Here are two words that recur frequently in Scripture, and they retain inestimable importance and relevance for us now. Therefore, we had best define them.
Justification, as it applies to what God has done for us in Christ, is simply this: an act of God whereby the believer in Jesus Christ is declared absolutely righteous and acceptable before God through the shed blood of Jesus.
This relates directly to what we have already learned concerning forgiveness and imputed righteousness. God sees us as just and right before him as a gift. Look:
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3: 23-24).
Not only is justification before God a gift to every believer, but this Scripture goes on to prove that everything required by god's justice has been given us in Christ so that he himself can be our justifier:
That He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3: 26).
This is absolutely foundational to our relationship with God. His clearly stated purpose and will in Christ is that he himself be our Justifier daily and forever. Therefore, it is not God's will that we attempt to justify ourselves before him. Let him do that!
It is true that in this world-at work, at school, and perhaps even at play- we do have to perform, we do have to justify our own existence and we must earn our keep. I'm not about to say that these requirements are all bad. In fact they are quite necessary; they are part of our dignity as human beings. God gives us work to do. We must earn a living. And competition (in sports, etc.) can be a source of genuine enjoyment.
So then, why is performance-based living a problem, and why do so many of us need to recover from it? Because the term performance-based living indicates that performance has become our primary measure of worth, value, or acceptance. Performance-based Christians attempt to relate to God based on performance and self-justification. Such behaviour is not only nonsense, it is deadly! It is deadly because it is impossible. Therefore, either our God will justify us, or we will never be justified! But now we know that it is his determined purpose and will to be our justifier.
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