“yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16 ESV).
“Neither the Jewish Law of ten commands nor its law of ceremonies was ever intended to save anybody. By a set of pictures it set forth the way of salvation, but it was not itself the way. It was a map, not a country; a model of the road, not the road itself.” (1)
This passage of Scripture offers an opportunity to examine an important spiritual concept: justification. “Justification” is the term we use to describe the manner in which sinful human beings are made acceptable to a holy God. (2) Another source defines justification in this way: “To be justified means to be declared righteous before God, that is, to enjoy a status or standing of being in a right relationship with God, of being accepted by him.” (3)
We can illustrate this concept with the familiar imagery of a legal courtroom. In the New Testament era, a judge typically presided over a plaintiff’s case and examined the evidence against a defendant. If the judge issued a verdict in favor of the defendant, he or she was declared to be “justified.” This judicial affirmation acknowledged that the defendant was “righteous” (or “without guilt”), thus resulting in his or her acquittal.
This legal scenario illustrates the concept of spiritual justification. You see, the Old Testament book of the prophet Ezekiel tells us, “It is for a man’s own sins that he shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4). This brief portion of Scripture identifies our defendant (every individual human being), the crime (his or her own sins), and the sentence (death) in our spiritual courtroom.
But in speaking of Christ, 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (NIV). Because the sentence of the court has been satisfied through Jesus’ sacrificial death, those who place their faith in Him are acquitted of all charges and declared to be justified. Furthermore, Jesus’ righteousness is imputed (or transferred) to those who accept His sacrifice on their behalf (see Romans 4:5-8).
As another commentator reminds us, “Faith does not merit God’s acceptance; it accepts Christ’s merit before God (Phil. 3:9)” (4)
(1) Spurgeon, Charles H. The Stern Pedagogue, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit (p. 553)
(2) “Justification” Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright © 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers
(3) Fung, Ronald Y. K. The Epistle to the Galatians (p. 113) quoted in Constable, Thomas. DD. “Commentary on 1 Corinthians 1:1″. “Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable” (2:15-16). “https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/galatians-2.html“. 2012.
(4) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2077). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.