The process by which sinful human beings are made acceptable to a holy God is called Justification.
Justification by Grace. Christianity is unique because of its teaching of justification by grace (Rom 3:24). Justification is God’s declaration that the demands of His Law have been fulfilled in the righteousness of His Son. The basis for this justification is the death of Christ. Paul tells us that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them” (2 Cor 5:19). This reconciliation covers all sin: “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Heb 10:14). Justification, then, is based on the work of Christ, accomplished through His blood (Rom 5:9) and brought to His people through His resurrection (Rom 4:25).
When God justifies, He charges the sin of man to Christ and credits the righteousness of Christ to the believer (2 Cor 5:21). Thus, “through one Man’s righteous act, the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life” (Rom 5:18). Because this righteousness is “the righteousness of God” which is “apart from the law” (Rom 3:21), it is thorough; a believer is “justified from all things” (Acts 13:39). God is “just” because His holy standard of perfect righteousness has been fulfilled in Christ, and He is the “justifier,” because this righteousness is freely given to the believer (Rom 3:26; 5:16).
Justification by Faith. Although the Lord Jesus has paid the price for our justification, it is through our faith that He is received and His righteousness is experienced and enjoyed (Rom 3:25-30). Faith is considered righteousness (Rom 4:3,9), not as the work of man (Rom 4:5), but as the gift and work of God (John 6:28-29; Phil 1:29).
The New Testament sometimes seems to speak of justification by works. For example, Jesus spoke of justification (and condemnation) “by your words” (Matt 12:37). Paul said, “the doers of the law will be justified” (Rom 2:13). And James concluded that “a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (James 2:24).
These statements seem to conflict with Paul’s many warnings that “by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (Rom 3:20), and that the attempt to be justified through law is equivalent to being “estranged from Christ” and “fallen from grace” (Gal 5:4).
The solution to this problem lies in the distinction between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:16-25). Not only is Christ’s righteousness legally accounted to the believer, but Christ also dwells in the believer through the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:10), creating works of faith (Eph 2:10). Certainly God’s works may be declared righteous (Isa 26:12). If this is true, then the order of events in justification is grace, faith, and works; or, in other words, by grace, through faith, resulting in works (Eph 2:8-10).
The Results of Justification. The negative result of justification is what we are saved from: “Having now been justified…we shall be saved from wrath” (Rom 5:9). The positive result is what we are saved to: “Whom He justified, these He also glorified” (Rom 8:30).
Paul also notes “peace with God” (Rom 5:1) and access to God’s grace (Rom 5:2) as positive benefits. The believer in Christ may look forward to the redemption of his body (Rom 8:23) and an eternal inheritance (Rom 8:17; 1 Peter 1:4).
(from Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright © 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers)_