Justification Defined

theology what does justification mean

In this series’ introductory article, I illustrated just how important it is to understand the concepts and realities of Justification and Sanctification. Let’s dive into justification and atonement.

So what is “justification?”

The Biblical concept of justification must be discussed based on what God’s Word says. Herein lies a Biblical definition in Romans 3:23-28,

… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.  It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.  For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.[1]

What does justification mean for us

Justification is necessary

Foremost, justification is necessary for salvation from man’s sinful nature and the consequences of sin. Because “all have fallen short of the glory of God,[2]” and because “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people[3]”  everyone requires a means to be made just before the Holy God and Judge, or they will remain condemned.

We cannot justify ourselves

We, sinful and fallen humans, are unable to perform tasks that justify, or make up for, our sinful deeds.

We are unable to perfectly keep the Law that God set forth in the Ten Commandments, and we are deserving of eternal separation from our Creator.

We are guilty, condemned, corrupt, and dead in our trespasses against God.

Makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside, right? (Sarcasm)

J.C. Ryle succinctly defines this problem, “Sin, in short, is that vast moral disease which affects the whole human race, of every rank and class and name and nation and people and tongue, a disease from which there never was but one born of woman that was free.[4]

Jesus is free from sin.

This one person who is free from sin is Jesus. Jesus never did, said, thought, or imagined anything that was not in ‘perfect union with the mind and law of God.[5][6]“God, being righteous, justifies the sinner.[7]” God justifies the sinner through sending His son, Jesus. Christ Jesus came to accomplish atonement.

reformed theology on justification

Atonement and Justification

         Christ’s atonement is sufficient for God’s punishment for sin because Christ did not sin, and yet sacrificed Himself for all who do. “For the many died by the trespass of one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many![1]” It is God’s gift to us to send His Son, Jesus, to die for our sins. In this work God has provided an “abundant provision of grace.[2]” The Apostle Paul writes, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.[3]

Our Joy

The beauty of being justified by Jesus lies in these facts. We are in dire need of being saved. By nature, we are sinful and there is no good thing within us. I know this can be difficult to grasp. We don’t want to think of ourselves as “bad.” However, there is no other way to begin to grasp how wide, how deep, and how long God’s love is for us. God the Father sent His only Son, Jesus, to die for our sins and to take our place in punishment.

Praying this passage over you

Let this prayer over the Ephesians wash over you today. May you altogether grasp your sinfulness and the richness and forgiveness and salvation that Jesus has bought for you:

Ephesians 3:14-21:

For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.


[1]. Romans 3:23-28, ESV.

[2]. Romans 3:23, ESV.

[3]. Romans 5:12, NIV.

[4]. J C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots (Welwyn, Hertfordshire, England: Evangelical Press, 1979), 1-2.

[5]. Ryle, Holiness, 2.

[6]. Jonathan H. Rainbow. 1989. "Double grace: John Calvin's view of the relationship of justification and sanctification." Ex Auditu 5, 99-105. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost, 100.


[7]. Alister E. McGrath. 2005. Iustitia Dei : A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed April 19, 2018), 6.

[1]. Romans 5:15, NIV.

[2]. Romans 5:17, NIV.

[3]. Romans 8:1, ESV.