In Christianity, salvation means deliverance from sin and its consequences believed to be brought about by faith in Jesus Christ. Mankind’s salvation from sin is the result of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, and each individual’s salvation is achieved through the application of the work of Christ to their life. Being the focal point of Christianity, salvation includes several aspects developed within different religious doctrines: adoption, conversion, regeneration, redemption, reconciliation, justification, election, sanctification, and glorification. The purpose of this paper is to explore the concept of justification in relation to salvation and sin and discuss how it is addressed in the Bible and different Christian doctrines.
Justification means the matter of one’s being declared righteous in God’s sight and being viewed as fully meeting the divine requirements. Human nature is corrupted by sin, and in order for it to be restored to the state of righteousness, one needs to turn to God. The concept of justification is integral to all theories within Christianity; however, there are several different approaches. They mainly concern the questions of whether justification is an event or a process, is it permanent or not, and whether it is affected by the act of God, by human actions, or by divine and human actions together.
Justification is the key concept in the Bible’s doctrine of salvation with justice being a category of fundamental importance, and God is described as a God of perfect justice. The concept of justification is thoroughly addressed in the epistles to the Romans and to the Galatians in the New Testament. According to the epistles to Galatians 2:16-17, “a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Carroll, 2008, p. 422). Justice implemented by God is opposed to the law of man. Sins are transgressions against God’s divine will, and they are subject only to the law of God.
The Epistle of James also addresses the question of the means by which a person can be justified. James states that men are justified by faith alone, but faith without works is not genuine faith. James writes, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works” (Carroll, 2008, p. 187). Men’s works are not an alternative of faith but a certification of faith.
The concept of justification plays a crucial role in the history of Christianity. It is believed to be the fault line that divided the Roman Catholic Church from the Lutheran and Reformed beliefs of Protestantism during the Reformation. The debate was centered around the question of the means of justification. The Roman Catholics claim that justification is imposed by God on the basis of the righteousness of Christ and the righteous works of people. The Protestants argue that the basis for the declaration of justification is only the righteousness of Christ, and that faith is the only instrument by which righteousness is imputed. For the Catholics, justification can be lost by committing a mortal sin, whereas, for the Lutherans, justification can be lost with the loss of faith.
In 1999, the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation signed the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. It established the consensus between two approaches to justification, stating, “we confess together that good works—a Christian life lived in faith, hope, and love—follow justification and are its fruits” (Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, 1999). It stated that the views on justification held by Catholics and Lutherans are based on the same principles and explain the same basic truths.
Relation of Justification to the Concept of Sin
Sins are acts of transgression against divine law performed through actions that are wicked and destructive. There are two types of sin: original sin inherited from Adam and Eve, and personal sin, which is the consequence of people’s actions. Through sin, the moral nature of people is polluted and is only restored by returning to faith in the process of regeneration and reconciliation (Erickson 2015). Justification deals with the problem of one’s guilt of having failed to fulfill God’s expectations and is understood as God’s action to pronounce sinners righteous in His sight. Justification does not imply that we are not sinners; it means that the Lord no longer holds our sin against us.
The concept of justification is integral to the doctrine of salvation. It implies that in order to be saved from sin, people need to restore their righteousness in God’s sight. There are debates within Christianity about the means by which justification can be achieved: whether it is God’s action or a combination of human and divine actions. The consensus reached by the Catholic church and the Lutheran church seems to be most applicable to every Christian’s life. The most common belief is that justification is the action of God, but it should be supported by one’s faith and rightful actions. In order to achieve salvation and be justified, we need to be strong in their faith and behave according to moral principles.
- Carroll, Robert, Prickett Stephen. 2008. The Bible: Authorized King James Version. OUP Oxford.
- Erickson, Millard J. 2015. Introducing Christian Doctrine. Baker Academic.
- Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. 1999. Joint Declaration of the Doctrine of Justification.