Justification is the act of God, as a judge, whereby He declares the believing sinner right with Him and His Law, because of the merit of Christ’s righteousness and death that He credits to the sinner by faith and faith alone.
In justification, there are three transactions. Two are accounting transactions. One is a legal transaction.
First, in justification, when the sinner believes, God credits our sin to Christ. The word “credit” or “impute” is a financial term. It literally means “to post to a ledger, to deposit something in someone’s account.” So, in justification, God takes my sin, every sin I ever have or ever will commit and credits that sin to Jesus Christ. And on the cross, God treated Jesus as if He had committed every single one of those sins I had committed.
Second, God credits Christ’s righteousness – His life of perfect obedience – to us. He deposits Jesus’ perfect life in my account. That’s exactly what 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” God takes Jesus’ perfect life, puts it in my account, and He treats me as if I had lived His life.
Third, on the basis of crediting our sin to Christ and crediting Christ’s perfect life to us, God forgives us and declares us forever right before the courtroom of His justice. Forever! Think of that! Every single sin you and I have ever committed carries enough guilt to deserve God’s eternal wrath and curse. But through the life and death of Jesus Christ, all our sin has been pardoned!
The divine standard
If you want to try on your own to gain that right standing before God, you’ve got to meet the divine standard.
First, you have to deal with the guilt and pollution you inherited from your parents. Then, you must never once in your life put your own desires or interests ahead of that of others. Instead, you must constantly love them and pursue only their good without a single moment of selfishness.
Second, from the moment of birth to the second you die, you must love God with all your heart, and your mind, and your strength, obeying Him perfectly in everything He’s revealed. But if you sin even once, your entire house of cards tumbles, because James says, “Whoever keeps the whole law and stumbles in one, he is guilty of all.”
Obviously, you and I can never gain a right standing with God by our own efforts.
The good news is that there is another way. God will declare you legally right forever in the courtroom of His justice, if you will believe in His son.