Is just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned the true meaning of justification?

One sometimes hears the popular explanation that justification means “just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned.” The definition is a clever play on words and contains an element of truth (for the justified person, like the person who has never sinned, has no penalty to pay for sin).

But the definition is misleading in two other ways because

(1) It mentions nothing about the fact that Christ’s righteousness is reckoned to my account when I am justified; to do this, it would have to say also “just-as-if-I’d-lived-a-life-of-perfect-righteousness.”

(2) But more significantly, it cannot adequately represent the fact that I will never be in a state that is “just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned,” because I will always be conscious of the fact that I have sinned and that I am not an innocent person but a guilty person who has been forgiven. This is very different from “just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned”!

Another difference

Moreover, it is different from “just-as-if-I’d-lived-a-life-of-perfect-righteousness,” because I will forever know that I have not lived a life of perfect righteousness, but that Christ’s righteousness is given to me by God’s grace.

Our true situation is far different

Therefore both in the forgiveness of sins and in the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, my situation is far different from what it would be if I had never sinned and had lived a perfectly righteous life. For all eternity, I will remember that I am a forgiven sinner and that my righteousness is not based on my own merit, but on the grace of God in the saving work of Jesus Christ. None of that rich teaching at the heart of the gospel will be understood by those who are encouraged to go through their lives thinking “justified” means “just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned.”

Questions for Reflection

  1. Do you agree with Grudem’s assessment of the phrase just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned?
  2. How will this change the way you explain justification?


Wayne Grudem, Systematic, footnote 4 page 727 (headers mine)


We Can’t Refine Ourselves

The gospel tells us that we can’t refine ourselves, because we are inherently sinful. But knowing that does not keep people from trying. One way they try to do this is by adding to the gospel message, thinking that their additions make them more holy and more acceptable to God. However, this is simple not true.

Justification by Faith Alone

Throughout biblical history, many groups have sought to impose laws along with the gospel as a means for salvation. The Judaizers, in Galatia, are one example. They believed the Gentiles must first become Jewish proselytes and submit to the Mosaic law along with believing in Jesus as their Savior in order to be saved (Gal. 1:7; 4:17, 21; 5:2-12; 6:12-13). But this is not the Bible’s message of salvation.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul disagrees with the Judaizers’ when he says,

a person is not justified by works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ…because by works of the law no one will be justified.” (Gal. 1:16)

Paul makes it clear that we are not justified by the works of the law but by grace. This is a theme he will re-enforce time and again throughout the letter.

Christ of No Advantage

Paul tells the Galatians that the Judaizers who add to the gospel message by requiring the Gentiles to be circumcised are creating another gospel. One that does not save. He tells us that

those who “accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage” to them (Gal. 5:2).

In other words, when one adds to the gospel, they are no longer justified by Christ’s work on the cross, but by their own works.

Obligated to Keep the Whole Law

In the case of the Judaizers, who are saying gospel + works = salvation, do more than just add a few works to an already free gospel. They are obligating themselves to keep the whole law since their gospel is not the gospel of Christ. In other words, by eradicating the true and free gospel of Jesus Christ they are placing themselves under the stipulations of the law, which must be kept perfectly in order to provide them with salvation.


What we find then is that we cannot reconcile ourselves to God (Gal. 2:16; 5:3-5). For if we try to add to the gospel, then we make Christ of no advantage to us, and we force ourselves to keep the law perfectly, which we cannot do. The true gospel tells us that we can only be justified by faith alone (Gal. 3:10-14). So then, we can’t refine ourselves. We can only be refined and reconciled to God through the gospel.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Are there things that you add to the gospel message, requiring people in your church to do before they are saved?
  2. How does the gospel free us from having to do works in order to be reconciled to God?



The Relevance of Scripture | Part 2

In part 1 of this series, which you can read by clicking here, I gave my argument for why Scripture is relevant for us today. I concluded:

Scripture is relevant to us today because we deal with the same things those in biblical times dealt with.

Adam’s sin in the garden affected all mankind leaving us with a sinful nature (Gen. 3). Since we have a sinful nature, we not only sin, but are deficient, not understanding the way God would have us to live. The biblical writer understands man’s condition, and in his writings deals with man’s sins and deficiencies, the same sins and deficiencies we deal with today. Thus, understanding the sins, or deficiencies, a biblical writer is dealing with, and the commands, or counsel he offers, will provide us with the author’s purpose for writing the text, as well as it makes the text relevant for us today.

Where We are Headed Today

In what follows, I want to provide you with a few practical questions to ask in order to determine the author’s purpose. If we can find the author’s purpose, then we can determine what sins, or deficiencies, he was writing towards. This will help us to determine the FCF (Fallen Condition Focus), which is

The mutual human condition that contemporary believers share with those to or about whom the text was written that requires the grace of the passage for God’s people to glorify and enjoy him [1].

Once we determine the FCF, we are on our way to understanding how the passage relates to both biblical and modern times.

How do I Determine the Author’s Purpose?

In order to determine the author’s purpose you should ask these questions:

  • Why are these concerns addressed?
  • What causes this account, these facts, or the recording of these ideas?
  • What was the intent of the author?
  • For what purpose did the Holy Spirit include these words in Scripture? [2]

Example: Justification by Faith

For example, if the biblical writer brings up a particular doctrine, such as justification by faith, then you need to immediately ask why? Why did he brings this into the letter? It is not to provide his readers with a systematic theology lesson alone, he has a purpose.

The purpose could be that those whom he is writing were trying to earn their salvation through their works, were doubting the sufficiency of God’s grace, or they could have been afraid of God’s rejection because of a particular sin [3].

As you can see, there could be a number of reasons for writing about justification by faith, but you need to determine the particular reason for your text. Once you do so, you are on your way to determining the author’s purpose and the FCF he was writing toward.

An FCF Does Not Always = Sin

It is important you understand the FCF does not have to be a sin. We have deficiencies because of our sinful nature (fallen condition), which hinders us from living the way God would have us live. Bryan Chapell is helpful here when he says,

An FCF need not be something for which we are guilty or culpable. It simply needs to be an aspect or problem of the human condition that requires the instruction, admonition, and/or comfort of Scripture. Thus, an FCF is always phrased in negative terms. It is something wrong (though not necessarily a moral evil) that needs correction or encouragement from Scripture [4].

What are things other than sin that need to be addressed? Some examples could be:

  • Parenting from a biblical standpoint (Eph. 6:4)
  • Marriage (Eph. 5)
  • Sex (1 Cor. 7)
  • Grief (1 Pet. 1:6; 1 Thess. 4:13)
  • Spiritual Gifts (1 Cor. 12)
  • Prayer (1 Jn. 5:14)

These are not sins, but they are things we, as fallen man, need biblical instruction, admonition, and/or comfort concerning.


After you have determined the author’s purpose for writing the text by determining the FCF of those to whom he is writing, you need to explore what he says about the FCF. How does he instruct his readers to handle their particular sin or deficiency? In other words, how does he apply the doctrine, instruction, command, or admonition to the FCF? Once we understand how the biblical writer applies the text to the lives of his readers, we can do the same to ours.


When applying the text to your own life, or another you are close with, be specific. For example:

Instead of saying, “Prayer is so powerful it can save an individual from hell,” be specific by personalizing the truth. Say, “My prayer for my rebellious son is so powerful it can save my son from experiencing a life of sin, heartache, and eternal damnation” [5].

Specificity is a powerful tool because it drives the truth into the heart and causes one to act.


Understanding the author has a purpose for writing his text, and that purpose is to deal with man’s sins or deficiencies (FCF), the same sins and deficiencies we deal with today, helps us to see how a 4,000+ plus old text is still relevant for us today. Once you understand the FCF the author is writing toward, you can then take and apply his words to your own life. Your specific situation may look a little different than the situation in the biblical text, or it may not, but you can still take and apply that truth to your life.

This week, as you read through the text, I challenge you to start looking for the author’s purpose, the FCF he is writing towards, and how he is applying God’s truth to his readers lives. After which, you should apply that same truth to your own life. Doing so will help you to see how relevant the Bible really is, and will cause your passion and desire for Scripture to increase exponentially.


[1] Chapell, Bryan, Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon, 50.
[2]Ibid, 48-49.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid, 51-52 .
[5] Ibid, 51.

Image: Adrian van Leen for CC:PublicDomain