Current events give indications that we are living in the last days. One of the signs of the times not usually mentioned is predicted in 2 Timothy 4:1-4:
“I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (see 1 Tim. 4:1).
Here we are warned that organized religion will drift away from biblical doctrine.
I was reminded of this warning recently when a popular TV preacher reported on his mission trip to China. The essence of his “Christian” message there was on the value of self esteem and positive thinking. Belief in God and Christ were optional! How important it is for us, then, to study the Scriptures and “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).
Perhaps the most foundational doctrine to the Christian faith is that which describes how God rescues sinners and makes them right with Himself. The way He makes unrighteous people righteous is known as “justification.” The Greek word for this (dikaiow) has three shades of meaning: 1) to render righteous 2) to show, exhibit one to be righteous 3) to declare, pronounce, one to be just, righteous.  The words “righteous” and “righteousness” occur some 546 times in the Bible!
In the first century the sect of the Pharisees thought they could merit justification. They meticulously tried to keep the written and oral laws in order to be accepted by God. However, the Lord Jesus rebuked their misguided efforts. In His Sermon on the Mount, Christ warned the disciples, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20).
If these religious experts could not achieve God’s righteous standards, what hope has the average person to do so? Let’s consider what God’s Word says about legal justification, spiritual justification, and practical justification.
LEGAL JUSTIFICATION: A New Standing
Since the book of Romans is a systematic explanation of the gospel, consider what it says about the essence of this good news: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith'” (Rom. 1:16,17). Here we learn that the gospel is about how God graciously makes unworthy sinners to be righteous. After demonstrating that the Gentiles are unrighteous (Rom. 1:18-31) and the Jews are unrighteous (Rom. 2:1-29), the Old Testament Scriptures are quoted to establish this conclusion:
“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin … for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:19,20,23).
This bad news proves that no human philosophy or man made religion can bridge the gap between a sinful human race and a perfectly righteous Creator.
However, the good news of the gospel reveals that the way of gaining righteousness is available to a lost world:
“But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe … being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:21-26).
I consider this passage is the theological centerpoint of the whole Bible.
Here we learn that:
- God provides His righteousness apart from people trying to keep the law of Moses.
- God’s righteousness is received through faith in Christ.
- Believers are justified freely, by God’s grace.
- Justification is based on what Jesus Christ accomplished on the Cross. At Calvary He set us free from the penalty of sin (redemption), by satisfying justice, thus averting divine judicial wrath (propitiation). Christ’s resurrection demonstrated that His atonement was successful (see Rom 4:25).
- Christ’s atonement also paid for the sins of people who lived prior to His coming. These B. C. believers had demonstrated their faith through the sacrificial system that God established to prefigure the substitutionary death of the Lord Jesus (Lev. 17:11; Isaiah 53:6).
One of the unique features of justification is that it cannot be earned. It is provided by God BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). This is not a lifelong process, but is accomplished when a person repents and places true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:9,10; 4:5; Gal. 2:16,17; Titus 3:5).
This grace was diametrically opposed to the self-righteousness of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. That is why the common people were more receptive to the good news of salvation than the religious leaders were. Christ gave this parable to illustrate the need for humble faith in God’s grace:
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men–extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house JUSTIFIED rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:10-14).
Some have used the phrase “JUST AS IF I had never sinned” to define justification. This gets us started in remembering just-if-i-cation. Colossians 2:13,14 testifies of the believer’s full pardon: “And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He [God] has made alive together with Him, HAVING FORGIVEN YOU ALL TRESPASSES, HAVING WIPED OUT THE HANDWRITING OF REQUIREMENTS THAT WAS AGAINST US, WHICH WAS CONTRARY TO US. AND HE HAS TAKEN IT OUT OF THE WAY, HAVING NAILED IT TO THE CROSS” (see Titus 2:14). Friend, if you have received Christ as your Lord and Savior, this is true of you! You are totally forgiven! Praise God that you are free of guilt, so live as a testimony of thanksgiving.
However, there is even more involved in legal justification. If it stopped with forgiveness, we would merely be restored to INNOCENCE. However, God has granted us RIGHTEOUSNESS! Not only has God pardoned us, He has credited to us Christ’s righteousness. Consider 1 Corinthians 1:30. “But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God–and RIGHTEOUSNESS and sanctification and redemption.” 
To illustrate this, imagine that God required a trillion dollars for you to enter heaven. But, you have two major problems: You don’t have the trillion dollars AND you’re a trillion dollars in debt! Now let’s say God paid the debt for you as a gift. This is comparable to the full pardon of sin at the Cross. Second, imagine the Lord Jesus earning an infinite amount of “righteousness” funds during His earthly ministry. When you receive Him, God the Father places your name with Christ on His spiritual bank account. The necessary funds are now yours by grace! Even so, the positive righteousness of Christ that has been credited to believers.
God credits the believer with the full, active obedience of the Lord Jesus! “For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the GIFT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17).
Understanding and believing in this doctrine of justification is essential for the biblical counselor. Dr. Larry Crabb has observed,
“So much of our Christian activity is motivated by a personal desire to win someone else’s approval and hence become acceptable. All the pain and problems which result from that sort of motivation are unnecessary because of the doctrine of justification by faith. I am already acceptable. I don’t need anyone’s approval. God has declared me to be OK. When I understand that even feebly, my inevitable response is, ‘Thank you, Lord–I want to please You.’ The foundation of the entire Christian life then is a proper understanding of justification.” 
Charles Wesley penned these words of praise for God’s justification:
And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou my God shouldst die for me?
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou my God shouldst die for me?
Part 1 of 3
I confess that the title should grammatically read: “Made right to live rightLY…” Right?
 Thayers Greek Lexicon
 “But if God merely declared us to be forgiven from our past sins, that would not solve our problems entirely, for it would only make us morally neutral before God. We would be in a state that Adam was in before he had done anything right or wrong in God’s sight–he was not guilty before God, but neither had he earned a record of righteousness before God … We must rather move from a point of moral neutrality to a point of having positive righteousness before God, the righteousness of a life of perfect obedience to him. ” Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, (U.K.: Inter Varsity Press; USA: Zondervan, 1994), p. 725.
 Paul renounced his attempts to earn righteousness as a Pharisee after He met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. The apostle testified, “Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, THE RIGHTEOUSNESS WHICH IS FROM GOD BY FAITH” (Phil. 3:8,9).
 Lawrence J. Crabb, Effective Biblical Counseling, (Zondervan, 1977), p.24.
Copyright 2002 by John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint this article for non-commercial use. Please credit GraceNotebook.com. Scripture quotations (unless indicated otherwise) are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.