Easter 2024: Justification

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“Christ at Gethsemane” Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1880

For Good Friday and Easter this year, I want to talk about justification.

Justification is a key concept related to Jesus’ work on the cross that we can struggle to understand. A proper and biblical understanding of this aspect of the cross can bring deeper insight to our faith.

That God justifies us means he removes the guilt and penalty associated with our sin. We, therefore, do not have to suffer the penalty.

Justification does not mean that God makes us righteous, but that he counts us as righteous, or as having fulfilled the law’s requirements concerning sin. And here is where I really want to focus, because this is where it can be confusing.

Concerning what aspect of the law does God count us as righteous? Since Jesus got credited with our unrighteous sin as if he did it himself, and therefore died on the cross for it in our place, does God then credit us with Jesus’ righteous, pure life, as if we lived it, thus treating us as if we have never sinned in the first place? Is that the sense of how God declares us righteous?


That God justifies us and declares us righteous means that he places us in a right legal standing before him and his law, not as if we have never sinned like Jesus, but as if we paid the penalty in full.

Justification does not center on God treating us as if we have never sinned, but as if we have paid the penalty.

This is what forgiveness of sins is all about. Forgiveness and justification are mostly synonymous in that they both refer to that we no longer owe to God the debt we incurred from sin—which is what Jesus paid for us on the cross.

Now, what happened on the cross makes more sense. Jesus was paying the penalty for our sin, so we don’t have to pay it. Jesus satisfied the requirements of the law concerning its penalty that the wage of sin is death.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4, NIV)

The main force of justification is not that God is treating us as if we were not guilty of sin, but that he removes the condemnation due for those who are guilty.

God declares us righteous to the law in his accepting Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. For God, who is the lawgiver, this satisfies his righteous and holy nature that the penalty must be paid. If the penalty is not paid, then God is not righteous. His solution is the cross.

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26)

May you have a wonder Easter as you remember Jesus and his work on the cross.

(For more on the purpose of Jesus’ death, see my post on Why the Death of Jesus? And for more on the purpose of his resurrection, see The Purpose of the Resurrection.)


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