Justification is the gracious act of God by which He declares a sinner righteous only through faith in Jesus.
So, let’s unpack that: justification. Let me pause here. Justification is one of the most important doctrines in all of Christianity. John Calvin says, “It’s the hinge upon which everything turns.” If we miss justification, we’ll miss the whole gospel. So, pay close attention here to what justification is: the gracious act of God. "If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities . . . who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3). "Hear my prayer, O Lord; give ear to my pleas for mercy! . . . Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you." (Psalm 143:1-2).
God justifies us, not because of anything in us, because of grace in Him. We talked about this. God gives faith––we’ve talked about that––and as God gives faith, God grants justification. We’re passive in this thing. We are justified by God. So, this is something He does by His grace.
A gracious act of God by which He declares. Justification is a declaration. This is important because justification is an act, not a process. It’s a once-for-all declaration. Once you’ve been justified, you're not more justified the next day and more justified ten years from now. It’s justified once-for-all. A declaration. He declares.
It’s a legal declaration, that’s the word picture in Scripture of justification. It’s a legal declaration. It’s a pronouncement that God says, “Not guilty.” It’s an eternal declaration. It’s once-for-all. It’s a completed decision.
You have this picture in Luke 23 of the thief on the cross being guaranteed he will enter into heaven. Romans 8, an awesome picture that says, “Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Those who are justified will be glorified––guaranteed. Nothing can separate us from His love. Once you're justified, your justification is sure.
It’s the gracious act of God by which He declares once for all that a sinner . . . so this is key. Obviously, we’ve covered this, but it’s important to remember. Martin Luther said, “Here is a problem which needs God to solve it.” Sinfulness of man . . . righteousness of God . . . the demands of the law. You put those three things together in a courtroom of law––someone who has broken the law with a just judge––then things don’t look good for us. The result of that setup: we’re condemned by our immorality, our actions that break God’s law. We’ve all broken God’s law, and we’re condemned by that.
However, it's not just by our immorality: the Bible teaches that we’re condemned by our morality, our attempts to keep God’s law. The Bible talks about all our efforts to obey God’s law to do good, our righteous deeds, and they all fall short. They’re “like a polluted garment,” Isaiah 64 says. “By works . . . no human being will be justified in his sight” (Romans 3:20). One Puritan Pastor said, “Even our tears of repentance need to be washed in the blood of the Lamb.”
We have no case before a Holy God. Guilty, can’t earn His favor. So, God declares a sinner righteous. That is amazing.
–– For the rest of the definition of justification from Secret Church 10, including the video, audio, and transcripts, go here (see Session 3).
David Platt is the president of the International Mission Board (IMB), Teaching Pastor at McLean Bible Church in Washington D.C., and founder of Radical. He is the author of several books, including Radical, Follow Me, and Counter Culture.