What Is Justification? What Has Gone Done to Us Through Christ?
A man was summoned to court because he had neglected to pay his taxes for many years. He now owed such an immense debt, he could never pay it back. Just as the judge was about to throw the man into prison, an unexpected turn of events happened.
The man had an advocate. His older brother suddenly volunteered to pay the entire debt on behalf of the man. The judge was suspicious at first. But it all checked out. The debt was paid in full and therefore the man was released.
In the eyes of the law, this man was now totally free and had no criminal record. He had done wrong. He had lived an irresponsible life. He had incurred massive debt. His own deeds deserved prison time. But because of the actions of his advocate, the judge pronounced the man free and innocent.
This is what Jesus does for us. In the eyes of the Judge, we are guilty without Christ. We stand before him with a debt so large we can never pay it back. The just thing is for us to be in prison for eternity. But Jesus steps in and pays the debt for us.
Now, what if this person in our story after leaving the court started making payments on his old debt anyway? He works every day, all day, seven days a week, desperately trying to pay the amount he had previously owed. He is actually free in the eyes of the law. But the way this man lives, it’s as though he is still imprisoned by the law.
This is what it’s like when Christians start trying to have a right relationship with God through obedience to the law rather than through faith in Jesus. When we are offered salvation through faith and by grace, but we then try to have a right relationship with God through obeying the law, we are choosing to be condemned by the very thing we were rescued from. The only way to be right with God is through embracing our justification given to us through Jesus Christ. Galatians 2:16 says:
Yet we know that a person is made right with God [justified] by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God [justified] because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God [justified] by obeying the law.”
Justification is a legal term that means someone is declared innocent of past crimes. Jesus justified us by imparting his innocence to us. God laid our sin on Jesus when he was on the cross and then God laid Jesus’ righteousness on us when we believed. 2 Corinthians 5:21 “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Justification refers to our eternal position in Christ. You’ve been given Christ’s purity, Christ’s righteousness, Christ’s love, Christ’s perfection. When God looks at you, God sees the perfect qualities of Christ because God imparted those perfections to us through faith. Warren Wiersbe said, “Justification is not a process; it is an act. It is not something the sinner does; it is something God does for the sinner when he puts his faith in Christ. It is a one-for-all event. It never changes.” Galatians 3:10-12 says:
But those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law.” 11 So it is clear that no one can be made right with God [justified] by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” 12 This way of faith is very different from the way of law, which says, “It is through obeying the law that a person has life.”
When we are justified through faith, we are literally given the purity, holiness, and new nature of Jesus Christ. We can never be declared perfect by God through our own actions. You are a new creation if you have put your faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit enters into us and gives us the life of Christ (Galatians 3:1-5).
Why Is Justification So Important for Transformation?
But suppose we seek to be made right with God [justified] through faith in Christ and then we are found guilty because we have abandoned the law. Would that mean Christ has led us into sin? Absolutely not! 18 Rather, I am a sinner if I rebuild the old system of law I already tore down. 19 For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God. (Galatians 2:17-19)
When we become a Christian, we often think we are getting a “second chance” at obeying the law. We think, “Now I’m really going to get it right!” But this is not the point of Christianity. This is not our second chance to live by obeying the law. Rather, Christ fulfilled the requirements of the law for us. Now we must learn to live by faith in Christ.
The “second chance” mentality is not accurate. The amount of chances we have had is not the problem. If you were given another chance with your same old self, everything would turn out the same because your spiritual condition is the same and our spiritual condition is what determines are actions.
Rather than give us a second chance, God justifies us and gives a sure thing. You are perfectly holy, pure, and new because God has transferred the life of Christ into you. By justifying us, God has not only wiped out our debts but has also given us endless resources in our spiritual bank accounts. In an instant, God justified you and gave everything you need for life and godliness:
3 By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. 4 And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. (2 Peter 1:3-4)
At the end of World War I, the victorious countries sought retribution from the losers, especially from Germany. As a way to punish the Germans, the victorious countries created the Treaty of Versailles. This treaty took away lands, profits, certain trading privileges, and much military freedom. It was so costly to the already defeated Germany that through the coming decades the Germans would endure a dark economic depression.
As times grew harder and harder for the German people, they blamed the Treaty of Versailles more and more. Their animosity towards the world grew and they became very welcoming to any rising leaders who would stand up and defy the restrictions placed on them. One leader seemed to capture the hearts of the people like no one else. His stirring speeches played on the peoples’ discontentment and empowered them with bold, brash words. As he grew in power, he led the Nationalist Socialist Party towards complete control over all of Germany. Later he transformed this political entity into the Nazi Party. His name was Adolf Hitler.
Most historians agree the penalties placed on Germany after losing World War I were a major contributor to what caused Hitler to rise to power and cause World War II. The people were so desperate to escape the penalties ruining their country, Hitler won their affection as he promised a stronger Germany unwilling to back down to anyone.
When the Germans were again the losers in World War II, in the years to follow US President Truman realized that if strict penalties were placed on Germany once more, Europe as a whole could never recover. He feared in the decades to follow another war caused by discontent Germans may become a real possibility. Instead of penalizing the Germans and making them open to help from America’s enemies, the United States adopted the Marshal Plan. This plan purposefully did not take into account the past faults of Germany but sought only to help them create a different future.
Instead of seeking repayment from an already war-ravished nation, America gave resources to Germany. Instead of inflicting trade restriction, America sought to boost trade revenues in Germany. Instead of trying to totally destroy industry, they encouraged the modernization of German industry. The plan worked! No world WWIII has yet occurred.
Justification is so important because God doesn’t only forgive us for the wars we’ve had with him. He not only pays the debt of our sins. He also deposits eternal blessings into our accounts as well. When God justifies us, he gives us what we need through Christ so we can be loyal to God. Ephesians 1:3 says:
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.
God not only forgives us for our past sins. He also wants to make sure no future wars happen between us and him ever again. So he blesses us with everything we need right from the start. The Christian life is not ultimately about becoming free. It’s about being declared free once and for all and then learning to live from that freedom.
If you are a Christian, you are not fighting for your freedom. You are now fighting from your freedom that was fully given to you at the moment of your conversion. Galatians 5:1 explains:
So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.
It says Christ has already set us free. Now because we are free, we must put in the energy and hard work to live free, especially in regards to resisting legalism (which is trying to be made right with God through obeying the law).
If you are a Christian, you are free from sin, free from accusations, free from condemnation, and free forever. (As we will study in the next chapter, sanctification is the process of learning to live free, reflecting the freedom that we already completely possess through Christ.)
How Can You Live From the Justification God Has Given You?
My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God [justified], then there was no need for Christ to die. (Galatians 2:20-21)
To really live from the justification God has given you, you must embrace that there is now an old you and a new you (Christ in you). Paul says he now has an “old self.” This is another phrase referring to the sinful nature. The person who sinned is no longer you. And not only that, the person who will sin is no longer the true you either. Romans 7:18-20 says:
And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
There are now two natures battling within your body. They both want control. When you feel the urge to sin or when you do sin, this means the old you has taken over. Freedom comes, however, when you truly realize this is not the real you anymore. The real you is the new you in Christ, for as Paul said, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who live in me” (Galatians 2:20) and “So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it” (Romans 7:17).
When you sin, God’s justification of you remains because it was based on Christ’s actions, not yours. Again, Jesus didn’t die to give us a second chance. He died to give us a new life that can never be taken away or stained in any way. When we sin, our enjoyment and experience of God’s justification suffers. But we are still righteous before God because of Christ.
Again, even after we sin, we are still a new creation because the perfect grace given to us was not given because of something we did, therefore it cannot be taken away by something we might do (1 Corinthians 1: 30-31). Jesus literally transfers his qualities to us (righteousness, holiness, and freedom from sin) and thus we remain with these qualities even after we sin. As Paul wrote, “I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9 NLT).
Justification is what you are positionally in Christ. Sanctification is the holiness and goodness you can witness outwardly in your life. As we will discuss in the next chapter, if your response to justification through faith is a desire to sin more, this means you are probably not truly a Christian. The proper response to justification is a deepening sanctification. In other words, because your purity and right standing with God can never be taken away even if you sin, this now means you have the ability to sin less and less as life goes on, not more and more.
But how? How does justification result in a more pure life where you are free to act differently? The answer is found in Galatians 2:20, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Even though we have two natures in our bodies now (the old and the new/the good and the evil), our true selves will be in control of our bodies when we have active faith in the Son, “So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God.”
So we can try to rebuild the law and try to find salvation through works. We can abuse grace by sinning more because we think we have a free pass now that we are saved by faith and not by works. Or, we can choose the right way. When we are truly justified, we will accept that God has completely wiped away our debts, filled our spiritual bank accounts, and now we will live completely different because of this. We will try to honor God by knowing what we have is undeserved but also undiminished because of sin. Because of God’s grace, we can now live honorably for the one who has lavishly blessed us.