Jesus said that he came to save us from our sin and give us an entire kingdom through His death and resurrection. St. Paul, as a great polemist of his time, took what Jesus said and gave it a didactic nature in order to grapple as an apologist in an area of the world that was steeped in philosophical rhetoric. Paul used terms such as “justification.” Paul used these types of terms, not because Jesus or the prophets did, but because it was a fitting word for the circumstances. The term is used to describe the very transcendent nature of what Jesus said He brought us. Jesus said that he came to save sinners, but Paul was determined, by the Spirit of God no less, to explain just how this salvation transcends to a people in our time and space from a God in a different time and space (eternity).
So when Paul says that we were ‘justified’ he is merely explaining the legal atmosphere of salvation. But we know that salvation is much more complicated than the forensic model alone, and that justification is not some sort of floating barge that we can hop on when the time is right. Justification is the very philosophical means of what God has done to us when He died on that Cross and resurrection from the dead! Paul was expounding and yes declaring, but he never even implied that the very word ‘justification’ was the end-all means to salvific doctrine. In fact, Paul uses the word interchangeably in different areas.
Remember, Jesus did not come down to earth, set up a court, and then try his people and sign a paper stating that we are righteous. No, he came down here, lived a righteous life, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, was buried, and rose from the dead! THIS IS WHAT WE OUGHT TO BE DEFENDING – what the ancient Creeds declare, which is what Paul declares in his writings!
We are saved by Christ’s actions not Paul’s doctrine! This does not mean that Paul’s doctrine is not essential to the faith. It is, but the fact of the matter is that Paul’s doctrine did not die and resurrect! Christ’s body did. And we, as Orthodox Christians are able to experience this reality within our Eucharistic meal. What a wonderful thing it is!