Justification is a word thrown around quite a bit by Christians. Any time Christians throw a word around a lot, expect it to have become battered and bruised.
Justification has become a legal term. It means “to declare someone righteous.” But this is more than a legal term, more than God moving you from the unrighteous column to the righteous column.
Something more is going on.
Unfortunately, for many, justification is synonymous with salvation. The Reformers are talked about “justification by faith.” To the extent that justification now means salvation.
Justification is a part of salvation; it’s not the whole thing.
Justification is a declaration that God makes based on who He has made you.
For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.
Romans 5:19 is not talking about declaring you righteous! It says you have been made righteous through Christ’s work on the cross.
For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
–2 Corinthians 5:21
Again, this is not just a declaration; it’s a real thing God has made us. We have been made righteous.
So, get this: The reason why God declares us righteous is because He made us righteous!
The common understanding of justification is that God declares us righteous even though we keep living in sin. God just ignores that. God just pretends we’re righteous even though He, we, and everyone else knows we’re not.
Justification understood this way makes God a delusional liar. Yet this is how most people understand justification.
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.
–1 Corinthians 6:9-11
You were unrighteous and doing unrighteous things, but now you’ve been made righteous. How so?
Because God has washed you [cleansed you from past sin], sanctified you [separated you from the world and called you to holy living different from the world], and justified you [declared you righteous because that’s what He’s made you].
Justification is not a mind game in God’s head. Justification is a declaration based upon what God has made you through the Gospel.
You used to live in sin, but now you’ve been washed, sanctified, and justified and no longer do those things.
Vincent’s Word Studies says about these verses:
Emphasizing the actual moral renewal, which is the true idea of justification. This is shown by the words “by the Spirit,” etc., for the Spirit is not concerned in mere forensic justification.
Justification is not the whole of salvation, nor is it a make-believe scenario. Justification is a declaration of who we are based on who God has made us through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
God is not a liar. If He calls someone righteous it has to be because they are actually righteous, not just in His head, but in reality.
Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.
–1 John 3:7