The Gospel is our best ammunition against Satan’s lies and condemning accusations, but religion still seems to remain many Christians weapon of choice. This is because our default mode, like a computer printer, will execute religion unless we disobey the impulsive urge of religion and select the Gospel mode of operational living. Frankly, I do not see this happening without memorizing a short definition of justification – justification by grace through faith in Christ alone.
If the pastor asked a large congregation of Christians on any given Sunday what does justification mean, very few (if any) hands would be raised to answer the question. Why was Abraham credited righteous when he was a sinner? Why was Joshua the high priest in filthy rags and accused by Satan as such covered with white garments? Why did Jesus come to seek not the righteous, but the unrighteous? Why did the apostle Paul take so much time arguing for justification by faith in Romans, Corinthians, and Galatians?
What is this vital doctrine? Martin Luther said it is “the article upon which the church stands or falls” (articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae). John Calvin asserted that justification is “the principal hinge” upon which Christianity is supported, “For unless you understand first of all what your position is before God, and what the judgment [is] which He passes upon you, you have no foundation on which your salvation can be laid, or on which your godly approach can be reared.”
The teaching of scripture tells us who we are in Christ. When we trust Christ for our justification, we trust that (1) we are pardoned of all our sins; (2) accepted as righteous in God’s sight; (3) but only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.
When Jesus Christ lived thirty-three years of perfect righteousness that active righteousness was what was imputed or credited to the Christian. The Christian’s imperfect self-righteousness, which is as filthy rags, and unrighteousness were taken upon Jesus on the cross. So that He suffered the penalty our self-righteousness and unrighteousness deserves, and we receive and become the righteousness of God in Christ. (I always want to write this in all capitals and add exclamation marks.)
Scriptural Support abounds with this Gospel truth. Abraham was credited as righteous when he believed God’s promise (Genesis 15:6). Paul taught that all have fallen short of God’s righteousness, but Christ’s righteousness alone is our basis for acceptance with God as righteous (Romans 3:22-28; 4:5; 5:1; Acts 13:38-39; Galatians 2:14-16; Philippians 3:8-9). “For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin,” Paul explains, “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).” God declares the ungodly, who believe the Gospel, as righteous in His sight, but only for the righteous life of Jesus and his sacrificial death, He became for us when He was crucified. There is no more need to establish a righteousness of our own. There is no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). There is no more need for justifying ourselves before God and others.
Memorize This Prayer as Your Daily Bread:
I am pardoned of all my sins and accepted as righteous in His sight,
but only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to me and received
by faith alone. Amen.”
 Martin Luther, What Luther Says: An Anthology, ed. Ewald M. Plass, 3 vols. (St Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing, 1959), Vol. 2, p. 704 n5.
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 vols., trans. Henry Beverage (1845; reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), Vol. 2, p. 37 (3.11.1).
 This is based on The Westminster Confession of Faith, Shorter Catechism Question/Answer #33, (Philadelphia, PA: Great Commission Publications, 1989), p. 74.