In Romans chapter three, the apostle Paul answers the question, how is a sinful person justified before a Holy God? The biblical idea of being justified is different from the modern use of the term. Our courts of justice would pronounce a person innocent if it were determined that the person’s behavior was justified. We, on the other hand, are accountable to God, and “No one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law, rather through the law we become conscious of sin” (Rom. 3: 20). How then do we obtain a favorable judgment or acquittal?
First, Paul teaches that no human being will be justified in God’s sight by the works of the law (vss. 10,19,23). Second, apart from Christ we are all sinful and cannot do sufficient good works to gain acquittal. Third, we cannot render judgment on ourselves, because we are always guilty, and a just God cannot render us just by our works. This is the threefold dilemma of all humanity and the atonement of Christ is the only answer. We are justified by the righteousness of God, not by our righteousness. “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (vs. 22). “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law” (vs. 28).
Justification does not mean that God overlooks our sin or fails to judge us as sinners. To do so denies the integrity of God and destroys the concept of justification. God’s justice and holiness demands payment for sin, and Jesus paid the penalty in full at the cross. By making Christ a substitute for man, God preserves His own justice and achieves salvation for the sinner (3:26). In justification, God’s attributes of justice and love are both satisfied and given full meaning.
The doctrine of justification does not mean universal salvation, but rather universal grace and forgiveness. Justification is a legal term for the forgiveness of sins. God pronounced all righteous and forgiven in Christ, but not everyone will receive this free gift of salvation and some may never hear of it (Rom. 10:14-17). Jesus said, “I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins” (Jn. 8:24).
Every believer is justified before God and forgiven the moment they put their faith in Him. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” (Rom. 5:1). In justification, we are joined together with God through faith in Jesus Christ. We are clothed in His righteousness and thereby stand justified before God. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
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