Recently a friend asked me to explain what it means to be “justified”. It took me by surprise, as my friend is not a new believer, and he's been involved in ministry for several years. So my assumption was that he was already very familiar with this basic Christian doctrine. But as I began to talk with him, I realized that "justification" is one of those terms we hear thrown around by our pastors a lot, but don't always have an understanding of what it means to us on a practical level.
In it's most basic form, “justification” is a word that declares the “rightness” of something. And not just symbolic or potential, but actual rightness. The Apostle Paul describes it this way in Romans 3:25-26, “For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed His life, shedding His blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when He held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for He was looking ahead and including them in what He would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate His righteousness, for He himself is fair and just, and He declares sinners to be right in His sight when they believe in Jesus.”
So when we come to Christ and ask Him to forgive our sins - recognizing that He died in our place and took the penalty we should have taken - then we have been justified. If that still sounds confusing, think of it this way, “justification” means we can look at our confessed sins as if they never happened. And that’s because, when we come to Christ and ask His forgiveness, He says, “You are now justified. There is no longer a record of the wrongs you have committed.”
It's an incredible truth to hold on to, especially because Satan loves to use our guilt from past, confessed sin to keep us from serving God. He loves to come along and whisper in our ears, “Do you remember what you did? Do you remember that sin you committed? That's who you are - a sinner.” But if you're a child of God, you can fight Satan's attacks by clinging to the truth that you are justified. You can hold on to the truth that Jesus looks at us just as if our sin never happened. In her book “Each New Day”, Christian author Corrie Ten Boom puts it like this, “God has taken our sin and thrown it into the sea of forgetfulness, and posted a sign that says, 'No fishing allowed.’”
Once we are justified, it’s as if our confessed sin never happened. But having said that, let me say this - God does not justify us so that we can simply sit around and feel good about ourselves, or to give us an excuse to return to those sins. Instead, He forgives us, justifies us, and frees us from the power of sin so that we can serve Him. Galatians 5:13 puts it like this: “For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.”
Folks, if we have confessed our sins to God, then we have been justified and set free from our past - and in response we are now able to freely serve Him. So today, let's do that. Let's take time to thank God for justifying us, then allow the truth of our freedom to move us forward in love, praise, and service to the One who truly set us free.