There are a lot of terms we throw around in sermons and Christian communication in general, but I can’t think of a theological term more important to understand than “justification”.
You might know the word and understand it clearly—if so, please forgive me for going over it again, but I find it helpful to make myself consider what I already know and to hold fast to what I claimed I would never forget.
So, what is “Justification” for the Christian? What does it mean and why is it so important? In fact, why is this so foundational to our faith and understanding of Christ’s mission on earth?
Justification, simply stated, is an unconditional divine pardon. It’s all about what God has done for me—-and my response. It means that God has taken all of my sins—-actually, all of humanity’s sins, all the errors and missed opportunities committed or afforded to man since Adam and Eve—and has reduced the blame to one man, Jesus Christ, who was God-incarnate. That is what God has done for us through Jesus. So understanding what He did allows me to begin to grasp justification, spiritually speaking, and enormity of both what Christ carried to the cross——and His unsurpassed ability to atone.
He carried to calvary every single error of every man that has ever lived or would ever live after Him. His death resulted in the atonement for all sins—-the full payment. Nothing more for all eternity will be required by God to cover our sins. Atonement means, “at one meant” with God…we have been brought back into relationship with God.
1. But what does it mean to be justified?
Because of Jesus, it means that I can live like I was supposed to when He created me; if I accept His pardon for sins, I become free from sin…..it’s “just-as-if-I-never-sinned. That’s justification.
It’s not a matter of avoiding sin—-no man can do that. If we could get to heaven by being sorry for sin or trying to not sin, or making confession of sin every hour of every day, then Christ died for no purpose.
What does Paul say? “Therefore, as one trespass (i.e. Adam’s sin) led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness (i.e. Christ’s death on the cross) leads to justification and life for all men.” (Romans 5:18 ). Sin came into the world through Adam, and our reunion with God comes about because of the righteous life and sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus is the reason I am justified—-not my confession or repentance of bad things, nor the good things I do and not my avoidance of people that sin.
Later Paul added, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9) All the good efforts I make will not save me! I am saved by my faith in Him alone—-“sola fide”. Are good works bad? No, of course not, unless we get some distorted idea that they can help me purchase eternal life. Good works don’t get me to heaven, they prove that something has happened to me that has caused me to start living like I were a citizen of heaven!
This is a humbling consideration and even devout Christians have a hard time accepting this: You have to receive the gift knowing you don’t deserve the gift and cannot in anyway repay the giver. In arrogance we assume we can earn the gift and not be so dependent upon God’s grace. That’s the devil’s lie.
To be clear: To be justified in God’s eyes has nothing to do with me being good or doing virtuous things. Those actions are the by-products of being grafted into the body of Christ. Again, Paul put it this way: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith …” (Galatians 5:6, NIV)
2. How can I become justified?
Heaven is a place where only the justified can enter. It’s not for everyone—-it’s an exclusive Kingdom. How can you be justified so that you can get your citizenship?
a. Believe. “And by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:39 NIV) You can’t get there on your own —you have to trust Him and believe in Him. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanse us from all sin.” (I John 1:17, NKJV). Do you believe?
b Make Him Lord. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20 , NIV). Is He Lord? If He is not Lord, the devil is!—-whether you ask him to be your Lord or not—-he is our spiritual default when we refuse to fall on our knees and call Jesus Lord. If Jesus is Lord, you are walking in humility, gentleness and on a well lit path.
3. What is the evidence that I have been justified? Are you assured that you have been justified? Do yo know Him?
These things I am about to mention do not make us into Christians, or cause us to be justified, but they reveal, or are the evidence, that we’ve been made one with Christ and adopted by God:
a. First, you’re different than you were before you Jesus Christ and you can see that you’re becoming something different. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 , NIV). Are you?
b. You treat others like you used to. “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? …” (James 2:1-26 , NIV)
c. You are losing that hankering to go back to the way you once lived. You’re a new creature. There’s no such thing as being “formally a Christian” when it comes to justification. “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.” ( Hebrews 6:4-6 , NIV)
4. Finally, and most significantly, what will become of me, one day, because I am justified?
Jesus said this: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24 , KJV). We don’t need to live in fear and dread of going to heaven or be nervous about the judgment! Did you hear what Jesus said: ….we will “not come into judgment!”
Paul reiterated this in Romans: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” ( Romans 8:1 , NIV). We will never stand condemned again!
Are you born again? Have you been justified?
In April 1830, mail carriers James Porter and George Wilson were charged with several counts of crimes relating to obstructing delivery of the mail, robbery of the mail, and endangering the life of mail carriers. The following month, the court found Porter and Wilson guilty and sentenced both to death.
Although Porter was hanged in July, President Andrew Jackson issued a pardon to Wilson, thanks to friends lobbying on his behalf. That’s when things took a strange turn. For inexplicable reasons, Wilson refused the pardon.
A constitutional crisis emerged: Does a person have the right to refuse a presidential pardon? Like all good constitutional crises, the matter was referred to the Supreme Court.
The Attorney General represented the government, and Wilson represented himself. The court sided with Wilson and noted in its judgment: “The court cannot give the prisoner the benefit of the pardon, unless he claims the benefit of it. It is a grant to him; it is his property; and he may accept it or not, as he pleases”
In the end, Wilson was hanged.
You’ve got to accept what Jesus did for you. Every knee will bow. Either in humility you fall on your knees now to receive Jesus Christ, or later, at a horrible judgment, you will fall on your knees and admit that He is Lord——but not your Lord.