What Is the Definition of Justification in the Bible?

Understand what it means to be justified by faith in Jesus Christ

Justification in the Bible
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Justification (pronounced just i fi KAY shun) means to set something right or to declare righteous. In the original language, justification was a forensic term meaning "acquit," or the opposite of "condemnation."

In Christianity, Jesus Christ, the sinless, perfect sacrifice, died in our place, taking the punishment we deserve for our sins. In turn, sinners who believe in Christ as their Savior are justified by God the Father.

That is the message of the New Testament, the central theme of the entire Bible. Human beings could not pay the price for our sins even if we wanted to; humans are tainted by sin, which makes us unworthy as a sacrifice.

A Legal Act

Justifying is the act of a judge. This legal act means Christ's righteousness is imputed, or credited to believers:

Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses. (Acts 13:39, NIV)

Incapable of keeping the Ten Commandments (the law of Moses), people are helpless in their sin. In the New Covenant, God the Father replaced animal sacrifices with the one-time sacrifice of his Son, the Lamb of God: 

By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear. (Hebrews 8:13, NIV)

One way to understand justification is the judicial act of God in which he declares a person to be in right relationship to himself. Sinners enter into a new covenant relationship with God through the forgiveness of sins.

Christ's Perfect Righteousness Credited to Believers

God's plan of salvation includes forgiveness, which means taking a believer's sins away. Justification means adding Christ's perfect righteousness to believers:

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! (Romans 5:9, NIV)

This shedding of blood is absolutely necessary. While we may not be able to understand it, God declared there could not be a valid sacrifice without the death of his only Son:

In fact, the law requires that nearly everything ​​be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (Hebrews 9:22, NIV)​

All Claims Are Satisfied

Easton’s Bible Dictionary further explains: "In addition to the pardon of sin, justification declares that all the claims of the law are satisfied in respect of the justified. It is the act of a judge and not of a sovereign. The law is not relaxed or set aside, but is declared to be fulfilled in the strictest sense; and so the person justified is declared to be entitled to all the advantages and rewards arising from perfect obedience to the law."

Just as Adam's disobedience brought the scourge of sin upon all humanity, Christ's death on the cross brought justification:

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. (Romans 5:18, ESV)

However, this verse cannot be interpreted to support the idea of universalism. The "justification and life for all men" in that verse means all people who believe and acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Throughout the New Testament, salvation is conditioned on belief in Christ:

And when God counted him as righteous, it wasn’t just for Abraham’s benefit. It was recorded for our benefit, too, assuring us that God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God. (Romans 4:23-25, NLT, emphasis added)

The doctrine of Hell, preached by Christ himself, allows for no second chances after death.

The Apostle Paul repeatedly states that man is not justified by keeping the law (works), but rather by faith in Jesus Christ: "So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith" (Galatians 3:24, NIV). Paul's teaching on justification by faith in Christ became the theological basis for the Protestant Reformation led by men like Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Calvin.

Salvation, and the subsequent justification that leads to heaven, is free to all people who believe in Christ. Even so, it came at a terrible price to Jesus and his Father.