Posted in back to basics

Back to Basics: What is Justification?

By Elizabeth Prata

There are three parts to being united with Christ. They are justification, sanctification, and glorification.

Let’s talk about Justification.

Justification is not a process, it is an event. It’s a one-time, momentary declaration, momentary meaning it takes a moment for it to happen but it has an eternal effect.

Justification is the doctrine that God pardons, accepts, and declares a sinner to be “just” on the basis of Christ’s righteousness (Rom 3:24-26; 4:25; 5:15-21) which results in God’s peace (Rom 5:1), His Spirit (Rom 8:4), and salvation. Justification is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ apart from all works and merit of the sinner (cf. Rom 1:18-3:28).

Justification is a legal act, wherein God deems the sinner righteous on the basis of Christ’s righteousness. Unlike Sanctification, Justification is not a process, but is a one-time act, complete and definitive.

God’s act of justification may be seen to involve a double imputation. On the one hand, the sin and guilt of the believer are imputed to Christ. On the other hand, the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer, whereby he is declared righteous.

Theopedia (source)

Then we have is regeneration, forgiveness, grace, adoption, (not necessarily in that order or maybe all at once, let’s not argue!), sanctification (the process of the Spirit polishing off our sin nature and increasing our likeness of Christ), and then glorification (made perfect after death at the resurrection, no sin nature in our flesh at all).

Our sins prevent us from going to heaven. Since Adam, we all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:21). Before the moment of justification, we are ‘in Adam.’

When we are declared justified, we are ‘in Christ’, Who is perfect in His righteousness. That means when God looks at us, He sees Christ and His righteousness.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21).

You might notice the word “just” in justification. It is the legal theme of justice, justify, to render a verdict. God is the Judge. The penalty for all sinners is hell. However, those He declares as righteous, (through Christ, not our own righteousness!) He allows into heaven. (Romans 5:12-19; 1 Corinthians 15:22).

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Corinthians 5:10)

US Supreme Court. CC-BY-SA-3.0 / Matt H. Wade at Wikipedia

I like courtroom dramas. I love the intricacies of the law, the back and forth of the defense and plaintiff arguments, how a judge makes a verdict, or a jury if it is a jury trial. The legal process is long and drawn out, and even TV programs or movies show this. And then comes the climactic moment! All rise! The jury stands, the accused stands, all stand…to hear the verdict. All the work of the previous year or years rides on this one short moment.

When the jury delivers its verdict and then the judge says “You have been declared not guilty. You are free to go” almost uniformly, the actor looks around in shock and confusion. That’s it? Just like that? I can walk out of here with these clothes on my back, into the sunshine, and have a life?

Yes. Just like that.

“We the jury find the defendant not guilty.”
“The defendant is discharged. Good luck Mr Lewis. Thank you ladies and gentlemen.”

And then they can go. Amazing.

That is a ‘not guilty’ verdict in a movie, with a lengthy celebration the judge never would allow. But instead, let’s imagine when one sinner is declared righteous by faith alone, through grace alone. (Ephesians 2:8-9). Once we are justified and repent, we understand our sin and what it does to God. If we really knew the import of it at the moment of justification, we ourselves would be celebrating like this defendant. The angels do. Just imagine the celebration in heaven when one more sinner is justified and repents!

Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents. (Luke 15:10)


Further Reading

The Riches of Divine Grace, part 2: Justification (S. Lewis Johnson)

The Two Adams (Phil Johnson)

Why is justification by faith such an important doctrine? (Got Questions)

Justification and sanctification: how do they differ? (JC Ryle)

The Great Exchange (Pyromaniacs- Phil Johnson)


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.