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To be justified means that one has been approved of the Lord and absolved of the effects and burdens of all wrong doing. The person is made pure and acceptable before the Lord: he or she is justified by the Spirit (see Moses 6:60). The Holy Spirit of Promise seals or ratifies the righteous (see 1 Nephi 16:2). One stands approved and exonerated. Justification by the Spirit is made possible through the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ (see Mosiah 14:11). As in all things, it is by the grace of God that we are saved (see Doctrine and Covenants 20:30).
THE SCRIPTURES TEACH US
• Moses 6:60—For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified; . . .
- We through baptism (the water) accept Christ and promise to keep the commandments. We are justified by the Holy Ghost because of our righteousness and the goodness of God. We repent and become pure and clean through the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ.
• 1 Nephi 16:2—And it came to pass that I said unto them that I knew that I had spoken hard things against the wicked, according to the truth; and the righteous have I justified, and testified that they should be lifted up at the last day; wherefore, the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center.
- We are to be worthy of all blessings from the Lord, showing forth faith, good works, and righteousness, and then the Spirit justifies us and makes us acceptable before the Lord.
• Mosiah 14:11—He shall see the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied; by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.
- Using this quotation from Isaiah, the Prophet Abinadi teaches wicked King Noah and his hardened subjects the truth about the Savior’s atoning sacrifice (“travail”) and how it can serve to justify those who live the gospel plan and honor their covenant obligations through obedience and righteousness.
• Doctrine and Covenants 20:30—And we know that justification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true; . . .
- The Lord justifies us through His Atonement as He bears our iniquities, all because of His loving grace towards us.
• 2 Nephi 2:5, 8—5 And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men. And by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever. . . . Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.
- In this counsel to his son Jacob, Lehi makes clear that no mortal is justified by the law—i.e., that no mortal achieves perfection by virtue of complete obedience to the law. Being imperfect, we all are dependent upon the “merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” to make up the difference through the Atonement, “for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23).
MODERN PROPHETS SPEAK
To be justified is to be made righteous and therefore to be saved. Men are justified in what they do when their deeds conform to divine standards. Righteous acts are approved of the Lord; they are ratified by the Holy Ghost; they are sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise; or, in other words, they are justified by the Spirit. Such divine approval must be given to “all covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations”—that is, to all things—if they are to have “efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead.” (Doctrine and Covenants 132:7.) Such a requirement is part of the terms and conditions of the gospel covenant. (Bruce R. McConkie, Promised Messiah, p. 344.)
What is lacking in the sectarian world is a true knowledge of the law of justification. Simply stated that law is this: “‘All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations’ (Doctrine and Covenants 132:7), in which men must abide to be saved and exalted, must be entered into and performed in righteousness so that the Holy Spirit can justify the candidate for salvation in what has been done. (1 Nephi 16:2; Jacob 2:13-14; Alma 41:15; Doctrine and Covenants 98; 132:1, 62.) An act that is justified by the Spirit is one that is sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise, or in other words, ratified and approved by the Holy Ghost. This law of justification is the provision the Lord has placed in the gospel to assure that no unrighteous performance will be binding on earth and in heaven, and that no person will add to his position or glory in the hereafter by gaining an unearned blessing.
“As with all other doctrines of salvation, justification is available because of the atoning sacrifice of Christ, but it becomes operative in the life of an individual only on conditions of personal righteousness. As Paul taught, men are not justified by the works of the Mosaic law alone any more than men are saved by those works alone. The grace of God, manifest through the infinite and eternal atonement wrought by his Son, makes justification a living reality for those who seek righteousness. (Isaiah 53: 11; Mosiah 14: 11.)” (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., p. 408.)
- (Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-1973], 2: 230.)
IDEAS FOR DAILY LIVING
Here are five ideas to help us understand and prepare to receive the blessings of justification:
1. Justification is a gift of grace—We can recognize that all blessings of exaltation flow from the grace of God and the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. On our own merits, we cannot become justified through perfect obedience to the laws and commandments, since we will fall short of the mark through our imperfections. Thus the sublimating and redeeming grace of the Lord is required to elevate and justify the righteous through the Atonement. We can pray in gratitude each day for the Lord’s grace and mercy in opening up the pathway to immortality and eternal life (see Doctrine and Covenants 20:30).
2. Justification is accomplished through the instrumentality of the Holy Ghost—Justification is a sacred function of the Holy Spirit acting to bless the righteous children of our Father in Heaven. Let us therefore live in worthiness for the blessings of the Spirit. Let us think and act in accordance with spiritual principles in order to invite the Spirit into our lives at all times (Moses 6:60).
3. Justification is accomplished “after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23) —Justification before God requires covenant righteousness. Righteousness is prerequisite for all blessings from the Lord with the exception of the resurrection (which comes as a pure gift of unconditional grace). Righteousness consists of loving God and one’s fellow men, being obedient to the laws of God according to one’s best knowledge, seeking to understand the expectations of the Lord and acting upon them, and lastly, repenting of sins and transgressions.
4. Justification comes about through faith—It is by the power of faith that mortals embark upon the pathway of ultimate justification before God. Let us do all in our power to increase and strengthen our faith day by day (see Romans 3:28). (See the topic on Faith for additional ideas.)
5. Justification is an act of charity—Just as the Atonement was enacted and empowered through divine love, we too can sustain and strengthen our case for individual justification on the basis of our unconditional love and charity toward our fellows. Each day we can memorialize our gratitude to Heavenly Father and His Son through our own good works of charity that lift and bless the lives of our families and all around us.
The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob expounded on the theme of coming to the font of grace and mercy when he taught: “Come, my brethren, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore, do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy. Hearken diligently unto me, and remember the words which I have spoken; and come unto the Holy One of Israel, and feast upon that which perisheth not, neither can be corrupted, and let your soul delight in fatness. Behold, my beloved brethren, remember the words of your God; pray unto him continually by day, and give thanks unto his holy name by night. Let your hearts rejoice. And behold how great the covenants of the Lord, and how great his condescensions unto the children of men; and because of his greatness, and his grace and mercy, he has promised unto us that our seed shall not utterly be destroyed, according to the flesh, but that he would preserve them; and in future generations they shall become a righteous branch unto the house of Israel” (2 Nephi 9:50-53).
As mortals, we are never justified before God on the basis of perfect obedience to all the laws and commandments. Lehi made that clear when he said, “And by the law is no flesh justified” (2 Nephi 2:5). Only through the divine Atonement can mankind hope to be justified— “after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23). In effect, the Lord says: “They don’t have to be perfect—they just have to come.” It is in the “coming” before Him with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, in faith and obedience, that we can aspire to the essential state of justification through grace, and thus enter into His presence once again. (Richard J. Allen)
MORE THOUGHTS ON JUSTIFICATION
• “How is it that the saints are justified? It is because ‘God hath set forth [his Son] to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare . . . his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.’ (Romans 3:23-26.)” —Bruce R. McConkie (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985], 122).
We can be justified because of our Savior’s atoning sacrifice. We need to accept His Atonement and seek righteousness in all that we do as we keep the commandments. The Holy Spirit ratifies our life and we become justified. This should be our goal: to realize these precious blessings by becoming a “just” person—one who lives by faith and does good works.
- This article was adapted from What We Need to Know and Do, by Ed J. Pinegar and Richard J. Allen.