The saving message of the gospel is that God calls man who is lost in sin to come and share in His glory. Paul summarises it as follows.

‘For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.’ Romans 8:29-30

Justification plays a very important role in God’s grace. Justification is an act whereby God credits the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ to sinful man and declares him free from the penalty of death. It is based entirely upon the perfect and complete atoning power of Christ’s blood. Justification removes the guilt of sin and returns man to a state of fellowship he had with God in the beginning.

Justification was entirely a work of God. Man had nothing to do with it. God initiated his plan for justification before man was created. The bottom line of the human race is, ‘For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ Romans 3:23

This presented a problem with God.

First, because of God’s perfect holiness. God’s nature is the very opposite of sin. He abhors sin and he can no more allow it to exist in his presence than darkness can exist in light. Sin is the very antithesis of God’s character and must consequently be forever separate from him.

God’s perfect integrity would not allow him to compromise and ignore sin by tolerating it. Thus, man could not exist in fellowship with God as long as he was stained with sin. The result was that he exists in a state of spiritual death which in essence is separation from God.

Second, it is ‘impossible for God to lie’, Hebrews 6:18. God has declared that the penalty for sin is death. It has been an eternal principle of God’s nature and resulted in the fall of Adam and Eve. He plainly told them, ‘You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.’ Genesis 2:17

God’s perfect honesty would not allow him to compromise his word and not exact a penalty for disobedience. He declared in Exodus 23.

‘I will not acquit the guilty.’ Exodus 23:7

At the same time, it was God’s nature that he did not want anyone to perish, but that everyone would come to repentance, 2 Peter 3:9. God’s plan for resolving this apparent ‘gridlock’ namely justification was his hidden mystery of wisdom which was not revealed until the gospel was proclaimed. Paul called it, ‘The mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people.’ Colossians 1:26

In God’s perfect foreknowledge he knew that man would rebel against Him and sin. Thus, he formulated a plan for the justification of sinful man even before the foundation of the world. The mystery of how God intended to save sinful man then was hidden in his own heart from eternity until the atonement was actually accomplished, 1 Corinthians 2:7-10 / Romans 11:32-36.

The question now is, how could God be committed to justice and the punishment of sin and at the same time justify man by removing the guilt of sin thus returning him to a state of fellowship with God? Romans 3:20-24. Thus, it was to be accomplished by Christ’s death on the cross, Romans 3:25.

It is important that we have a clear definition of justification to understand its part in God’s eternal purpose for men. It has been defined generally and historically as ‘making righteous.’ However, this tends to imply moral regeneration or sanctification.

Justification in no way alters the fact that all men are sinners before God. What it does alter is man’s liability of being punished for his sins. Justification acquits the sinner before the judgment bar of God. He is no longer subject to the penalty, Ezekiel 18:4.

How then could God exact the penalty for sin and at the same time justify the one who has sinned?

To illustrate this point: a driver exceeds the speed limit and is arraigned before the court and the judge orders him to pay a fine. He does not have the money, and so is sentenced to jail. But a friend steps forward and pays the fine for him and he is free from the sentence.

It is not a question of guilt or innocence. It has always been true that when law is violated justice must be satisfied by some form of punishment. Under justification, there is no longer any legal claim against the violator.

God’s law of sin and death had to be satisfied or God’s own righteousness and honour would be compromised. God had to be just and at the same time the justifier of man. God solved the dilemma by taking the penalty upon himself by dying in man’s stead, 2 Corinthians 5:19.

God solved the dilemma by taking the penalty upon himself. God then paid the fine. Man had nothing with which to pay the fine. God was the friend who stepped forward to pay the fine. Thus, justice was satisfied removing any and all legal claims against the offender.

It is unthinkable that after a man’s friend had paid his fine for him that he would reason I will just go on and speed whenever I want to because whenever I am caught, I will always have this good friend to step forward and pay my fine. This is the equivalent of ‘cheap grace.’ Paul raises the question in Romans 6.

‘Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!’ Romans 6:1

The KJV renders this ‘God forbid.’ In other words, such reasoning is ridiculous. The most important difference between the old and new covenants is that under the Mosaic dispensation justification was impossible, and under the Christian dispensation, it is fully realised. There was no basis in the Mosaic code for the remission of sins because the instruments for forgiveness were simply temporary symbols, Hebrews 10:4.

The blood of Jesus Christ was a sufficient payment for the sins of all men so that Paul was able to declare to the Jews at Antioch in Pisidia.

‘Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.’ Acts 13:38-39

In Romans 3:24 Paul clearly states that this justification is the grace of God and is given ‘freely’ to those who are ‘in Christ.’ The expression ‘in Christ’ is a most significant phrase in Paul’s writings.

This expression or its equivalent ‘in whom,’ ‘in him,’ etc. is used no less than 169 times by Paul. It means to be in his spiritual body, called the church, the body of which Christ is the head. In order for man to receive the benefits of God’s grace, one must be baptized into Christ, Romans 6:3-4 / Galatians 3:27.

In being baptized into Christ one is baptized into his death where he shed his blood. It is here that the sinner comes into contact with the cleansing blood of Jesus where he is cleansed of all his past sins.

God credits the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ to sinful man and declares him free from the penalty of death, Galatians 2:20.

It might be asked in what way are people saved by the ‘faith of Christ’? They are saved by being in Christ thus incorporating his perfect faith. We partake of his perfect faith thus we are justified by His faith and not by our weak, frail faith.


1. How would you define justification?

Justification is the exercise of God’s grace by which he credits the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ to sinful man and declares him free from the penalty of death. It is based entirely upon the perfect and complete atoning power of Christ’s blood.

2. Why is it essential that Christians understand the nature and the scope of justification?

Because there are many misconceptions about justification. It is important to know exactly what is involved so that we might know what to do to remove the guilt of sin from our lives.

3. What happens to a person who is caught up in the mesh of meritorious good works as a means of their salvation?

One cannot experience the joy of their salvation because they are constantly striving to earn their salvation which cannot become a reality.

4. What does justification do for our outlook on life?

Being free from the guilt of sin and in fellowship with God gives us peace of mind. It makes us joyful, grateful and loving people.

5. While we may accept justification intellectually, do we accept it emotionally?

It is difficult because the idea of earning one’s salvation had been handed down from previous generations thus conditioning us to believe we must earn our salvation.

6. Justification is conferred on the basis of what?

It is based entirely upon the perfect and complete atoning power of Christ’s blood.

7. How does justification differ from sanctification?

Justification takes place once and for all. Sanctification is a continuing process which is never complete in this life. We will never conform completely to the image of Christ until we see Him as He is, 1 John 3:2.


"Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'"