Normally, I don’t say much when I hear Christian clichés from the pulpit or elsewhere in church, but there is one popular saying that causes me agita (you’ll have to look that up). It is when the preacher attempts to define the doctrine of justification as “just as if I’d never sinned.” I think the reason I find it troubling is because it betrays a lack of basic exegetical skill on the part of the preacher who should know better. Worse yet, instead of an appeal, for example, to Greek lexicography, it relies on a seemingly cute English tweak to make an important theological truth.
Justification is the work of God whereby he imputes or credits his righteousness to sinners resulting in a right standing with God. There are two major aspects of justification: First, God forgives our sins, and second, he credits us with his righteousness. Having our sins forgiven is wonderful, but that alone will not save us. Forgiveness of our sins cleans the slate, but it only leaves us neutral before God. We possess nothing positive in order to stand before God. God is holy, he is righteous, and sinners need both forgiveness of sins and righteousness to be right with God, and both come from God.
We can do better. We may not all have had the luxury of robust Greek training in Bible college or seminary, but we can read the many good theological treatments of important New Testament doctrines. We want to be very accurate in the pulpit. And let’s drop the “just as if I’d never sinned” line for something far more rich and honoring to God.