Justification is an important part of our Christian belief. A look at a few Bible verses makes that clear:
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24)
“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him.” (Romans 5:9)
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)
Even more reason to understand justification is because so much of our standing before God is dependent upon it, things like our peace with God and our salvation from the wrath of God.
So what does justification really mean? Can we say, as many are inclined to do, it means “just as if I’d never sinned”?
If we go back to the Greek used in the New Testament, we’ll find the word dikaioumenoi. That’s quite a mouthful. (Just be thankful I didn’t write it in the Greek alphabet.) It comes from the base word dikaios, which means “to render innocent,” but often the form of the verb shows that God is declaring us innocent. That’s pretty amazing considering these other truths: “For all have sinned…” (Romans 3:23), and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
In a court of law, we would have been convicted of any and all the crimes we committed, and we would have had to pay the required penalty. But God chose to step in and let Jesus pay the penalty we deserved for the sins we’d committed. The wages of sin is death. By our sins we have earned death. Jesus voluntarily took that penalty upon himself, freeing us from the judgment we rightfully earned. For those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, Jesus steps in when God is ready to impose judgment on us. God, seeing the sinless Jesus standing in our place, now declares that we are not deserving of death. It is as if we had never earned the wages of sin that Romans 6:23 mentions. My standing before God becomes what it would have been if I had never sinned.
Why can’t we then say justified means ‘just as if I’d never sinned’?
We can’t because it leaves out a large part of reality. It allows us to think of the results, the blessings we have—peace with God and freedom from his wrath, without thinking of what it cost to give us those blessings. And our justification was costly. All it costs me is to admit my sinfulness and accept God’s gift of salvation through Jesus. But it cost Jesus more, a lot more:
- He gave up his position as God and all that meant: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself…” (Phil. 2:6-8).
- He was scorned and spat upon: “They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head…Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him…They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again” (Matthew 27:28-31). “Those who passed by hurled insults at him” (Matthew 27:39).
- He was crucified. Scripture uses those simple words for an unspeakable form of death. To understand the details you might read what Josh McDowell has to say on the subject: https://tinyurl.com/s6pwbbd.
- He felt the pain of separation from God the Father: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). (For a better understanding of this I encourage you to read this explanation: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/thabiti-anyabwile/what-does-it-mean-for-the-father-to-forsake-the-son-part-3/)
Justification, then, does not mean “just as if I’d never sinned.” If I had never sinned, if none of us had ever sinned, none of these things would have been asked of Jesus. He would not have had to lower himself. He would not have had to be separated from God the Father. He would not have had to die an excruciatingly painful death.
Not everything is at it was before I sinned. A great deal changed for me when I was justified freely. A great deal changed for Jesus too, and we must never forget that.
Soul Refreshers for your week:
- Take time to read and ponder the truths found in the verses mentioned today.
- Let them lead you to humility and an overwhelming sense of gratitude to Jesus for taking on the punishment that would have been ours. Take time to express your gratitude to Him.
- Let the truth that you are forgiven, that you have been and even now are greatly loved refresh your soul. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (I John 4:10).