Nothing can alter the finality or efficacy of Christ’s blood. His resurrection is your resurrection. In him, salvation is not merely possible, but actual. This means that you can take great joy in knowing that you are truly safe in God’s mighty hand.
Debate concerning the doctrine of justification is nothing new. In fact, it is because of wrong views of justification that the apostle Paul wrote statements like these:
I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Gal. 2:21)
Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ But the law is not of faith. (Gal. 3:11-12a)
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom. 4:24-25)
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? (Gal. 3:1)
As sinful creatures, the gospel does not come naturally to us. We need to be reminded over and over again of the fact that God’s grace is lavish. It comes as no surprise that a biblical conception of justification would cause offense, for justification is the very heart of the gospel. That is precisely why justification is so important. “Because if this article stands,” said Luther, “the church stands; if this article collapses, the church collapses” (Weimarer Ausgabe 40/3.352.2-3).
Now that you know that justification is important, here are seven things you need to know about it and why.
1. God justifies sinners.
In Romans 3:22b-24a Paul says, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift.” A few verses after this he asks, “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded” (v. 27a). Have you ever felt like you sinned too gravely to be forgiven? Have you ever questioned your salvation because you really messed up? Maybe you struggle with certain sins that you can’t seem to master, and you wonder how God can possibly accept you. You are a sinner—but there is good news for you: God only justifies sinners.
The “righteous” do not need a savior; it is for sinners that Christ died. By living a perfect life in your place, dying on the cross, rising again on the third day and ascending into heaven, Christ enacted a great exchange: where he deserved life, he received your death; and in his resurrection, which proved him righteous, you are declared righteous. If you believe this, then your truest identity is no longer sinner; rather, whatever can be said about Christ with regard to righteousness can now be said about you.
2. Christ’s righteousness is your justification.
Before Luther had his breakthrough in understanding justification, he felt deeply troubled over Romans 1:17, which says, “For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” This last part of the verse is from Habakkuk 2:4. “But how can one be righteous in relation to God’s righteous law?” Luther asked. He thought he had to be inwardly righteous himself to be justified.
When Luther came to realize that it is an alien righteousness received through faith that justifies, and not one’s own righteousness, he had the breakthrough that led to the Reformation. “I am not good and righteous, but Christ is,” Luther said. And the same is true for us.
3. It is received through faith alone.
Let’s be clear: faith is a gift, an instrument through which you receive Christ—not a work of your own. As Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” You are saved through faith, not on the basis of your faith. The focal point is Christ, the object of your faith, not faith itself.