From “How to become a Christian”: Chapter 22 – The three stages or tenses of salvation: Justification, then sanctification, then glorification
Justification takes place in an instant at the very beginning of our Christian life. That is at the point at which we are forgiven and born again. At that moment we are reclassified and viewed differently by God. We are suddenly deemed, or considered, to be completely righteous in God’s eyes. It means that in God’s eyes, at that instant, all our sin is transferred on to Jesus Christ and all His righteousness is immediately transferred to us. God then chooses to view us as if we were as sinless and righteous as Jesus, even though, in the way we live, we clearly are not.
All of this takes place instantaneously at the moment of our conversion. Justification is not something that we have to work at or develop. It does not depend on our own merit or achievements. It is purely a free gift through God’s grace and mercy, based on our sincere faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and on repenting genuinely.
Most of the time, when people refer to salvation, they actually mean justification. It is the first stage of salvation, which is the basis for forgiveness and for receiving eternal life.