Justification is more than just a declaration of being right. Justification is about being made righteous.
If you look up the “justif-” root words in a Bible dictionary, don’t be surprised if they say “to be declared righteous.” Usually it is said to be a court room term or an accounting term. You were moved from the guilty column to the innocent column.
This is certainly true, but it is more than that.
To be justified means to be declared right and made right.
Although justification is not the same thing as rebirth, they go together.
Through faith in Christ, we are declared righteous, just as Abraham was. On top of that, we are born again, old things are passed away and all things are new. We are new creations in Christ Jesus.
This is not some head game that God plays in heaven, keeping track of all sinners and putting them in their right columns. This is an actual reality as part of the new birth, being made the righteousness of God.
God gives us His Word that equips us to do good. His Spirit that helps us mortify the deeds of the flesh and bring forth spiritual fruit. The testimony of Christ that we might walk in His steps. The edifying work of the Church where fellow believers help us along.
We are thus equipped to be and do right, not just having been renamed, but reborn!
Vincent’s Word Studies says about “justified” in Romans 2:13 (“For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.“),:
The meaning ‘to declare or pronounce righteous’ cannot be consistently carried through Paul’s writings in the interest of a theological fiction of imputed righteousness.. . . If one is a real righteousness, founded upon his conformity to the law. Why is the righteousness of faith any less a real righteousness?
What this means is that you cannot leave justification as simply a declaration and have it make sense consistently in Paul’s usage. In other words, if the just were those who did do all the law, then how can the justification of faith be fake? Why would one be actual and the other just in name?
Justification is being made righteous. Being made righteous and being given all that we have by new birth, raised up with Christ, we then bring forth righteousness.
As John so simply says, “Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.”
Justification is more than a name change, more than a change of columns (bad to good) in God’s ledger. It is being made the righteousness of God and now equipped to do righteousness.
That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
This does not happen by works, it happens by faith in God’s grace as demonstrated on the cross of Christ. We are equipped to do what God says. If this is not happening in your life, it’s not a matter of more effort, it’s a matter of testing yourself to see whether you are in the faith.
It’s a serious issue, one not to be taken lightly. One that many theologians completely blow. Go with the simple words of Scripture over the theological theories of sinners pretending not to be so bad.