How would you define justification? I’ve heard some say that justification means that God treats me “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned.
Is this a helpful way to explain it?
In one sense there is truth here. God does treat those who are justified as if they have never sinned. We have peace with God (Rom. 5:1-2) rather than judgment from God. However, this just doesn’t go far enough. It leaves us short of what the Bible teaches and conveys an insufficient understanding of justification.
Justification is the instantaneous and irreversible divine declaration of the unrighteous as positionally righteous, based upon the merit of Christ’s obedience, applied by grace and received through faith (Rom. 3.24-28; 4.1-5; 5.1-2). God declares the unjust to be just based upon Christ’s work for them.
To simply say that justification is “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned is to stop far short of what the Bible says. It does not take us far enough.
Justification by faith alone is the declarative act by God the judge that we are forever wrapped in the everlasting righteousness of Christ! His record is now your record. His merit is yours. God treats you as righteous because he treated Christ as unrighteous—for our sake (2 Cor. 5:21).
If, however, God merely treats us ‘just-as-if-I’d” never sinned then we’d be morally neutral. We would be back in the garden with untested holiness like Adam before he sinned. This is a far cry from being clothed in the everlasting righteousness of the last Adam. Not only has God taken away the debt of our sin but he has given us his righteousness!
Sinclair Ferguson rightly observes,
“We are not simply like Adam, beginning all over again; we are in Christ. In the sight of God we are not only innocent, but as righteous as Christ is, because righteous with his personal righteousness!” The Christian Life, p. 81
The illustration falls too far short by not emphasizing our sin and the corresponding remedy of Christ’s perfect righteousness. After all, it is Christ’s righteousness, earned through his obedience to the Law, that we cling to every day. It is this solidarity with Christ that provides believers with security, humility and joy.
Therefore, I encourage believers to pitch this convenient explanation of justification on the grounds that it sells short what Jesus actually did for sinners like you and me.
[I say it like this: Just as if I’d always obeyed]