I've recently been asked, is justification equal to becoming saved? The answer is yes, though many other things also take place when one is saved. To be made just or righteous, is first mentioned in the OT though there are a lot of details that are not explained. In other words, the OT saints were declared justified. This is done by the work of Christ on the cross, applied back to the believers of dispensations past. This does not mean that they are placed into the church, into the spiritual body of Christ, or that they are now seen "in Jesus," or "in Christ." But this "declaration of righteousness" is how both the OT saints and the NT saints are saved!
Justification comes from the Hebrew word tzad'deek and a family of related words. The root idea is to make something right, straight. The word is used dozens of times in the OT. One of the key passages is Daniel 8:14 with the Niphal verb form. "Then shall the sanctuary be cleansed, made or declared righteous or vindicated from wrong." Also, God is said "to be our righteousness" (Jer. 31:16; Dan. 9:14).
One of the most significant verses is Isaiah 53:11, using the Hiphil verb form: "My righteous Servant (the Messiah) shall make righteous, justify the many." The Hiphil is a passive form. The many shall receive justification from God's Servant, the Messiah! The action of justification will come upon them! Concerning OT saints, Romans 3:25b is extremely important. It reads: Christ as a propitiation "was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed." Kroll rightly points out: "The righteousness of God is declared by atoning for present and future sins as well as past sins. Therefore God is the justifier of any man or woman—past, present, or future—who places his or her faith in the blood of Jesus Christ." A. T. Robertson concurs: "The sins before the coming of Christ (Acts 14:16; 17:30; Heb. 9:15)."
Abraham became the key OT example of one who became justified by his simple faith in what God had told him. The Lord told him he would have an heir from his own body (Gen. 15:4). He then told him to count the stars, "So shall your descendants be" (v. 5). "Then [Abraham] believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness" (v. 6). This verse is quoted several places by Paul, and by James also. It became the standard illustration of justification (being declared righteous) by faith and trust. The Scofield notes say:
The word reckoned means to account or put to the credit of. Paul writes this idea in many places. Another great verse is: "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:23-24).
This justification is the greatest gift made available to the human race. One by faith is declared as righteous as Christ, in fact, those who trust Him, have this acquittal applied to them in a positional way. That is, if I die tonight, I go into the very presence of the Lord, completely justified and seen as righteous in His sight. This may be said to be the greatest expression of His love for sinful mankind. There is no other way of entering into His presence except by having His perfection, His holiness, and righteousness applied to me. Eternal life is the result of this justification.
Every child of God needs to daily give Him thanks for this wonderful gift of salvation! – Dr. Mal Couch