Justification: God’s Answer for Sin
“23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God …” (Romans 3:23, King James Version)
The aforementioned scripture is often quoted in the Bible. It is also often misapplied and misunderstood. The reason for this is Bible scriptures are taken out of context. This means that numbered verses are not meant for the purpose of isolated passages of scripture. The original writings did not contain chapters and verses; these were added later as a point of reference (making it easier for someone to locate a particular passage).
Singling out one verse while attempting to understand it, absent of its context, leads to confusion. If you attempt to understand this verse as a standalone idea, it sends a very discouraging message, but when you view it in light of its context, the message changes drastically.
“ 21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;
22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:
23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 3:21-24, King James Version)
When reading this verse in its context, you are able to see that it is not a message of condemnation, but one that expresses justification.
It might be a good idea to define “justification”. Without becoming too technical, justification is the act of God declaring you righteous (having the righteousness of Christ) based on your faith in Jesus Christ and your acceptance of His gift of salvation.
Simplifying it even further, the scripture says, “all have sinned”. This means that no one is perfectly righteous in and of themselves. Here is another supportive verse:
“ But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. ” (Isaiah 64:6, King James Version)
This verse reveals that, as humans, even our righteousness (righteousness is relative apart from God) has flaws. With “justification”, God “imputes” (assigns) the righteousness of Christ to every Christian believer at the point of Salvation. God did the reverse to Christ on Calvary. When Christ was crucified, God “imputed” (assigned) all of the sins of mankind to the account of Christ. This is what is meant by the saying, “Christ died for your sins”; it means Christ took credit for every sin that has or will ever exist, and personally paid the penalty.
This is why “justification” is called a gift in Romans 8:24; it is not something a person can earn. The price of justification is just too high for any imperfect human to pay. Jesus Christ was perfect in His humanity, being sinless, he was able to assume the debt of sin for everyone and pay the price in full.
What is the price of sin? The book of Romans has the answer to that as well.
“ 23 … For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, King James Version)
In this passage the word death has two applications. The first application is physical death, meaning when Adam committed the original sin, all of mankind became mortal (meaning they would eventually die). The more important implication of the word death here is spiritual death (separated from God and spiritually dead). Spiritual death has many affects; however, the primary implication is separation from God for eternity.
In fact, when Jesus Christ was on the cross at Calvary, he experienced this very thing. When God imputed the sins of mankind to Christ, spiritual death took place before physical death. It was the agony of being separated from His father that caused Christ the greatest pain of all. This is why He cried out, “…My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me (Mathew 27:46, King James Version)?” Because God cannot be associated with sin, He turned His back on Christ as He judged each sin of humanity, one by one.
So then justification is the result of accepting the gift that Christ provided by going to the cross in the place of mankind. With this understanding in mind, it becomes clear that Romans 3:23 is not about condemnation, but it is a qualifying statement revealing that all have sinned, therefore all are in need of the gift of salvation, which includes “justification”.