Salvation Brings Justification
Justification is a legal act of God declaring the guilty to be guiltless before God. It is the complete acquittal of the guilty sinner. The apostle Paul makes it clear that this justification comes only after our faith in God (see Romans 3:24). For that reason, it is a foundational teaching in the Christian faith. The late English preacher Charles Spurgeon said, “It is admitted by all evangelical Christians that the standing or falling in the Church is that of justification by faith.”
Satan certainly wants to challenge this fundamental teaching, for he knows full well that if a believer gets hold of it, it can be life-transforming. “Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? “(Romans 8:30–31).
The devil doesn’t want us to understand this concept, which should make us want to understand it all the more. To do so, we must look at the two-fold meaning behind the word justification.
Justification represents the forgiveness of our sins
The day you put your faith in Christ, your sins were instantaneously forgiven! God released you from the guilt and penalty of the sins you committed.
- “Brothers! Listen! In this man Jesus, there is forgiveness for your sins! Everyone who trusts in him is freed from all guilt and declared righteous [justified]—something the Jewish law could never do” (Acts 13:38–39, TLB).
- “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more” (Hebrews 10:17).
- “Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18–19).
- “For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:34b).
God not only forgives our sins; He forgets them. God has essentially taken our sins, thrown them into the sea of forgetfulness and posted a sign saying, “No fishing allowed.” And God does not want us to remember what He is willing to forget.
If that was all salvation was, it would be more than we could ever hope for. But that is only one part of justification. For justification does not only speak of what God has taken away (our sins); it also speaks of what God has put in its place.
Justification represents the righteousness God has placed in our account.
The word justified also means “to put to one’s account.” When God justifies a person, He does so by placing all of the righteousness of Christ to that individual’s credit. Philippians 3:9 explains: “Be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.”
Imagine that you were in debt for ten million dollars. Creditors kept appearing at the door. You had no hope of ever repaying this enormous debt yourself. Then someone came along and paid the debt for you. You were happy to simply no longer be in debt, but then you checked the balance in your account. When you did, you found a balance of twenty million dollars! While the idea of such a thing happening to you may seem incredible, what God has done for you and me through salvation is even more incredible, and it is no fantasy. The moment we gave our lives to Christ, our meager balance of righteousness was replaced with all of Christ’s righteousness.
A lesson from the prodigal
This concept of removing sin and replacing it with righteousness is found in the story of the prodigal son (see Luke 15:11–32). This young man returned to his father’s house an acknowledged sinner, simply hoping to be allowed to stay on his father’s estate as a hired hand. Yet, the father did much more than simply welcome his son home. He commanded his servants, “Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry” (Luke 15:22–23).
This father’s actions toward his prodigal son raised the ire of the older brother. He was jealous because, in his mind, he felt that he deserved what his prodigal brother had been given. “Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him” (Luke 15:29–30).
The older son thought that these good things should be given to him for what he had done. But what God gives us has absolutely nothing to do with that. It has to do with God’s love for us, our repentance, and our relationship with Jesus Christ.