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QUESTION: What does the word "justification" mean?



ANSWER: The term “justification” is a legal term that means “to declare righteous.”  The word does not mean to transform or to change, but rather to vindicate.  God justifies us through faith in His Word.  He declares us righteous in the court of Heaven.


Notice what the Word of God says: Romans 3:28, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” Romans 5:1, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Galatians 2:16, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” Galatians 3:11, “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 3:24, “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”


A person is justified by faith who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sin and as their only hope of eternal life.  Thus believing, we appear in the sight of God not as a sinner but as a righteous man.


The Bible clearly teaches that no sin of any kind will be allowed to enter Heaven.  The problem is that we are all sinners.  God cannot ignore this fact and remain holy, but He can demonstrate grace to us if the penalty has been paid.  Because the debt must be paid by a sinless sacrifice, He became that sacrifice for us on our behalf and because He loved us.


So what do we do?  Peter tells us in Acts 10:36-41.  He outlines the righteous life of Christ, His death and His resurrection as the fulfillment of all righteousness.  The perfect obedience required to please God was fulfilled in the life and death of Jesus Christ and to those who believe  “in Him” (not “about Him”) this righteousness is credited in the place where the guilt of sin puts charges against us. Paul (Romans 10:4) and Isaiah (Isaiah 53:5-11) both confirm what Peter said.


It is by what Christ “learned through obedience” (Heb 5:8), His experience of living and dying as a man (the God-Man) wholly dependent on God that He can justify us.  Our experience is one of going astray (Isa 53:6) and sinning.  Even as Christians we still offend in many ways (James 3:2) and we still fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23).  That’s why the Bible clearly declares that it is by the obedience of one man (Christ) that many are made righteous (Romans 5:19).


So what work “justifies” me before a Holy God?  It is the work that Jesus did when He was alive and ultimately died in my place on the cross.  That is why or how I can be accepted by God.  God doesn’t “lower the standard” to let us into Heaven He meets it by the life, work, death and subsequent resurrection of His precious, only-begotten Son.  We are not justified by what God does in us, we are justified (legally declared righteous) on the basis of what God did for us: sending His Son (Himself) to the cross.