What does Justification mean?

Some think that to justify is to make righteous. This would force you, by infusing grace over time as you participate in church life, to be righteous, to enter into heaven. This belief erroneously leads to the necessary use of purgatory to let you purge your sins over time. But the Bible does not teach any such thing.

Instead, the Bible teaches that to justify is to declare righteous. Deuteronomy 25:1 teaches that the judge is to justify the innocent. To be innocent means to not be guilty of the charge of which one is accused. The judge has the responsibility of examining the case and either both are guilty or one side is guilty and the other is without blame, having done what was needed to maintain the relationship. The side without blame is declared righteous. Thus we see that justify means to declare righteous, not make righteous.

In Psalm 51:3-4, David publicly declares his sin. This means he will be condemned as a murderer. David declared his sin so when God acts, He will be shown just and blameless in judgement. God is going to execute judgement on David and everyone will clear God of wrongdoing because of David’s obvious sin. Paul quotes Psalm 51:4 in Romans 3:4. So in context, we see that to justify is to declare righteous.

Isaiah 40:17 tells us that all nations are as nothing before God. Romans 3:10-11 teaches that no one is righteous, and no one (left to oneself) seeks God. . If you seek God, it is because He sought you first. Left to yourself, you will not seek God, but will seek your own righteousness – not God’s.  But Romans 3:20 teaches that no one is justified by the works of the Law.

Paul presents a new kind of righteousness in Romans 3:21-22. The context tells us this righteousness is man’s relationship to God, thus this discusses the relationship that sinful, condemned man receives with God.  In verse 21, Paul describes faith as ‘without law.’ If it is a without-law-righteousness, it is not a righteousness gained through obedience or determined by obedience. Righteousness is ‘right relationship with God.’ Rules, laws, condemnation are all excluded.

Verse 22 shows that our relationship is one through faith. Righteousness before God is a ‘without-law-through-faith’ righteousness. It is a relationship set up by and maintained through faith. Verses 3:21-26 teach that God brings His grace-righteousness to believing sinners through the work of Christ. The right relationship God has granted us by faith is for all who believe. Also, God justifies believers freely by His grace for Christ’s sake (Romans 3:24).

Two qualities that make a person eligible for justification are that he has to be a sinner and come short of God’s glory, AND he must believe in Christ. Faith is not a condition or cause of justification, it is the means. Without having been declared righteous, one can not be in a right relationship with God. Thus without justification, no one can be saved. In Matthew 25:46, Jesus said, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” So then, the reason one should desire justification is so that one can be considered righteous by God, and thus have eternal life.


See Comparing Justification and Sanctification for additional inforation concerning justification.


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