What does justification by faith mean? This is the doctrine which tells us that God has contrived a way whereby men and women can be saved and reconciled unto Himself. It is all of His doing. It tells us that God, on the basis of what He has done in His Son, our blessed Lord and Saviour, freely forgives and absolves from all their sin, all who believe the gospel.
But it does not stop at that; they are furthermore given the righteousness of Jesus Christ and declared to be just and righteous in God’s sight. It is not only negative, there is this positive aspect also. We are clothed with the righteousness of Christ which is ‘imputed’ to us, ‘put to our account’, and so we stand accepted in the sight of God. As Romans 5:19 puts it, we are ‘constituted’ righteous people in the presence of this holy and righteous God.
Justification does not mean that we are ‘made’ righteous, but rather that God regards us as righteous and declares us to be righteous. This has often been a difficulty to many people. They say that because they are conscious of sin within, they cannot be in a justified state; but anyone who speaks like that shows immediately that he has no understanding of this great and crucial doctrine of justification. Justification makes no actual change in us; it is a declaration by God concerning us. It is not something that results from what we do, but rather something that is done for us. We have only been made righteous in the sense that God regards us as righteous and pronounces us to be righteous.
– D.M. Lloyd-Jones