For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (ESV)
Imagine, if you will, it is a beautiful sunny day. You have a convertible and decide it is time to put the top down, crank up the tunes, and go for a drive. As you get on to the highway you realize that you don't have a care in the world. You are having the time of your life. As you listen to your music blasting you hear another sound. It's kind of a kill joy. It's a siren.
You pull off the highway and wait. You know what's coming. It's been a while since you've gotten a ticket, but you are well aware of the routine. You are not sure what to fear more; the expensive ticket or explaining to your wife why you were so irresponsible. The officer comes over and says to you, "Good day sir. You were going 100 miles per hour. Your ticket should be $500, but today it's free.
Sounds like a great story doesn't it? In this story you were guilty of wrong. Yet, the police officer declared that there was no punishment for you. From a legal standpoint he is essentially declaring you "Not Guilty." Are you guilty? Of course you are! Your legal standing is based on the graciousness of the one representing the Law, not your innocence.
It is the same with our relationship with God. To be "justified" is to be declared "not guilty" even though we are guilty as sin. How did this happen? It happened because of the graciousness of the one representing the Law. To receive this justification we must place our faith in the one who represents the Law. Our works condemn us. Our savior justifies us.
What a joy to be counted "not guilty." There is no question that you are a sinner. The question is whether or not your sin will be held against you. Place your faith in the one who paid the penalty for you.