What Does Being “Justified” Really Mean…?

The cross of Christ accomplished so much.

Forgiveness, justification, righteousness, sanctification, adoption, deliverance, atonement, reconciliation, redemption, liberation… etc…etc…

Now, these are all really big “Christian” words, but when dissected, they have really big meanings. However, while each of these accomplishments are incredibly crucial and equally as important, I feel as though there is a frequent tendency for us to confuse them together, and a failure to understand & appreciate the significance of each one individually.

Take “justification,” for example. That’s one that I got stuck on yesterday. I’ve been reading through Piper’s book “The Passion of Jesus Christ” for Easter, which is subtitled “Fifty Reasons Why He Came to Die.” Talk about overwhelming. Fifty reasons! …each one singularly powerful enough to rock you for the rest of time.

So what does being “justified” really mean? Maybe… to be forgiven? Because we’re sinners, and in order to be accepted by a holy God we need to be forgiven of our sin? When you look at Old Testament Jewish sacrifices, that’s what it was all about: forgiveness. You do something wrong, you kill an animal, you offer a sacrifice, God forgives you. But check out what the writer of Hebrews says:

“[The law] can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:1-4).

So, by His great mercy, we can be forgiven. And while forgiveness is super important, forgiveness alone means nothing. Forgiveness does NOT cancel the reality and actuality of our fault. It merely allows God to not hold it against us. But if God ONLY forgave us our sin, we’d still be sinners and totally and wholly unworthy to know Him, commune with Him, and enter eternal life with Him.

But justification… justification! This is where Christianity differs from every other religion in the world. In other religions, you can be forgiven. But you can never be justified.

Piper differentiates between forgiveness and justification like this:

“To be justified in a courtroom is not the same as being forgiven. Being forgiven implies that I am guilty and my crime is not counted. Being justified implies that I have been tried and found innocent. My claim is just. I am vindicated. The judge says, ‘Not guilty.’” (Piper)

This is major.

Piper gives the example of a teacher canceling from your record an exam that got an F, which is not the same thing as declaring it an A. Now imagine if your teacher not only cancels your failed test, but then proceeds to assign to you a new test, one you never took, but aced. You’ve aced it and you haven’t actually done a thing. She says, “I’ve given you an A. All you need to do is believe that you’ve received this A.”

Crazy, right? Doesn’t make sense, right? You don’t deserve it, right? But AWESOME, right?

This is justification. It is not only the cancellation of our unrighteousness, but it is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us.

The Bible says that “a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2:16), and that we do “not hav[e] a righteousness of [our] own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ” (Phil. 3:9).

God imputes Christ’s lifelong record of perfect obedience to the person who trusts in Him for salvation; that is, He thinks of Christ’s obedience as belonging to that person, and therefore that person stands before God not as “guilty” but as “righteous.” (Piper)

Think about Microsoft Word’s paragraph alignment features. Align right, align left, align center, and… justified. Justified. Perfectly aligned. No fault, no uneven spaces, no choppy line breaks… but perfectly aligned.

Because of God’s great grace and love for us displayed on the cross, and through faith in Him, we are justified – blameless, guiltless, righteous, and innocent in the sight of the Lord.

Even after nearly 4 years of walking with God, this truth is so hard to swallow. It’s so easy, SO easy. Just believe! It’s already been done! Just accept it! But it’s so hard to understand. How can it be so easy? How can He be so good? It’s unlike any earthly thing, He is unlike any earthly being.

Justification is crazy… it doesn’t make sense… we don’t deserve it… but it’s awesome.

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