What Is Justification?

Welcome to a post about something I know you all are super giddy about—theology! 🙂

I write today about justification. We’re familiar with the word in a secular context. We say, “What was her justification for that decision?” In that sense, what we mean is “What was her reasoning as to why she thought that decision was the right one?” The word is also a biblical word used in a theological context. That’s my focus for this post.

Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “just as if I had never sinned” as a catchy way to describe biblical justification. That is half-way true. Here’s my humble twist on that popular (but incomplete) definition:

Just as if I had obeyed like Jesus.

A more technical definition from John Calvin:

the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as if we were righteous; and we say that this justification consists in the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ,

Book 3:11, The Institutes of The Christian Religion

Or, consider Genesis 15:6 when Abraham was justified:

And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

Genesis 15:6

This verse brings us into the how of justification, but perhaps it’s helpful to include that in the definition of justification itself: God counting faith as righteousness.

This is an important distinction from the “just as if I had never sinned” quip. Those of us who have put our faith in Christ for our salvation from our sins aren’t in the position of people who have never sinned but who also have never done any good works. We aren’t morally neutral in Christ. We are righteous in Christ. How righteous? As righteous as Christ.