What Does It Mean to Be “Justified”?
“God is the one who justifies” (Romans 8:33).
Justification is a legal term. It belongs to the realm of the law court. It means ‘to declare just,’ and ‘to declare righteous.’ It is the opposite of condemnation. The Christian has moved from a state of condemnation to one of justification.
It is the action of God and exclusively the action of God. It is the declaration God makes concerning those who believe in Christ. We are justified in Christ through faith. Faith is the instrument through which we receive this gift.
Justification does not merely mean forgiveness. It includes forgiveness, but it is much bigger than forgiveness. It means in addition that God declares us to be entirely guiltless. He regards us as if we had never sinned at all. He pronounces us to be just and to be righteous.
In doing so He is answering any declaration that the Law may make with respect to us. It is the judge upon the bench not merely saying that the prisoner is forgiven, but that he pronounces him to be a just and righteous person.
In justifying us God tells us that He has taken our sins and our guilt and has ‘imputed’ them to, put them to the account of, the Lord Jesus Christ and punished them in Him.
He announces also that, having done that, He now puts to our account, or ‘imputes’ to us, the perfect righteousness of His own dear Son. The Lord Jesus Christ obeyed the Law perfectly; He never broke it in any respect. He gave a full and a perfect satisfaction to all its demands.
That full obedience constitutes His righteousness. What God does is to put to our account, to put upon us, the righteousness of Jesus Christ. In declaring us to be justified, God proclaims that He now looks on us, not as we are, but as though we were clothed with the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. He gives us a new standing and a new status in His presence.
~ Martyn Lloyd-Jones