One of the single greatest doctrines in Christianity is the doctrine of justification. This does not mean regeneration, sanctification, expiation, the substitionary atonement, etc., take a back seat. I simply mean that of all the doctrines, nothing can make or break how a Christian defines salvation like justification through faith alone in Jesus Christ. What’s even more important is how the resurrection expands the beauty of this doctrine. Allow me to first explain why this doctrine is so important. The Bible teaches us that God is indeed forgiving, merciful, and kind to blot out our sins and cast away our transgressions. However, God cannot justly forgive us. Did you see that? If we are criminals who are enemies of God because of our sin, God cannot, at any time, forgive us. Also, since we are criminals in danger of His wrath and justice, we can never do anything to get ourselves out of our guilty predicament. Because God is not only forgiving and merciful, but He is also just and righteous. It would be against God’s nature to acquit guilty criminals and not send them to Hell forever if they are guilty and still in their sins. Yet, we also know it is in God’s nature to forgive and be merciful. So what gives? Is the holiest, greatest, and highest being in the universe hypocritical?
Are we hopelessly lost without remedy? How is it possible to preach the “good news” to others if we are completely incapable of peace with God because of our sins? An even better questions would be, “How in the world can God forgive us!?”
If you are standing in a courtroom guilty of a crime, if your guilt is evident, even a human judge can’t allow you to just walk away. Even the most corrupt judges must enact some kind of punishment, even if it is minute. But if you are prosecuted, and there is absolutely no evidence that can be compiled against (and I mean zilch), then it would be just as convincing to the judge to declare you innocent and a free man/woman.
When Jesus was going to the cross, He was paying a penalty we absolutely deserved. We deserved worse than the very cross Christ was hanging on, but God’s wrath was being poured out on Christ on behalf of guilty sinners. When the Bible declares that mankind is born into sin, dead in it, and will perpetuate themselves to commit it, the Bible is terribly accurate. When we all stand before God, the insurmountable evidence will be so plain, that there will be no way to claim purity. However, since Christ was acting as a substitute on our behalf to endure the punishment that should be upon us, He provided a way for God to be just and yet forgiving. Because when a sinner places their faith in Christ’s finished work on the cross to save them, God takes the innocence of Christ and imputes it to us thereby declaring us “legally righteous.” In other words, there is a transaction in which the perfect, sinless life of Christ is debited to our account, and the evidence of guilt against us has been wiped clean because God now sees Christ in our place instead of us!
More can be said about the wonders of justification by faith in Christ alone,about the joy it brings experientially, the security it provides to believers everywhere, as well as the exclusivity it promises in light of other world religions. But what I want to highlight is the fact that it is not by just mere faith we are saved, but faith in the finished work of Christ. Faith points to something.
It is not faith in and of itself that saves the Christian, it is faith and trust in Christ’s work. And it is Christ’s work that saves us, sanctifies us, and completes us on the day in which we will be perfected in glory. Here are some things to consider.
We are justified by God’s grace, but because of Jesus.
“…being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” (Rom. 3:24)
We are justified by faith, apart from works, because of the works of Christ, and therefore have peace with God.
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Rom 5:1-2; cross reference Gal 2:16-17).
We are justified by the death of Christ in order to be saved from God’s wrath. “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” (Rom 5:9) Finally, although not exhaustively, we are justified by the resurrection of Christ.
“…who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because [for] our justification. (Rom 4:25) Before concluding this short article about justification, I really wanted to explain how the resurrection justifies us so that maybe we can have a new found appreciation for Christ’s holistic work for our redemption. Because although His work and atonement were finished on the cross, it implies His bodily resurrection, which Christians must believe to be saved.
Imagine for a second the transaction that I mentioned earlier. If the Bible says that we are dead in our sins, and our sins have left us with a seemingly unforgiveable debt that we could not pay off ourselves, if God chooses to release us of our crimes and justify us because of the penalty that Christ paid by taking our punishment, we may be declared “legally righteous,” but if our heart is not changed, we will willingly return to our life of crime and reduce the blood of Christ into a mere popish confessional. The reality of God’s merciful act concerning justification would be enough for me to continue in worship and praise to Him forever, but the reality is, my heart is deceitful and wicked and requires a supernatural transplant. And this is where the resurrection comes in.
As mentioned, Christ was raised for our justification, but in rising from the dead, the power of our salvation and the permanency of our justification and redemption are made sure. The resurrection has strong insinuation with the work of regeneration and new life in Christ, as well as the rule and dominion of Christ. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit…” (1 Pet 3:18). “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (Rom 8:11)
“For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin.
Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(Rom 6:5-11)
These are just a few of the verses that connect the work of the resurrection with new life that is applied to us by the Spirit for our justification because of the resurrection. If we were merely slain with Christ, the old man is dead and our sins are justified, but that would be it. The fact that there was a resurrection means that we have a new man that has been imputed to us, a new righteousness that comes from Christ, God’s Spirit that gives us the guarantee of our inheritance, as well as the power to live holy. Also, the promise of Christ’s dominion over death and His permanent residence on the throne by which He rules and intercedes for us forever and ever. Justification by faith in Christ is a doctrine that is interwoven in the fabric of other very important aspects of our salvation. And the resurrection assures us of those promises.
I wish I could write and write and write some more about how the glorious resurrection of Christ contributes and demonstrates the power of our justification, but I simply don’t have the space. But in saying all the above, let us remember that justification by faith alone in Christ’s finished work on the cross, as well as His resurrection, is the hinge pin in which our faith pivots. If we fail to understand this, and attempt to manipulate God’s salvation by our own works, we make a deadly and eternal mistake. If we fail to preach how the One True God’s salvation is unlike anything else on earth, and we present a false gospel, we will be brought to judgment for our insidious crime. Because to preach any other salvation is to spit upon the work that has already been accomplished for us. And that is no small offence.