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Simply put, to justify is to declare righteous, to make one right with God. Justification is God's declaring those who receive Christ to be righteous, based on Christ's righteousness being imputed ...
Romans 4:25," Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification." It was His rising from the dead that procured our (just as if I'd never sinned) ethical relationship. Roman 5:1 continues, that because of that, we now have peace with God. " Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:" Only through his resurrection are we justified, for without that we could not obtain, nor have imputed to us, His righteousness! 1 Corinthians 15:13,17, "But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:....And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; you are yet in your sins." So, 'Justification' is like a verdict in court ('just as if I'd' never sinned), our positional relationship. 'Righteousness' is an ethical quality derived from that relationship, (imputed). Its our ('just as if I'd' never sinned) position by His resurrection that gives us the right to receive His righteousness! A good sentence to help show the relationship between the two is, "A justified person is not to take his imputed legal righteousness for granted." WE do not grow in justification, we grow in 'behavioral' righteousness (which is personal holiness)Titus 2:11,12, through the sanctification process. While the empowerment of God's Spirit enables one to continue in the imputed 'legal' righteousness. That is why we are called Justified Saints.
While often, the word justify means to be made righteous before God, there are exceptions. Luke 16:15, Romans 3:4 and James chapter 2 are notable exceptions. Luke 16:15 speaks of some who "justify yourselves IN THE EYES OF OTHERS..." (Not God). (NIV) Of God Himself: "that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge." (NIV) "That you may be justified in your words..." (ESV) Justified can mean proved right, proved righteous, vindicated, or approved. It can be in the view of other people, oneself, or in the eyes of God. In modern times, it can be thought of in view of the law as in the case of someone who can be aquitted of a crime on the basis of justifiable homicide (self-defense).
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