted in a declaration by God that Abraham was justified.
The Bible testifies of Abraham, “He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform” (Rom. 4:20, 21). The secret to Abraham’s faith was his conviction that God would do what he had promised.
God promised that Abraham would have a son. Abraham “considered his own body now dead” (Rom. 4:19), yet he trusted the promise that God would give him a son. The Bible says Abraham “believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead” (Rom. 4:17). As a result of this belief, Abraham was justified.
We must look beyond our inner faith to its object–God. We must understand the commands and promises of the Bible. Then when we understand what God has promised, we can claim those promises. Faith is simply accepting what God has promised in the Bible and acting upon it.
Justification is an act whereby God declares a person righteous when that man trusts Christ. Hence, the Bible teaches that justification establishes a legal relationship between God and man. Justification declares men perfect it God’s sight, and results in man’s elevation to a new position in the heavenlies (Eph. 2:6).
Justification and righteousness are linked in Scripture, in, that both come from the same word (dikaios means “righteous” and dikaioo means “to justify”). When we express saving faith in God, God enters “righteous and perfect” to our record in heaven. This is the act of justification. Since justification and righteousness represent words of common origin, these can be distinguished by noting that God is the source, declaring us righteous; and man is the recipient, being declared righteous.
Our Record and Christ’s
Two things happen at salvation. Our sin is transferred to Jesus Christ. He became our sinbearer and took our punishment. Christ died for us (John 1:29), giving his life a ransom for many (Matt. 20:20). Second, the perfection of Jesus Christ is credited to our account. We become, as far as the record is concerned, as perfect as the Son of God. When asked why we should be allowed in heaven, our answer is simple: “I am declared to be as perfect as Jesus Christ.” In the act of justification, we are declared as righteous as God’s Son. “For God hath made him to be sin for us… that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Both sides of the transaction are mentioned in that verse.
If someone is convicted of a criminal offense, he stands guilty before the law. His record will show he was guilty. But if he is charged with an offense, and the judge dismisses the case against him, he is not considered guilty. His record has no mark or violation against it. “Acquittal” means that the record indicates that the accused did not commit the crime. Our justification before God is as one who has been acquitted.
The second part to justification declares that we have a perfect record before God. This same declaration is made of us when we are justified by faith. We are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ; we have the merit of someone else.
Justification is an act whereby our legal position in heaven is changed. Being declared justified is similar to the act whereby a government declares that an alien is a citizen. The moment the person is pronounced a citizen, nothing happens to him physically. His thought processes remain the same, as does his personality and pattern of speech. The only actual change is his legal standing. But as he becomes aware of the benefits of being a citizen, he may shout, cry, or break out into a grin.
The emotional reaction has no organic connection to his changed legal status, but surely there is a cognitive relationship with his new advantages. In the same way, justification changes our legal papers in heaven; we become children of God. In response to this new relationship we may cry, rejoice, or worship God in silent gratitude.