In Eric Alexander’s book Our Great God and Saviour, he writes a chapter on the subject of justification. In it he quotes Martin Luther, “It is this which makes true Christians; if justification is lost, all true Christianity is lost.” But what is it and what is the result? In short justification is a legal term to pronounce someone as righteous. The opposite of being justified is to be condemned as a declaration of guilt. Thus justification is a verdict declared by God wherein sinners we are pardoned, forgiven, and acquitted. But justification is more than setting us to zero, there is a positive aspect where wherein we are seen as righteous because of the righteousness of Christ.
In other words, in justification, God doesn’t forgive us and say, “You may go.” Rather, because we have the righteousness of Jesus, God pardons and forgives us and says, “We may enter.” This is the aspect of justification that signifies our reception. Justification therefore rightly holds an important place in the heart of the believer and distinguishes the Christian faith from all religions.
In justification we find the answer to the question, “How can I be made right before God?” The answer is not found within us but outside of us. The answer is found at the Cross. Calvary is the meeting place of justice and love, where God demonstrates his grace and mercy, and that he is perfectly just. And much like the feeling of relief in having a large debt paid in full, justification produces in believers liberty, freedom and assurance of eternal life.
Yet while this doctrine is significant it is often misunderstood. We have considered what justification is and the result, the question naturally arises, “How does this happen?” Naturally we assume that someone is declared “good” because they have done “good things.” But this is simply impossible for us. None of our works can ever be pure and without defect because we are not pure and without defect. This is why faith alone is critical to our salvation. Faith believes not only that we are sinners, but that only Christ is our hope of being justified before God Almighty. This is why in the Reformation tradition we can never minimize the objectivity of Christ’s work (his life, death, and resurrection) because the ground of our justification is outside of us.
It is often rightly stated that, “Justification is the doctrine on which the church stands or falls.” Because either we must do something to earn our justification or it is purely a gift of God’s grace, wherein God justifies the ungodly. The beauty of understanding the doctrine of justification is that it brings us to the end of ourselves and to the Cross of Christ. The blessing of justification by faith alone in Christ alone is that it also reveals to us the magnificent love that has been shown to us, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. The righteous dies for the unrighteous, the faithful Son for the rebel.