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What is Justification?

What is Justification?

What Does It Mean To Be Saved?

Jon Delger

Executive Pastor

Peace Church

Published On:

November 16, 2023

As you are studying the Bible, you will eventually come across some big words that you don’t use in everyday conversation. Justification is one of those words, and it is an important word, so let’s talk about it.

Short Answer: What is Justification?

Simply put, to be justified is to be declared righteous.

Some key passages include Romans 3:21-26; Romans 4:1-8; Romans 5:1; Romans 8:30; Romans 10:10; Galatians 2:16.

When we look at these passages, we see that justification is at the very heart of the gospel, the good news of Jesus. We are sinful people. We have fallen short of God’s perfect standard (Rom. 3:23). As a result of our sin, we are deserving of death (Rom. 6:23). Unlike us, Jesus came and lived a life of perfect righteousness (Heb. 4:15). He then died on the cross not for his own sin, but for our sin as a substitute (Rom. 5:6). What happens on the cross has been called “The Great Exchange.”

On the cross, Jesus takes our sin and dies for it, while giving us his righteousness. All of our sin was counted to him, and all his perfection was counted to us. When we put our faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, God declares us righteous (Rom. 10:10), not because we are perfect but because Jesus has taken away our sin and given us his righteousness.

When we repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:14), trusting Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we are justified.

Longer Answer: What is Justification?

The gospel is the heart of the Christian faith, and justification is at the heart of the gospel. So let’s go a step further and make sure we understand it accurately by looking at a few of its parts.

Justification is a legal change. God is the judge and we stand in the courtroom guilty and condemned. But then Jesus steps up to receive the guilty sentence in our place. As a result, God declares us innocent and righteous. It is a legal declaration. It does not mean that we are actually perfect in our actions or that we will now no longer sin.

Justification is part of our union with Christ. When we put our faith in Jesus, Scripture says that we are now “in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are one with Christ. This is another way to think about how we can be called righteous. It is because we are one with Christ the righteous.

Justification has a relational component. God is holy and cannot tolerate sin. How can a sinner have a relationship with God? When we are justified, our sin is wiped off the slate and we can finally have a relationship with God.

Justification is related to a specific understanding of the cross. Throughout history, some liberal theologians have said that Jesus died as a great example of love, but that his death did not have to do with taking away our sin. Liberal theology has always struggled to talk about sin, hell, and God’s wrath. However, the idea of justification depends upon understanding the cross as penal substitutionary atonement (John 1:29).

Penal = punishment, Jesus took our punishment.

Substitutionary = Jesus was our substitute, dying in our place.

Atonement = Jesus’ death atoned for or took away our sin.

How justification works is at the center of the divide between Catholics and Protestants. Catholics believe that righteousness is not imputed (given/counted) to us by Christ, but rather is infused into us. According to Roman Catholic teaching, we are justified by a combination of Jesus’ death on the cross as well as partly earning our justification through good works. By contrast, Protestants see in the Bible that justification is a gift from God that cannot be earned. Our good works are the fruit of our salvation, not part of the means by which we get saved.

Finally, it is important to know that justification and sanctification are distinct but also cannot be separated. For more, see our article on Sanctification.

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