Religous terms can be complicated. They can also exclude those who misunderstand their true meaning from benefiting from God's blessings. Justification is one such term. I often heard the statement of explanation that the term justified simply means "just-if-I'd" never sinned. While there is truth in this statement I believe that it oversimplifies the term and perhaps misleads.
Justification refers to our legal debt before God. For this reason justification is often lengthened to "legal justification." I think this is fitting because it implies the purpose of justification. When we come before God it should be apparent that we owe Him an innumerable debt. David explains the debt that we really owe to God when he says in Psalm 51:4 "Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done evil in Your sight -- That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge." NKJV You see we owe God something and we will all appear before Him at one time or another to be judged. Fortunately our Judge also stands in our place as our substitution.
Jesus' righteous life, offered on Calvary for the world, functions as payment for the debt that we owe God. By accepting Jesus as our substitution our debt is payed and in a legal sense we are exonerated for our past crimes. Unfortunately while Jesus payed for our debt once and for all we must continue to reapply for this transaction to take place in our life. One writer stated that we will have to fall on the rock many times and be broken as we allow His goodness to be substituted for our evil.
Most of these ideas are often taken for granted, but what is most alarming is that the term justification is given additional meaning. Justification does not change the heart and while it makes our past right before God by settling our accounts we are no different in our hearts than we were before the transaction took place. Justification is the beginning of our life with Christ. Because the just live by faith and I know that the heart is desperately wicked it is through continual surrender that we are changed.
We should take courage in the fact that our pasts have been exonerated, but we also must move onward so that we are more than just legal cases and we can happily say we are friends with our creator.