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Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. Isaiah 53:12


Justification is a term used in Christianity to describe God's declaration that a sinner is without sin because of God's forgiveness.

Views on justification

Justification is often understood as the action of God in giving or reckoning the righteousness of Jesus to a sinner, so that the sinner is declared by God as being righteous under the Law. In other words, justification is the term that describes the removal of sins from a person. In the Book of Isaiah the concept of justification is stated beautifully - Isaiah 1:18

"Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool."

There are however significant differing views on justification among Christians.

Justification by faith plus works

The Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church teach that justification and cleansing from sin requires both faith in Christ's redemptive work on the cross as well as obedience and good works. This is known as justification by faith plus works.

Justification by faith alone

Protestant churches traditionally have taught that justification and cleansing from sin requires only faith in Christ's redemptive work on the cross, and does not require any good works on the part of the sinner. This is known as justification by faith alone, and was one of the core reasons for the Protestant break-away from the Roman Catholic Church in the Reformation. Passages such as James 2:24 which discuss justification through works are explained by viewing good works as evidence of the justification that has already through the believer's faith.

The New Perspective on Paul

Some Protestant scholars, most notably N.T. Wright, have recently questioned the traditional Protestant understanding of justification. This has lead to the development of the New Perspective on Paul, which is a term that actually refers to a wide variety of more recent interpretations on the theology of the Apostle Paul. According to Wright, justification is not the process of how a sinner becomes right in God's sight, but rather is simply the declaration that a person is already right with God. Wright has argued that justification is more about ecclesiology, or who belongs to the church, than soteriology (the theology of salvation). He suggests that when Paul has stated that a person is justified by faith apart from the Law, what Paul means is that a person belongs to the family of God (the church) by virtue of his faith alone and not by virtue of his ethnic identity as a Jew. This shift of emphasis has caused ripples among some Protestant Christians, who question the implication this perspective has on the contribution of good deeds or works to salvation.

Biblical passages on justification

The word justification is derived from the Koine Greek word Δικαιοω (dikaioo). It is used in a variety of settings in the New Testament, especially by the apostle Paul, who spoke strongly about justification by faith alone, for example in Romans 3:28

We maintain therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.

The apostle James also speaks of justification. He speaks of it in terms of justification by faith and works, for example in James 2:24

You see then that by works, a man is justified, and not only by faith.


N.T. Wright in

In theology, therefore, justification is not the means whereby it becomes possible to declare someone in the right. It is simply that declaration itself. It is not how someone becomes a Christian, but simply the declaration that someone is a Christian. It is not the exercise of mercy, but the just declaration concerning one who has already received mercy. This is a crucial distinction, without which it is impossible to understand the biblical material.


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