Is Justification, Salvation?

When we talk about salvation today, most Christians tend to focus on justification. In fact one of the phrases that is used to describe the message of righteousness in Christ, is, “Justification By Faith.” For most Christians justification is the basis of salvation, it is the basis on which God accepts and receives us.

Justification is a legal word and it means, “to be declared just.” So, let’s say, for example, a person is charged with a crime, but when his case is tried in court, he is declared innocent. We say this person has been justified. The question is not whether or not he did actually commit the crime, the issue is, what decision did the court make? Legal justification has to do with the decision of the court not the actual state of the person.

However if we see salvation as related only to justification in this legal sense, then the picture is far from complete. Because many Christian groups focus only on justification, there is a tendency to become careless about how they live and in many cases their behavior is a reproach to the cause of God. This is because they are made to believe that their legal status is all that matters. But let us take a closer look at what the Bible says on this issue of salvation.

Abraham Justified

What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. (Rom 4:1-3)

Notice that it says that Abraham’s faith was “counted” unto him for righteousness. The question is, when Abraham was counted righteous was he really righteous? If we understand “righteous” to mean that a person is, declared to be righteous, then he was righteous, but if we understand “righteous” to mean a person who is good and whose behavior is morally blameless, then Abraham was not actually righteous. When we look at his faith Abraham was an outstanding child of God, but some of the things that he did are not things that Christians today would want to practice. For example Abraham lied to Pharaoh and also lied to Abimelech when he told both these men that Sarah was his sister rather than his wife. Abraham also made war and slaughtered many people, something which many Christians today would consider to be contrary to the principles of Christ.

Was David Righteous?

Perhaps if I use King David as an example it will be easier to make my point. The Bible says that David was a man after God’s own heart. Many people believe that this is saying that David was so righteous and good that he appealed to God’s heart. But there are certain things about David’s beliefs and his behavior which seem to contradict that picture. All of us are familiar with the story of David’s adultery with Uriah’s wife and how he murdered Uriah. These were sins that David acknowledge and repented of. But look at what David says here:

Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies. (Ps 139:21-22)

These are the words of David and even though they are written in the Psalms, can we say that these are the statements of a person who possessed the righteousness of God? In other words, is this the attitude that God has towards his enemies? Jesus says, “love your enemies,” did David have that spirit in his heart?

When David was chased from Jerusalem by his son Absalom, he was met by a man named Shimei, a relative of Saul, who cursed him and threw stones at him. Sometime later after Absalom had been defeated and killed, David was returning to Jerusalem and again Shimei came to meet him, but this time he came with a different attitude. He came to David with a show of great humility and asked David to forgive him for what he had done.

. . . . And Shimei the son of Gera fell down before the king, as he was come over Jordan; And said unto the king, Let not my lord impute iniquity unto me, neither do thou remember that which thy servant did perversely the day that my lord the king went out of Jerusalem, that the king should take it to his heart. For thy servant doth know that I have sinned: therefore, behold, I am come the first this day of all the house of Joseph to go down to meet my lord the king . . . . Therefore the king said unto Shimei, Thou shalt not die. And the king sware unto him. (2Sam 19:18-23)

David claimed to have forgiven Shimei, but years later when he was on his deathbed, here is what David said to his son Solomon:

And, behold, thou hast with thee Shimei the son of Gera, a Benjamite of Bahurim, which cursed me with a grievous curse in the day when I went to Mahanaim: but he came down to meet me at Jordan, and I sware to him by the LORD, saying, I will not put thee to death with the sword. Now therefore hold him not guiltless: for thou art a wise man, and knowest what thou oughtest to do unto him; but his hoar head bring thou down to the grave with blood. (1Kgs 2:8-9)

Was David righteous? Was this the spirit of Christ? Yet David has the assurance of salvation because we are justified by faith, not by our works! It is not by our righteousness, it is not by our understanding of truth, it is by our faith that we are justified. David, like Abraham, was loved by God and was justified because of his faith, not on the basis of his understanding, or misunderstanding of truth.

The more we understand, the more it becomes clear that the one great element as far as humanity is concerned, is faith. Nothing else can compare with or equal faith in terms of our relationship with God. Faith is the key element.

So the point is, Abraham was counted as righteous. It was something God credited to his account even though he was not in himself actually righteous at that moment. This is what justification means and in a sense it is legal fiction. It is something which is legally true, but is not true in actual experience.

Was Samuel Righteous?

Samuel is another example that we could use. Though Samuel was an outstanding prophet of God and someone that we expect to see in heaven, look at what Samuel did here:

And Samuel said, As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women. And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the LORD in Gilgal. (1Sam 15:33)

Most of us today would regard this as a horrific act, vicious and brutal. Samuel did not just simply kill Agag, he chopped him into pieces. Was this the action of a Christian? Is this something that Christ would do? When we consider these and many other examples, it is clear that these men never had our understanding or our experience of righteousness. The coming of the comforter and the experience of Christ living within has made a great difference in how we Christians understand and behave today, as compared to how they behaved before Christ came. This is why we can only be saved by grace through faith. This is why justification is the open door to salvation. It cannot be on the basis of our works or on the basis of our understanding of doctrine, it can only be on the basis of justification which we access by faith.

At this point, let us take careful note of the fact that justification is not salvation, it is the assurance of salvation, but it is not the experience of salvation. This will become more evident as we continue with this study.

All Justified

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: (Rom 3:23-24)

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. (Rom 5:8-9)

Notice this very interesting point; it is all who have sinned, and therefore it is all who have been justified. Amazing as it may seem this includes the entire planet, everyone in the entire world, all who live and who have ever lived. God justifies the ungodly, but in order to understand this we have to understand what justification really means. The following passages give us some further insight into the meaning of the word.

Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. (Rom 5:18)

To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. (2Cor 5:19)

This is one of the most amazing verses in the Bible. It says that God does not impute their sins to the people who are in the world. Note, it is not speaking of Christians only, it is not speaking of those who repent only, it is speaking of all the world, everyone who lives in it. When sin is imputed to a person, it means that sin is charged to that person’s account. The fact that God does not impute sin to anyone in the world means that sin is no longer charged to anyone. As amazing as this sounds it is the conclusion we have to arrive at when we look at the verses with an open mind. What God is saying is that he has dealt with the sin problem so conclusively, so finally, that sin can never again be a barrier between him and people.

Justification is not salvation

But if this is true, does it mean that everyone will be saved? Unfortunately the answer is no. Although guilt is no longer an issue in terms of the relationship between God and man, there is still an issue that even God cannot overcome, which will result in many billions being lost in spite of the fact that sin is no longer charged to man.

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:17-18)

Notice what the problem is now: people are condemned because of unbelief, not because of their sins! Sin has been dealt with finally and conclusively by Jesus Christ and completely taken out of the way. Now, it is not his sins which condemns the sinner but his unbelief, the fact that he will not receive Jesus Christ, the one who has dealt with the problem of sin. It is not God who condemns him, it is not his sin that condemns him, it is unbelief that condemns him.

Let us notice however, that when we say sin is no longer a problem, when we say sin has been taken out of the way, what we are really talking about is the guilt caused by sin. The state of being guilty before God with the consequence of alienation from God, and the sentence of death have been taken away by Jesus Christ. This no longer exists as a barrier between God and man. This is not saying that sin no longer exists in the world and in the behavior of people, it is saying that the guilt caused by sin is no longer an issue in terms of the relationship between God and man.

So we have here the truth that the whole world is justified, but the whole world cannot receive justification because the world will not believe. In order to experience the benefits of justification one must believe. This emphasizes a very important point; while justification is the entitlement to salvation, it is not salvation! Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him for righteousness, but it does not mean that Abraham himself was righteous at that moment. It does not mean that he was in a state, or had the experience of salvation. He was entitled, but entitlement is not the same as the experience.

David Clayton
When we talk about salvation today, most Christians tend to focus on justification. In fact one of the phrases that is used to describe the message of righteousness in Christ, is, “Justification By Faith.” For most Christians justification is the basis of salvation, it is the basis on which God accepts and receives us.

Justification is a legal word and it means, “to be declared just.” So, let’s say, for example, a person is charged with a crime, but when his case is tried in court, he is declared innocent. We say this person has been justified. The question is not whether or not he did actually commit the crime, the issue is, what decision did the court make? Legal justification has to do with the decision of the court not the actual state of the person.

However if we see salvation as related only to justification in this legal sense, then the picture is far from complete. Because many Christian groups focus only on justification, there is a tendency to become careless about how they live and in many cases their behavior is a reproach to the cause of God. This is because they are made to believe that their legal status is all that matters. But let us take a closer look at what the Bible says on this issue of salvation.

Abraham Justified

What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. (Rom 4:1-3)

Notice that it says that Abraham’s faith was “counted” unto him for righteousness. The question is, when Abraham was counted righteous was he really righteous? If we understand “righteous” to mean that a person is, declared to be righteous, then he was righteous, but if we understand “righteous” to mean a person who is good and whose behavior is morally blameless, then Abraham was not actually righteous. When we look at his faith Abraham was an outstanding child of God, but some of the things that he did are not things that Christians today would want to practice. For example Abraham lied to Pharaoh and also lied to Abimelech when he told both these men that Sarah was his sister rather than his wife. Abraham also made war and slaughtered many people, something which many Christians today would consider to be contrary to the principles of Christ.

Was David Righteous?

Perhaps if I use King David as an example it will be easier to make my point. The Bible says that David was a man after God’s own heart. Many people believe that this is saying that David was so righteous and good that he appealed to God’s heart. But there are certain things about David’s beliefs and his behavior which seem to contradict that picture. All of us are familiar with the story of David’s adultery with Uriah’s wife and how he murdered Uriah. These were sins that David acknowledge and repented of. But look at what David says here:

Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies. (Ps 139:21-22)

These are the words of David and even though they are written in the Psalms, can we say that these are the statements of a person who possessed the righteousness of God? In other words, is this the attitude that God has towards his enemies? Jesus says, “love your enemies,” did David have that spirit in his heart?

When David was chased from Jerusalem by his son Absalom, he was met by a man named Shimei, a relative of Saul, who cursed him and threw stones at him. Sometime later after Absalom had been defeated and killed, David was returning to Jerusalem and again Shimei came to meet him, but this time he came with a different attitude. He came to David with a show of great humility and asked David to forgive him for what he had done.

. . . . And Shimei the son of Gera fell down before the king, as he was come over Jordan; And said unto the king, Let not my lord impute iniquity unto me, neither do thou remember that which thy servant did perversely the day that my lord the king went out of Jerusalem, that the king should take it to his heart. For thy servant doth know that I have sinned: therefore, behold, I am come the first this day of all the house of Joseph to go down to meet my lord the king . . . . Therefore the king said unto Shimei, Thou shalt not die. And the king sware unto him. (2Sam 19:18-23)

David claimed to have forgiven Shimei, but years later when he was on his deathbed, here is what David said to his son Solomon:

And, behold, thou hast with thee Shimei the son of Gera, a Benjamite of Bahurim, which cursed me with a grievous curse in the day when I went to Mahanaim: but he came down to meet me at Jordan, and I sware to him by the LORD, saying, I will not put thee to death with the sword. Now therefore hold him not guiltless: for thou art a wise man, and knowest what thou oughtest to do unto him; but his hoar head bring thou down to the grave with blood. (1Kgs 2:8-9)

Was David righteous? Was this the spirit of Christ? Yet David has the assurance of salvation because we are justified by faith, not by our works! It is not by our righteousness, it is not by our understanding of truth, it is by our faith that we are justified. David, like Abraham, was loved by God and was justified because of his faith, not on the basis of his understanding, or misunderstanding of truth.

The more we understand, the more it becomes clear that the one great element as far as humanity is concerned, is faith. Nothing else can compare with or equal faith in terms of our relationship with God. Faith is the key element.

So the point is, Abraham was counted as righteous. It was something God credited to his account even though he was not in himself actually righteous at that moment. This is what justification means and in a sense it is legal fiction. It is something which is legally true, but is not true in actual experience.

Was Samuel Righteous?

Samuel is another example that we could use. Though Samuel was an outstanding prophet of God and someone that we expect to see in heaven, look at what Samuel did here:

And Samuel said, As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women. And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the LORD in Gilgal. (1Sam 15:33)

Most of us today would regard this as a horrific act, vicious and brutal. Samuel did not just simply kill Agag, he chopped him into pieces. Was this the action of a Christian? Is this something that Christ would do? When we consider these and many other examples, it is clear that these men never had our understanding or our experience of righteousness. The coming of the comforter and the experience of Christ living within has made a great difference in how we Christians understand and behave today, as compared to how they behaved before Christ came. This is why we can only be saved by grace through faith. This is why justification is the open door to salvation. It cannot be on the basis of our works or on the basis of our understanding of doctrine, it can only be on the basis of justification which we access by faith.

At this point, let us take careful note of the fact that justification is not salvation, it is the assurance of salvation, but it is not the experience of salvation. This will become more evident as we continue with this study.

All Justified

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: (Rom 3:23-24)

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. (Rom 5:8-9)

Notice this very interesting point; it is all who have sinned, and therefore it is all who have been justified. Amazing as it may seem this includes the entire planet, everyone in the entire world, all who live and who have ever lived. God justifies the ungodly, but in order to understand this we have to understand what justification really means. The following passages give us some further insight into the meaning of the word.

Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. (Rom 5:18)

To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. (2Cor 5:19)

This is one of the most amazing verses in the Bible. It says that God does not impute their sins to the people who are in the world. Note, it is not speaking of Christians only, it is not speaking of those who repent only, it is speaking of all the world, everyone who lives in it. When sin is imputed to a person, it means that sin is charged to that person’s account. The fact that God does not impute sin to anyone in the world means that sin is no longer charged to anyone. As amazing as this sounds it is the conclusion we have to arrive at when we look at the verses with an open mind. What God is saying is that he has dealt with the sin problem so conclusively, so finally, that sin can never again be a barrier between him and people.

Justification is not salvation

But if this is true, does it mean that everyone will be saved? Unfortunately the answer is no. Although guilt is no longer an issue in terms of the relationship between God and man, there is still an issue that even God cannot overcome, which will result in many billions being lost in spite of the fact that sin is no longer charged to man.

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:17-18)

Notice what the problem is now: people are condemned because of unbelief, not because of their sins! Sin has been dealt with finally and conclusively by Jesus Christ and completely taken out of the way. Now, it is not his sins which condemns the sinner but his unbelief, the fact that he will not receive Jesus Christ, the one who has dealt with the problem of sin. It is not God who condemns him, it is not his sin that condemns him, it is unbelief that condemns him.

Let us notice however, that when we say sin is no longer a problem, when we say sin has been taken out of the way, what we are really talking about is the guilt caused by sin. The state of being guilty before God with the consequence of alienation from God, and the sentence of death have been taken away by Jesus Christ. This no longer exists as a barrier between God and man. This is not saying that sin no longer exists in the world and in the behavior of people, it is saying that the guilt caused by sin is no longer an issue in terms of the relationship between God and man.

So we have here the truth that the whole world is justified, but the whole world cannot receive justification because the world will not believe. In order to experience the benefits of justification one must believe. This emphasizes a very important point; while justification is the entitlement to salvation, it is not salvation! Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him for righteousness, but it does not mean that Abraham himself was righteous at that moment. It does not mean that he was in a state, or had the experience of salvation. He was entitled, but entitlement is not the same as the experience.

David Clayton
When we talk about salvation today, most Christians tend to focus on justification. In fact one of the phrases that is used to describe the message of righteousness in Christ, is, “Justification By Faith.” For most Christians justification is the basis of salvation, it is the basis on which God accepts and receives us.

Justification is a legal word and it means, “to be declared just.” So, let’s say, for example, a person is charged with a crime, but when his case is tried in court, he is declared innocent. We say this person has been justified. The question is not whether or not he did actually commit the crime, the issue is, what decision did the court make? Legal justification has to do with the decision of the court not the actual state of the person.

However if we see salvation as related only to justification in this legal sense, then the picture is far from complete. Because many Christian groups focus only on justification, there is a tendency to become careless about how they live and in many cases their behavior is a reproach to the cause of God. This is because they are made to believe that their legal status is all that matters. But let us take a closer look at what the Bible says on this issue of salvation.

Abraham Justified

What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. (Rom 4:1-3)

Notice that it says that Abraham’s faith was “counted” unto him for righteousness. The question is, when Abraham was counted righteous was he really righteous? If we understand “righteous” to mean that a person is, declared to be righteous, then he was righteous, but if we understand “righteous” to mean a person who is good and whose behavior is morally blameless, then Abraham was not actually righteous. When we look at his faith Abraham was an outstanding child of God, but some of the things that he did are not things that Christians today would want to practice. For example Abraham lied to Pharaoh and also lied to Abimelech when he told both these men that Sarah was his sister rather than his wife. Abraham also made war and slaughtered many people, something which many Christians today would consider to be contrary to the principles of Christ.

Was David Righteous?

Perhaps if I use King David as an example it will be easier to make my point. The Bible says that David was a man after God’s own heart. Many people believe that this is saying that David was so righteous and good that he appealed to God’s heart. But there are certain things about David’s beliefs and his behavior which seem to contradict that picture. All of us are familiar with the story of David’s adultery with Uriah’s wife and how he murdered Uriah. These were sins that David acknowledge and repented of. But look at what David says here:

Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies. (Ps 139:21-22)

These are the words of David and even though they are written in the Psalms, can we say that these are the statements of a person who possessed the righteousness of God? In other words, is this the attitude that God has towards his enemies? Jesus says, “love your enemies,” did David have that spirit in his heart?

When David was chased from Jerusalem by his son Absalom, he was met by a man named Shimei, a relative of Saul, who cursed him and threw stones at him. Sometime later after Absalom had been defeated and killed, David was returning to Jerusalem and again Shimei came to meet him, but this time he came with a different attitude. He came to David with a show of great humility and asked David to forgive him for what he had done.

. . . . And Shimei the son of Gera fell down before the king, as he was come over Jordan; And said unto the king, Let not my lord impute iniquity unto me, neither do thou remember that which thy servant did perversely the day that my lord the king went out of Jerusalem, that the king should take it to his heart. For thy servant doth know that I have sinned: therefore, behold, I am come the first this day of all the house of Joseph to go down to meet my lord the king . . . . Therefore the king said unto Shimei, Thou shalt not die. And the king sware unto him. (2Sam 19:18-23)

David claimed to have forgiven Shimei, but years later when he was on his deathbed, here is what David said to his son Solomon:

And, behold, thou hast with thee Shimei the son of Gera, a Benjamite of Bahurim, which cursed me with a grievous curse in the day when I went to Mahanaim: but he came down to meet me at Jordan, and I sware to him by the LORD, saying, I will not put thee to death with the sword. Now therefore hold him not guiltless: for thou art a wise man, and knowest what thou oughtest to do unto him; but his hoar head bring thou down to the grave with blood. (1Kgs 2:8-9)

Was David righteous? Was this the spirit of Christ? Yet David has the assurance of salvation because we are justified by faith, not by our works! It is not by our righteousness, it is not by our understanding of truth, it is by our faith that we are justified. David, like Abraham, was loved by God and was justified because of his faith, not on the basis of his understanding, or misunderstanding of truth.

The more we understand, the more it becomes clear that the one great element as far as humanity is concerned, is faith. Nothing else can compare with or equal faith in terms of our relationship with God. Faith is the key element.

So the point is, Abraham was counted as righteous. It was something God credited to his account even though he was not in himself actually righteous at that moment. This is what justification means and in a sense it is legal fiction. It is something which is legally true, but is not true in actual experience.

Was Samuel Righteous?

Samuel is another example that we could use. Though Samuel was an outstanding prophet of God and someone that we expect to see in heaven, look at what Samuel did here:

And Samuel said, As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women. And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the LORD in Gilgal. (1Sam 15:33)

Most of us today would regard this as a horrific act, vicious and brutal. Samuel did not just simply kill Agag, he chopped him into pieces. Was this the action of a Christian? Is this something that Christ would do? When we consider these and many other examples, it is clear that these men never had our understanding or our experience of righteousness. The coming of the comforter and the experience of Christ living within has made a great difference in how we Christians understand and behave today, as compared to how they behaved before Christ came. This is why we can only be saved by grace through faith. This is why justification is the open door to salvation. It cannot be on the basis of our works or on the basis of our understanding of doctrine, it can only be on the basis of justification which we access by faith.

At this point, let us take careful note of the fact that justification is not salvation, it is the assurance of salvation, but it is not the experience of salvation. This will become more evident as we continue with this study.

All Justified

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: (Rom 3:23-24)

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. (Rom 5:8-9)

Notice this very interesting point; it is all who have sinned, and therefore it is all who have been justified. Amazing as it may seem this includes the entire planet, everyone in the entire world, all who live and who have ever lived. God justifies the ungodly, but in order to understand this we have to understand what justification really means. The following passages give us some further insight into the meaning of the word.

Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. (Rom 5:18)

To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. (2Cor 5:19)

This is one of the most amazing verses in the Bible. It says that God does not impute their sins to the people who are in the world. Note, it is not speaking of Christians only, it is not speaking of those who repent only, it is speaking of all the world, everyone who lives in it. When sin is imputed to a person, it means that sin is charged to that person’s account. The fact that God does not impute sin to anyone in the world means that sin is no longer charged to anyone. As amazing as this sounds it is the conclusion we have to arrive at when we look at the verses with an open mind. What God is saying is that he has dealt with the sin problem so conclusively, so finally, that sin can never again be a barrier between him and people.

Justification is not salvation

But if this is true, does it mean that everyone will be saved? Unfortunately the answer is no. Although guilt is no longer an issue in terms of the relationship between God and man, there is still an issue that even God cannot overcome, which will result in many billions being lost in spite of the fact that sin is no longer charged to man.

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:17-18)

Notice what the problem is now: people are condemned because of unbelief, not because of their sins! Sin has been dealt with finally and conclusively by Jesus Christ and completely taken out of the way. Now, it is not his sins which condemns the sinner but his unbelief, the fact that he will not receive Jesus Christ, the one who has dealt with the problem of sin. It is not God who condemns him, it is not his sin that condemns him, it is unbelief that condemns him.

Let us notice however, that when we say sin is no longer a problem, when we say sin has been taken out of the way, what we are really talking about is the guilt caused by sin. The state of being guilty before God with the consequence of alienation from God, and the sentence of death have been taken away by Jesus Christ. This no longer exists as a barrier between God and man. This is not saying that sin no longer exists in the world and in the behavior of people, it is saying that the guilt caused by sin is no longer an issue in terms of the relationship between God and man.

So we have here the truth that the whole world is justified, but the whole world cannot receive justification because the world will not believe. In order to experience the benefits of justification one must believe. This emphasizes a very important point; while justification is the entitlement to salvation, it is not salvation! Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him for righteousness, but it does not mean that Abraham himself was righteous at that moment. It does not mean that he was in a state, or had the experience of salvation. He was entitled, but entitlement is not the same as the experience.

(Source: David Clayton from Restoration Ministry)