Countless books and theological papers have been written on the subject of justification.
What does it really mean? Why is justification so important to God? How can we become justified?
What Is Justification?
The words justification, justify, justified and just are found numerous times in both the Old and New Testaments. Both the Hebrew tsadaq and the Greek dikaiosis refer to justification, meaning "made righteous."
Justification means to be made righteous in God's sight.
Righteousness is being like God and having the same character as our holy, righteous God.
Why is justification so important in God's sight?
Paul encouraged us to understand the importance of being justified or made righteous before God, because it has a lot to do with our precious calling and being part of His family.
"Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified: and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:30-32, emphasis added).
It is clear from the Scriptures that being justified or made righteous is an important part of our personal salvation.
Confusion About Justification
There are so many different viewpoints about what is justification in God's sight.
The Catholic viewpoint was formulated at the Council of Trent (A.D. 1547), primarily to counter Martin Luther's and other Protestants' divergent points of view about justification being "grace versus works":
"If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in divine mercy.. . , which remits sins for Christ's sake, or that it is this confidence alone that justifies us, let him be anathema" (Canon 12, Council of Trent).
Catholics believe that it is not only faith in God that justifies a person, but it entails works too. They believe in obeying their version of the commandments, participating in sacraments, going to church, doing penance, giving alms, reciting prayers and so on, to merit salvation. The Catholic Church teaches that faith is important; but it also insists on the necessity of good works to merit eternal life.
Most Protestants have a different viewpoint and base their beliefs upon their early founders such as Luther who believed that justification only comes by faith in Christ and does not require the works the Catholics believe in, either before or after faith is exercised.
According to Luther, by faith God justifies us, for the sake of Christ, and no longer imputes to us our sins. If we continue in faith, He will treat us as if we are just and holy, even if we remain the same sinners as before.
Catholics criticize Luther by quoting statements made by him in a letter written to Melancthon in 1521: "Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ more strongly, who triumphed over sin, death, and the world; as long as we live here, we must sin." Also, they criticize him for saying: "If adultery could be committed in faith, it would not be a sin" ("Justification," Catholic Encyclopedia).
Of course, Martin Luther was also critical of Catholic ideas regarding justification and works:
"How they mislead people with their good works! They call good works what God has not commanded, as pilgrimages, fasting, building and decorating their churches in honor of the saints, saying mass, paying for vigils, praying with rosaries, much prattling and bawling in churches, turning nun, monk, priest, using special food, raiment or dwelling—who can enumerate all the horrible abominations and deceptions? This is the pope's government and holiness" (Sermons of Martin Luther, www.trinitylutheranms.org/MartinLuther/MLSermons/Mathew21ConcerningGoodWorks.html).
Paul Dealt With the Confusion
The problem of people being confused about how they can be justified or made righteous before God was something Paul had to deal with.
On the one hand, he had some Jewish people in the Church being proud and boasting of their law keeping. Apparently they felt God owed it to them to give them salvation, thus abusing the proper use of the law. "Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God" (Romans 2:17). "Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith" (Romans 3:27).
On the other hand, he had to correct the gentiles in the Church who were also proud of their newfound knowledge and spiritual gifts and felt that God was somehow indebted to them to reward them with salvation: "What do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?" (1 Corinthians 4:7).
Paul answered the extremism of both camps when he said: "Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?" (Romans 11:34-35, NIV, emphasis added).
It is a common fault of us as mankind to think that by the good things we do, God owes us salvation.
How Can We Become Justified in God's Sight?
It is important to understand that we don't earn righteousness by self-righteously keeping God's laws and then claiming that we are righteous before God.
Paul explained that we need to understand "that a man is not justified [or made righteous] by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified" (Galatians 2:16).
In other words, there is a right sequence to becoming righteous in God's sight.
That sequence begins when we come to believe and have faith in the "true God" (1 John 5:20). Secondly, when we grow in faith, we see our sins, our wrong thinking, wrong words, wrong actions and our need to repent.
Our faith in God drives us to repent of our sins and be baptized. At this point we are forgiven by God's grace (free unmerited pardon) and are considered righteous before God.
Thirdly, we continue to remain righteous in God's sight when we lovingly obey and live by His laws and don't practice sin any more, having left the false ways of the world behind (1 John 3:3-4). We continue the process of becoming converted to the mind and conduct of Christ (Philippians 2:5).
The apostle James clarified this point by saying: "You see then that a man is justified [considered righteous] by works, and not by faith only" (James 2:24). Once we set our course God's way, by faith in Him and by repentance from our sins, we are to follow Him and live by His laws and right way of life, not our own customs and religious ceremonies.
If we slip, we should exercise faith and repentance immediately and follow God's laws.
Each year when we perform the foot washing, and partake of the unleavened bread and the wine during the Passover, it is an annual reminder of our baptism and renewal of us being rewashed, recleansed, forgiven and made righteous or justified in God's sight.
Daily in our prayers and lives, we should put to death the old man or old woman, just as Paul admonished us, and be renewed in our minds daily, with God's Holy Spirit by the gift of God, to be the new converted man or woman (Ephesians 4:22-24).
It is then, through daily faith, repentance and loving obedience, that we will be considered justified or righteous in God's sight. UN