No one was going to believe this! He had been sitting in criminal court, expecting to be pronounced guilty as charged and facing a big time jail sentence for theft, when the judge received a note and conferred with counsel. As both lawyers stepped away from the bench the judge announced to the jury and gallery that the money he had stolen was returned to the company in full and that the state and my company no longer held anything against him. He was free to go!
Justification is a legal term. It means to declare someone righteous, free from guilt and positively righteous. When Paul introduces his letter to the Romans he says,
“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last” (Romans 1:16,17).
Righteousness is what we need because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We are all guilty before the bench of God, the righteous Judge. There is no plea bargaining, no chance of a reduced sentence for good behavior. We are under the wrath of God and deserve the death penalty, because “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
But Jesus Christ, “the Righteous One” has become an “atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 2:1,2), so that we might be “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).
Paul describes this justification in other terms when he speaks of Abraham being justified by faith, not works. He quotes Genesis 15:6, which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3). To be justified means to be credited with something that does not otherwise belong to you, that is, righteousness. Or Paul can refer to it in the negative sense when he refers to David’s praise in Psalm 32:1,2:
Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.
It is as if there is a huge balance sheet for each one of us in heaven. In the debit column are all the sins we have committed. In the credit column, much to our surprise, there is nothing because even our best deeds are unacceptable to God as righteousness. In Jesus’ balance sheet there is nothing in the debit column and everything in the credit column. As our substitute God credits Jesus’ balance sheet to us. Our debit column is erased and the righteousness of Christ is attributed to our credit column. Hallelujah, what a Savior!