Justification is a theological term that sits at the heart of the Christian message. A simple definition for justify is “Just as if I never sinned”; but what is sin?
Sin is anything we say, think, or do that hurts our relationship with God. So, when does God justify a person?
Paul writes in Romans 3:23-24, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption in Christ Jesus.” Consequently, justification occurs when a person accepts Jesus Christ. But, how does it happen?
A Courtroom Scene
Imagine a courtroom. God the Father is sitting on his throne and before him, Dale the defendant steps to a medium-height podium to recount his life. Dale grasps the sides of the podium, hoping his hands will stop shaking as he prepares to recount his life and all the sins he’s committed.
He knows the coming verdict even before he starts. Guilty!
But, before he can begin, Jesus lays a welcomed hand on the Dale’s shoulder and whispers, “I got this.” Dale’s knees sag as relief washes over him.
Jesus takes his place at the podium. His voice reverberates in the room. “This man is one of mine. I have applied my death to his sins.” That, in a nutshell, is how Jesus’s justification occurs.
Salvation, Punishment and Freedom
Jesus’s justification is important to the Christian for several reasons. The first is salvation. As already noted, justification removes sin and allows a person to be in a relationship with God.
Another reason deals with God’s punishment. When Jesus justifies a person, he removes every sin (past, present, and future), which means he takes the punishment for all sin upon himself. (The theological term is substitutionary atonement.) Therefore, God does not punish the believer.
He does, however, discipline the believer (Heb. 12:6), but God’s discipline is not punishment. Punishment is meting out penalties in payment for sin. Yet, Jesus already paid that price. So, what is discipline? Discipline is God guiding a person back to himself to continue molding that person into Christ’s Image.
Justification also means freedom. Someone might commit a sin that he or she feels cannot be forgiven. Justification wipes that sin away and allows self-forgiveness. Not doing so declares a person’s standard is higher than God’s standard. Therefore, forgiveness of self and others is a necessity.
How Might it Apply to Real Life?
So, how might a Christian apply justification to daily life? First, recognize the cost. God walked this earth, suffering humiliation and death to free people from their sins. Second, understand the goal of justification is the ability to have a relationship with God again. This relationship is based on love and is not marred by fear of punishment. Finally, it means Christians have a responsibility to forgive themselves and others who have sinned against them.
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