But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
What is Justification?
Justification is one of those old Bible words and most of us read over, but only have a vague idea of what it means. The word comes from the Roman law courts and means the be declared not guilty, to be acquitted. If two people come before the court with a dispute, the one who the court agrees with is the one who is justified. This justification says nothing about the person’s character or morals, but that just in that specific case the court has sided with them.
Another closely related word in the New Testament is the word righteousness. Again, it is a standing in the law courts. The person’s case that prevails in court is said to be righteous in the case before the court.
As is often the case, words take on additional nuances when used by the biblical writers; especially because they are writing from a Hebrew perspective. To be just or righteous in a biblical sense is to be in right standing with God; to be a member in good standing in the covenant.
It is wonderful to know that when we place our trust in God and the work God did in and through the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God declares us “not guilty” of all our past sins! We are freed from the burden and guilt of those behaviors and are acquitted. That is true freedom indeed.
But we are also placed in a new relationship with God and in that relationship, we have benefits and responsibilities. The benefits are numerous: forgiveness, continued grace and the presence of the Holy Spirit, to name just a few.
But we also have responsibilities, namely to live in a way that demonstrates our new relationship. Just before the verses I cited above, Paul tells Titus some of those responsibilities: we are to submit to the authorities over us, do good works, avoid quarrels and evil speaking, and be gracious toward everyone.
Why are we to do these things? He goes on to say that because we used to be different people with different motivation, God has done something very real in our lives and now everything has changed.
As we gather for worship this Sunday, let’s celebrate our justification, our rescue and determine to live as justified people.