Understanding The Doctrine Of Justification

Imagine for a moment you are sitting in a courtroom as an observer. In front of you sits a person who is on trial for murder. Next to that person is the defense lawyer and the rest of the defense legal team. Across from them sits the prosecutor. The judge and jury are in their respective places.

This one-week trial is nearing an end. Both legal teams have given their closing statements. The case is as open-and-shut as there is. All of the evidence points to a conviction. The crime was even caught on camera. On top of that, the defendant confessed to the crime, hoping for a reduced sentence.

Then all of a sudden, as the jury has now come back from the deliberation room and are prepared to read the verdict to the courtroom, the judge stands up and walks out from behind his bench. He yells, “stop!” and swiftly heads over to where the defendant now stands, awaiting the verdict (in handcuffs). At this point every single person in the courtroom is in complete silence anticipating what is next.

The judge proceeds to tell the bailiff to take the handcuffs off of the accused and place them on him. He then says “I am taking the defendant’s place. No longer does the charge for murder apply to him. The charge will now be placed upon me. Jury, will you please read your verdict now, replacing the defendant’s name with my name? And please remain silent everyone, this is not a joke.

Everyone in the courtroom is in shock. This can’t be happening. The jury obliges and reads the verdict:

We the people of the jury find the defendant, GUILTY!

The judge then sentences himself: “I hereby sentence myself to the death penalty for the crime of taking another person’s life. I take full responsibility and will bear the punishment that this crime deserves to bear.” He asks the bailiff to escort him out of the room and to the police car waiting to take him to prison where he will await his final punishment.

What about everyone else in the courtroom? They all go home, including the formerly accused.


Justification Defined In Not-So-Heady-Terms

This scenario gives us a picture of what the theological and biblical term justification is. Simply put, justification means to be pardoned from guilt. The original Greek word that we see in the New Testament is a legal term and would have been used in ancient Greek courtrooms (and is still used today).

The Apostle Paul says this to the church in Rome: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” Romans 5:18

The situation presented above is a tiny example of the much larger pardoning that Christians have received from God through Christ. We are all like the criminal awaiting the murder conviction. As sinners, we have rejected God and His law and fall very short of getting to Him (Romans 3:23). The results of this are a deserved death sentence (Romans 6:23). And there is absolutely no hope of changing this (Ephesians 2:12).

But Jesus, who is the judge (2 Tim 4:1), stepped off of His bench, came and stood in our place as the criminal (Phil 2:8), was delivered up to death for our sins (Rom 4:25), becoming the atonement (the substitution) for our sins (1 John 2:2), so that we could be forever pardoned from our guilt!

When we deserved to be condemned for our crimes, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8) and pardoned us so that we wouldn’t have to bear the punishment we deserved to bear. THAT, my friends, is justification.


Questions To Spark Further Thought

Now, I would like to call your attention to these 3 questions:

  1. Do you understand the doctrine of justification better after having read this article?

  2. Do you feel more equipped to talk to your kids about it?

  3. What, if anything, could I do or have done to help you: A. Understand justification better, and B. Be able to communicate it more effectively to your kids?