To Provide the Basis for our Justification
Reading: Romans 3:9-
Do you remember the story about the blind Indian men and the Elephant? There are various different versions of that story but they make the same basic point. Each blind man felt just one part of the elephant and then went on to describe the elephant in terms of what they experienced.
(Insert an extract from the poem by John Godfrey Saxe.)
Now none of these descroptions were completely wrong but each of them only provided a very limited view of what an elephant really was like.
We can at times be like those wise men when we think about the work that Jesus came to do. Our viewpoint may not be wrong but it may be very limited. The salvation which Jesus secured for his people is a great and many-
Jesus secured salvation for us by means of his death. At the end of his earthly life, during which time he never once sinned, he was nailed to a cross on Calvary until he was dead. The good news of the Christian message focuses upon this Jesus and in particular it focuses upon his death and subsequent resurrection.
Jesus' death, when rightly understood, is a matter for great rejoicing. Jesus' death was not a mistake but an integral part of the divine plan and the resurrection was not some desperate attempt to put right what had previously gone wrong; it was a vindication of all that he had achieved in his triumph on the Cross.
In the summer of last year we looked at some of reasons that the Bible gives about why Jesus had to die. In those studies we began to unpack something of the richness of the salvation that has been wrought for us by the Lord Jesus Christ and we saw that Jesus died for the following reasons:
To Absorb the Wrath of God
To Please His Heavenly Father
To Learn Obedience and Be Perfected
To Achieve His Own Resurrection from the Dead
To Show the Wealth of God’s Love and Grace for Sinners
To Show His Own Love for Us
To Cancel the Legal Demands of the Law Against Us
To Become a Ransom for Many
For the Forgiveness of Our Sins …
While it is not necessary to fully understand what Jesus did for us in order to reap the benefits of his death, the more we can understand the greater will be our appreciation and enjoyment of our salvation.
We have by no means exhausted all that the Bible says about just why Jesus died. This evening we want to look at his death as providing the basis for our justification.
Most of the references to idea of being justified are to be found in Paul's writings in the NT. It seems to be Paul's particular way of explaining the gospel message. For Paul it is through Jesus' death that guilty sinners, who were once justly under wrath, are brought into a new relationship with God as his sons. It was a work of grace on the part of God.
If we were to seek a more comprehensive description of justification then Jim Packer in his book "God's Words" provides us with a good one:
"Justification means God's act of remitting the sins of, and reckoning righteousness to, ungodly sinners freely, by his grace, through faith in Christ, on the ground, not of their own works, but of the representative righteousness and redemptive, propitiatory, substitutionary blood-
You may well have heard the simple explanation of justification as meaning "just-
The language of justification is legal language; its proper domain is the legal sphere; it is language borrowed from the court room. Justification is all about a declaration being made, a verdict being pronounced. If I am tried in a court and after the evidence has been examined I am found to be innocent and my claims held to be just then the judge declares me "Not guilty" – he vindicates me, he justifies me.
In the context of the gospel justification is not about me being made good it is about me being declared to be just. The verdict depends upon someone actually already being just!
When we become Christians moral changes begin to take place in our lives, our conversion marks the start of what will be a long process that won't come to an end until we die or the Lord returns. This process is properly called sanctification. Justification is not this process, indeed it is not a process at all but a declaration that takes place in a moment and knows of no degree of change – Not guilty! Just! Righteous! It refers to my status before God and his law.
In a human court the ordinary way to be justified is to keep the law. When tried the judge will see from the evidence how you have lived and will simply declare what is true of you: "You kept the law". And so you will depart justified.
There is a problem however as we come into the court-
Rom.3:20 "For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin."
The law told us not to do certain things but instead of being guided by the law away from sin we preferred to do just what we were told not to do. Adam took the fruit from the one tree he was told to avoid and we have acted no differently.
Being therefore guilty of sin having fallen short of the divine standards we lack the righteousness that would enable God to declare us just in his sight. Were he to press on regardless and to do so he would be doing what he himself calls an abomination:
Prov.17:15 "He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD."
We don't like double standards, do we? Don't you react negatively when wealthy people get away with tax frauds involving large sums of money while at the same time the poor are heavily penalised for benefit fraud totalling much smaller amounts? I'm not saying that benefit fraudsters should be exonerated – no guilty they deserve to be punished but so do the rich.
But God lays himself open to the charge of abominable practice because Paul writes of him in Rom.4:5 as the one "who justifies the ungodly"! How can this be? Does God really play favourites and do that which is abominable?
If a person is to be declared righteous then the quality of righteousness must be present or else we are left with nothing but a legal fiction. But God does not play a game of "let's pretend".
But if the ordinary way of being justified by means of the law is not able to come up with the necessary goods this does not mean that God cannot establish a different way. And indeed Paul declares that this had been his intention all along as both the law and the prophets could refer to a righteousness that wasn't based upon an individual's own ability to keep the law.
Rom.3:21 "But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it…"
Far from being an unjust procedure, some divine sleight of hand or questionable practice the alternative way that God had planned would uphold his own justice and explain just how it was that sin which had occurred a long time previously could have been righteously passed over.
What was this other way whereby God might show himself to be both "just and the justifier"?
It was by the death of Jesus Christ!
Jesus shed his blood to cancel the guilt of our crimes – or as Paul puts it in Rom.5:9-
"Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life."
It was the Father who initiated it all. It was he who set forth his own Son as a "propitiation by his blood" (Rom.3:25) Jesus acting as the representative of his people suffered in their place as their substitute and his life was forfeited for their crimes. He took full legal responsibility for their crimes and dealt with them by shedding his own blood.
Our own legal system can illustrate for us where one person is considered legally responsible for another.
You can be held responsible if your child (under 10) repeatedly gets into trouble with the police or if you don’t take reasonable steps to control their behaviour and to leave a child of this age unattended can be considered a criminal act if it places them at risk.
Power of attorney.
In dying Jesus provided a complete satisfaction for divine wrath for all those who would be joined to him by a faith union. His own life consisted of a perfectly righteous life and so was fully able to satisfy all the exigences of divine justice. Salvation is offered to us freely by God's wonderful grace and is not related to any qualities in us. All of the blessings of salvation flow to us through faith but not because of it. It is by faith that we are united to him and even this faith God himself gives to us – it is not our faith that causes us to be justified, all of our blessings come to us because of Jesus and what he has done on our behalf.
Justification includes the removal of our guilt, the cancellation of our unrighteousness. It includes however more than just that.
Because Jesus was and is completely righteous there is indeed a righteousness that allows God to declare the ungodly to be righteous – it is not their own inherent righteousness it is the righteousness of another, the righteousness of the Saviour to whom they have become joined in a faith-
This is the righteousness that is not dependent upon independent law-
The righteousness of Jesus is credited, reckoned, imputed to the account of the believer by virtue of their union with him – Jesus continues to be their/our representative head. Joined to him he took our guilt and shame and joined to him he shares with us his complete perfect and spotless righteousness.
So when God looks upon the believer he sees the beauty of his own Son and hence joyfully declares the sinner who has faith in Jesus to be just, right with God. And this is the claim the believer has before God:
I am "found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith" Phil.3:9
This declaration of righteousness establishes our relation to God and our relation to his law. We are declared to be in a right standing with God because the law, the whole law, has been kept – not by us but by our Saviour to whom we are irreversibly joined. The law can never separate us from God because we are now no longer under law but under grace (cf. Rom.6:14+15).
And what blessings flow from being thus justified! If God declares us to be in a right standing with him we can understand how Paul can declare that we now have peace, real objective peace, with God. We can understand too how Paul can exult in the knowledge that there is no condemnation to be feared for those in Christ!
Writing to the Christians of Corinth Paul summed up the divine message of reconciliation by highlighting what God had done in Christ for the likes of us:
2Cor.5:21 "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."
When God made the sinless Christ to be sin for us it meant that he was imputing our sin to Christ that Christ might become our pardon.
When God made us become the righteousness of God in Christ he was imputing Christ's righteousness to us that he might be our perfection.
Salvation is all of Christ – praise be to his wonderful name!