By What Are We Justified?

Man at sunset

The concept of justification is of major importance in the gospel. But what does it mean to be justified? Thayer defines the word as declaring or pronouncing one to be just, righteous, or such as he ought to be.

In the New Testament, justification is about God recognizing us as being righteous or right before Him. This divine recognition is key. We are not righteous simply by declaring ourselves to be righteous. We may claim it, but that does not make it so. How then can we be justified? The New Testament mentions several things by which we are justified. We will notice them in this article.

By God’s Grace

Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).

The fact that we are justified by grace means that our ability to appear righteous before God is not something that is earned. Grace is unmerited favor. We cannot do enough good things to justify ourselves apart from God’s grace. The reason is because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Justification by grace is “through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). We will discuss this more in the next point, but it is important that we understand that justification by grace is in Christ. This means that those who are outside of Christ cannot stand justified before God. It does not matter how “good” or “moral” they are, God does not recognize them as being right.

By Christ’s Blood

Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him” (Romans 5:9).

This justification by the blood of Christ is another reminder that we are justified “through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). We can be “reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10).

How do we gain access to the blood of Christ? This is an important question to answer if we want to be “justified by His blood” (Romans 5:9). The cleansing blood of Jesus was the blood which He shed in His death on the cross (Colossians 1:20). We contact that blood when we are “baptized into Christ Jesus” because we are being “baptized into His death” (Romans 6:3). When we do this, we are washed, sanctified, and justified (1 Corinthians 6:11).

By Our Faith

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

Earlier in the same letter, Paul made a contrast between being “justified by faith” and being justified by “works of the Law” (Romans 3:28). The “works” to which he was referring were the works of the Law of Moses. The Law was given to “lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24).

Paul cited Abraham as an example of one who was justified by faith: “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness’” (Romans 4:3; cf. Genesis 15:6). He trusted in God’s promises and was counted as righteous (Romans 4:19-22). We need to have the same type of faith as Abraham. Paul wrote, “Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (Romans 4:23-24). If we believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, we can believe that we will be too (1 Thessalonians 4:14; 1 Corinthians 15:20-22).

By Our Humility

I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).

Jesus told a parable in which He contrasted a Pharisee with a tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). The Pharisee was arrogant (Luke 18:11-12) while the tax collector was humble (Luke 18:13). It was the tax collector, because he humbled himself, who was justified (Luke 18:14).

Remember the definition for justification – God declaring us to be right or righteous. This necessarily means we must humble ourselves before Him. James made this clear when he wrote, “But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (James 4:6). We must be humble to be approved of God.

By Our Words

For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:37).

Jesus warned that we will be judged for the words that we speak: “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36). This will result in either justification or condemnation, depending on the type of words that we have spoken (Matthew 12:37).

Because of this, we must be careful of the words that we use. We should “speak truth” and whatever is “good for edification” (Ephesians 4:25, 29). We should also avoid speech that is corrupt – lying, gossip, false teaching, and so on.

By Our Works

You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24).

We noticed Abraham earlier as an example of one who was justified by faith (Romans 4:3) rather than “works of the Law” (Romans 3:28). While this was referring to works of the Law of Moses, many want this to include all works so they can argue that we are justified by faith alone. However, James used the example of Abraham to make it clear that certain works are necessary: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,’ and he was called the friend of God” (James 2:21-23). James cited the same Old Testament passage to argue for justification by works that Paul cited to argue for justification by faith. Therefore, faith and works are not contradictory, but complementary.

If we do not practice the right works, then our faith is dead (James 2:17, 26). James wrote, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22). Remember, justification means that God is declaring us to be righteous. John wrote, “Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous” (1 John 3:7). In other words, we must do what is right for God to recognize us as being right.

Conclusion

God has made it possible for us to be justified (right before Him) through His grace and the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. We need to be sure we take advantage of the plan He has given whereby we can be justified by responding to Him in humble, faithful obedience.


When you subscribe, you’ll also receive 3 free PDF’s: Plain Bible Teaching on the Gospel, the latest issue of Plain Bible Teaching Quarterly Review, and Road Trip.


Comments

  1. kent Bailey says

    Your article on Justification is excellent. You stated the issue very clearly and gave a logical deduction regarding what the New Testament teaches regarding the subject.

  2. Thanks, Kent. I appreciate your comment.