“But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” Romans 3:21–28
The teaching of justification by faith is what separates biblical Christianity from all other belief systems. In every religion, and in some branches of what is called “Christianity,” man is working his way to God. Only in true, biblical Christianity is man saved as a result of grace through faith. Only through the Biblical accounts do we see that justification is by faith, apart from works.
The word justified means “pronounced or treated as righteous.” For a Christian, justification is the act of God not only forgiving the believer’s sins but imputing to him the righteousness of Christ. The Bible states in several places that justification only comes through faith (e.g., Romans 5:1; Galatians 3:24). Justification is not earned through ones efforts or works; rather, through the righteousness of Jesus the Christ (Ephesians 2:8; Titus 3:5). This makes the Christian, declared righteous, and freed from the guilt of sin.
Justification is a completed work of God, and it is instantaneous, as opposed to sanctification, which is an ongoing process of growth by which we become more Christlike (the act of “being saved,” 1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:23). Sanctification occurs after justification.
Understanding the doctrine of justification is important for a Christian. First, it is the very knowledge of justification and of grace that motivates good works and spiritual growth; therefore, justification leads to sanctification. Also, the fact that justification is a finished work of God means that Christians have assurance of their salvation. In God’s eyes, believers have the righteousness necessary to gain eternal life, period.
Once a person is justified, there is nothing else he needs in order to gain entrance into heaven. Since justification comes by faith in Christ, based on His work on our behalf, our own works are disqualified as a means of salvation (Romans 3:28). There exist vast religious systems with complex theologies that teach the false doctrine of justification by works. But they are teaching “a different gospel — which is really no gospel at all” (Galatians 1:6–7).
Without an understanding of justification by faith alone, we cannot truly perceive the gift of grace — God’s “unmerited favor” becomes “merited” in our minds, and we begin to think we deserve salvation. The doctrine of justification by faith helps us maintain “pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3). Understanding justification by faith puts in perspective that one cannot earn a pass into heaven by deeds, it is utterly impossible. There is no ritual, no sacrament, no deed that can make us worthy of the righteousness of Christ. It is only by His grace, in response to our faith, that God has credited to us the holiness of His Son. Both Old and New Testaments say, “The just shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38).