Words of Life – “Justification”

“Just as if I’d never sinned” – that’s the definition of “justified” many of us have come to know and repeat. It’s a simple explanation for a complex concept that can be difficult to articulate, but does it really capture the essence of the word? Is justification merely about getting a clean slate? Is it just God turning a blind eye to our sins? Outside of a religious context, “justification” in our society usually deals with an attempt to excuse some questionable action or decision. We think of “justification” as the argument or evidence for why a certain course of action was indeed warranted. This is not far off from its meaning in scripture. It has to do with being on the winning side in a legal hearing. However, as we shall see, this understanding poses some significant theological difficulties as well. Let’s dig deeper and uncover the multifaceted meaning of Christian justification.

Old Testament Roots – The Justice of God

Justification (more precisely defined as a legal pronouncement of righteousness before God) finds its origins in the Old Testament promises of God’s righteous judgment. (Psalm 9:4-8, Psalm 103:6, Isaiah 11:4, Isaiah 54:17, Isaiah 61:8) Throughout these prophetic passages, God assures the Israelites of His commitment to vindicate His faithful people and bring judgment upon their oppressors. It’s akin to a court scene, with God presiding over the proceedings in light of Israel’s distress. He declares His people righteous- or legally in the right- while condemning their adversaries for their transgressions against both God and His chosen people.

Before moving on I think it important to clarify that unlike in English, the Greek and Hebrew words for “righteousness” and “justification” share the same root and are often mentioned in connection with one another (Psalm 119:137, Isaiah 5:16, Amos 5:24). In the Bible, “Righteous” can be synonymous with “just,” and “righteousness” can mean “justice” or “justness” depending on the context. In either case, righteousness is less about moral uprightness and more about a legal assessment of justice. When a judge or king is called “righteous,” this implies fair rulings. Alternately, when a plaintiff or defendant is deemed “righteous,” it means the judge has ruled in his favor. Understanding this link between righteousness and justification is crucial to understanding what the Bible has to say about both.

What Does the Bible Say about the Babylonian Captivity?

Most Old Testament passages about God’s judgment address specific enemy nations bringing hostility against Israel in a specific situation. God promises deliverance and reassures Israel of His righteous judgment. This isn’t a threat, but a promise that justice is coming. (Isaiah 10:5-6, Isaiah 14:24-27, Jeremiah 51:20-24, Ezekiel 25:15-17) His righteousness isn’t just about legal declarations; it’s about corrective action and setting things right. The vindicated receive comfort and reward, while the condemned face punishment. Thus, the biblical narrative portrays God not only as the righteous judge, but also as the executor of His own judgments. His justness is inseparable from His justice, ensuring that His judgments are not only fair but also restorative and rectifying. God, as the righteous judge, not only decrees, but also establishes justice in the world, restoring order and offering hope to the oppressed and downtrodden.

While many Old Testament passages speak of a temporal judgment, they also point to an ultimate “Day of the Lord” yet to come. This prophetic vision of judgment extends beyond humanity to include the hosts of heaven as well. (Isaiah 24:21-22, Psalm 82:1-7, 2 Peter 2:4, Jude 1:6) It’s within this expansive context of Hebrew scriptures that we first encounter the notion of a future resurrection. God promises to vindicate the righteous by raising them from the dead and granting them access to the tree of life (Daniel 12:2-3, Isaiah 26:19). This ultimate vindication, culminating in resurrection and eternal life, explains why justification is often conflated with Christian salvation. While the two concepts are certainly related and may even overlap in some ways, I see salvation as a distinct concept that merits its own independent discussion in a future post.

A New Testament Paradox – Righteous Injustice?

For believers on this side of the cross, justification means God, as the ultimate judge, has ruled in our favor! This is an amazing thing, and yet, a significant dilemma arises: Scripture unequivocally states that none are righteous; all humanity stands guilty of sin (Romans 3:23, 1 John 1:8, Ecclesiastes 7:20, Psalm 53:3). Returning to our secular understanding mentioned earlier; there is no argument, no explanation, that excuses our sinful actions. By definition, sin is never warranted. If it were, it would not be sin. How, then, can God’s judgment be righteous while ruling in favor of those who are “in the wrong”? That would defy justice. In addition; God is absolute in His truthfulness. He does not lie. Nor does He regard the sinful as just and He does not simply excuse our sinful nature as “just part of who we are.” This is where understanding the restorative aspect of God’s righteousness becomes crucial.

You are currently viewing “Lawyer on Contingency Fee?” – Who “Swallows” the Expenses?God’s declaration of righteousness to believers is not a hollow legalistic pronouncement—it’s the commencement of a profound transformation, initiated by God himself in partnership with the believer, which genuinely refines him to the core (2 Corinthians 3:18, Ephesians 4:22-24, Philippians 1:6, Romans 12:2). This work, sometimes called “Sanctification” mirrors the divine action in history: just as God delivered His judgments upon the foes of Israel and ushered in an era of healing and renewal for His people, He is actively engaged in rectifying the spiritual conflict within the heart and soul of the believer. He utterly condemns the sin that dwells within us and faithfully restores the soul that seeks solace in righteousness (Romans 7:15-25, Philippians 2:12-13).

So what do you think? Does the justification of the believer mean that it’s “just as if we’d never sinned”? Nothing we touched on in this post dealt with the forgiveness of past sins; however, the process of justification is multifaceted, and today’s post is far from a comprehensive study. In our next post, we’ll delve into one of the facets of justification which may help us to answer that question. We’ll be discussing the doctrine of atonement—the mechanism by which God addresses our sin problem, enabling Him to rightfully and truthfully declare us righteous. Stay tuned!

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