Merriam-Webster’s definition of ‘Justify’ is
b (1) : to show to have had a sufficient legal reason
(2) : to qualify (oneself) as a surety by taking oath to the ownership of sufficient property
2 a archaic : to administer justice to
b archaic : ABSOLVE
c : to judge, regard, or treat as righteous and worthy of salvation
3 a : to space (as lines of text) so that the lines come out even at the margin
b : to make even by justifying 〈justified margins〉 verb intransitive
1 a : to show a sufficient lawful reason for an act done
b : to qualify as bail or surety 1
Strong’s G1344, translated as ‘Justify’ means to render (i.e. show or regard as) just or innocent:—free, justify (-ier), be righteous.2
Galatians 5:3-4 warns against circumcision and putting oneself under the Mosaic Law after being saved through the power of Christ. By doing this one is actually “severed” from Christ. Many, including the Hebrew Roots Movement, teach that this scripture is not talking about being saved or “justified” by the Law, that is only through Jesus. They claim after salvation one must adhere to the Law.
To be justified before God is that which is impossible by man to do in himself for to have sin disqualifies his ability to make himself right in the presence of a holy God. Justification is the ability to stand before a holy God in confidence knowing you have been made fully righteous through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. One cannot add to the work of Jesus, for when they do, they have tainted or mocked His perfect sacrifice. One cannot be made more righteous than the righteousness imputed to them through Jesus Christ.
This is seen in Galatians 5:1-12 where Paul is writing a powerful discourse of those who teach to obey the Law after becoming a believer in Jesus Christ. By finishing up his earlier chapters of Galatians contrasting the works of the Law versus the power of faith with chapter 5, Paul cements the fact that the Law contradicts and nullifies the work of Jesus in us. Galatians 5:16-18 emphasizes that a believer is led by the Spirit not fulfilling the desires of the flesh that have been aroused by the Law (Romans 7:5), thus believers are no longer under the Law.
Now this is how we will know if we or others are being led by the Spirit, if their lives produce the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-26). Even Jesus said we would know His followers by their fruit, especially in their love for others (Matthew 7:16-20, Matthew 12:33, Matthew 13:23, John 15:1-17, John 13:34-37).
Romans 3:19-20 states no one will be justified by the Law for its work is to give knowledge of sin and be accountable to God. James 2:10 reminds us when we fail in one point of the Law, we have become accountable for the whole law (Galatians 3:10-11). We cannot add to the work of Jesus by obeying the Law for when we do, we are putting ourselves back under the curse of the Law (Galatians 3:10).
1. Merriam-Webster, I. (2003). Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. (Eleventh ed.). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.
2. Strong, J. (2009). Vol. 1: A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible (23). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.