Declared to be Righteous
The word—the English word justification comes over from the Latin “justificare,” which literally meant to make just or to make righteous. Now one of the problems that produced this whole controversy historically was in the early centuries. The Latin fathers were not reading and developing their doctrine from the Greek but rather from the Vulgate, from the Latin translation of the Bible. And when the Latin translation of the Bible speaks about justification it uses the Latin “justificare,” which is drawn from the legal structure of the Roman system of law.
And again, to make righteous, means that here’s a person who is not righteous and the word to justify means that you make them righteous so that they become truly righteous in and of themselves. So the system of justification that developed was the system of understanding how an unjust person is made just or righteous. Now when we talk about the process of being made truly righteous, we’re talking not about justification but about sanctification. So we believe that first there’s justification and then what follows from justification is sanctification. Where in the ancient Roman view, because of the use of that term “justificare,” actually sanctification was preceding justification because God wouldn’t pronounce you just until you actually had become just. But the Greek word “dikaiosuné” does not mean to make righteous, it means to count, or reckon as righteous, or to treat as righteous. And so the heart of the Reformation view is that while we are still unrighteous, we are declared to be righteous by God’s applying to us the righteousness of Christ through imputation.