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What is… justification?

Our Theology Thursday word for this week is justification.


The verb to justify in the New Testament Greek is dikaioō. Dikaioō has a range of meanings, but a very common use of the word is “to declare righteous.” This is the general meaning of justification in the New Testament. Furthermore, the use of the word indicates that justification is a legal declaration, in this sense, by God.

justification (n) jəs-tə-fə-‘kā-shən – the act, process, or state of being justified (declared righteous) by God.1

Applied by God in salvation

In Romans 8:30, the apostle Paul provides an overview of the process by which God applies salvation to us, and he includes the verb form of justification:

“Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”

Here Paul explicitly mentions that this is something that God Himself does. It is not a product of man. “Those whom he called he also justified.”

Double imputation

When God declares us to be just in His sight, there are two aspects involved:

  1. We  have no penalty to pay for our sins because of Christ.
  2. We are declared righteous because of Christ.

This is often called double imputation, or “Our sins are imputed onto Christ, and His righteousness is imputed onto us.”

The believer’s sins are imputed onto Christ. Paul tells us, in Romans 8:1, that “there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” Thus, those who are justified in Christ are no longer obligated to pay the penalty for sin. And why are we no longer obligated? Because our sins have been imputed onto Christ on the cross and there, as He hanged, He paid the penalty for God’s children.

Christ’s righteousness was imputed onto believers. If God’s act of salvation toward sinners only included the payment of sins on the cross, we would still remain morally neutral before God. Remember how I mentioned that justification is the act of being declared righteous before God? Well, if we are to ever be declared righteous before God, we cannot stand on our own righteousness since there is none righteous (Romans 3:10). Therefore, God has imputed Christ’s righteousness onto us.

How God Can Declare Us to Be Righteous

When we say that God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us, this means that God considers the righteousness of Christ as belonging to us (Romans 4:6). Let’s close this week’s theology post by revisiting a passage we highlighted in last week’s post:

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-26)

Praise God for justifying us in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior!