“Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein He pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.” Westminster Confession of Faith.
Standing Before God the Just Judge
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:23-24
Justification is an act. It occurs one time. It is not a process. Justification is the very basis for how we are reconciled to God. Without the doctrine of Justification, there can be no Christianity. We must be reconciled to God because we are guilty. We have sinned before the Holy Creator of the Universe. Because He is so completely Other, so truly Holy, any sin is treason against Him. We as sinners stand at enmity against Him. God being a just judge has declared a righteous sentence – we are guilty, and our guilt cannot be overlooked. The only reasonable payment for treason against an Infinite God is an infinite punishment: eternity in Hell.
God chose to bestow mercy. It is graciousness to the undeserving. Mercy is going against the status quo to show unmerited favor. Jesus, being the God as the second person of the Trinity, is a perfect and infinite being. Only the death of such a perfect and infinite being could be an adequate payment of the crime against the perfect and infinite God. Christ bore our guilt on His body at the crucifixion and the Lord poured out His wrath on Him in our place. Christ took upon Himself our punishment. Because Christ paid the payment for our sin, we can stand before God completely justified. Our justification is apart from any good deeds we have done.
We could not possibly hope to be good enough to pay for our sins. The Bible says that the very best we can be is still rather pathetic in comparison to a perfect God who is completely unlike us. Any good deed done by us is not at all good in God’s eyes. Any good that a man does is only self-righteousness.
“For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds re like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” Isaiah 64:6
“And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live in righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” 1 Peter 2:24
Justification is solely a legal term. God declares us righteous based on the finished work of Christ. Justification has nothing to do with any change that occurred to the believer. Justification effects no change to man’s character whatsoever.
Justification is the verdict that God has proclaimed. The Sinner Condemned is no longer the man’s judicial standing – He is now Fully Righteous. Through justification, the believer is vindicated. He is no longer under the wrath of God. God poured out His wrath on Christ. He is now only under God’s merciful blessing.
In order to be rid of this burden of guilt, we must be justified before God. Only then is Christ’s righteousness accounted to us and that through the power of His blood can any of our offerings to God be counted as Good. It isn’t because of that which we do is inherently good, but because of Christ’s righteousness covering us. This fusion of Christ’s righteousness imputed onto us is how justification is synthetic. Without the righteousness of Christ applied to us, without this synthesis justification, we are condemned.
This is a very important concept. Justification has to be forensic in nature, and not referencing an inner moral change. Because in 2 Corinthians 5, we are told that Christ became sin for us. This does not mean that Christ became morally sinful, only that He bore our the legal guilt of our sins upon His body. This is referencing the forensic nature of justification. We are declared righteous, not made morally righteous in our character. This is the difference between justification and sanctification. Our justification inevitably leads to our glorification when we are with Him.
“Therefore, it was also credited to him as righteousness. Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.” Romans 4:22-25
“For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” Romans 5:19
“To whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:27
Here is a podcast episode about Sanctification