Christ Justifies: Our Hope
Updated: Aug 23, 2018
By my count, the New Testament writers reference 'justification' or being 'justified' forty plus times. And thank God they do. How many times have you found yourself in a place like this: with your head down, awash in condemnation and shame, regretting the decisions you have made and agonizing over your sin. Such moments tend to make us feel a sense of hopelessness. But remember, the NT writers have prepared us for moments like these.
What hope do we have in the shame-filled moments that follow our sin? How do we go forward after taking actions we said we would never take, uttering words we wish we could take back, and finding motivations in our hearts that are self-serving and evil? Our hope comes from the truth found in Romans 3:24:
"And we are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus..."
Our hope in moments like these, and really in all moments, comes from being justified through Christ. So, understanding our proclivity to drift into despair as a result of moments like these, and the reality that the enemy never fails to show up to accuse and slander us when we hang our heads in condemnation, we must understand what justification is. And what it does.
What is Justification?
There is no Christianity without justification. And justification is personal. It changes how we relate to God. We are no longer enemies of God but rather his children. We are declared righteous by God because we have a personal relationship with Jesus. Justification is a declaration; a verdict. In a courtroom, when a judge declares a person innocent, they are said to be 'justified'. Because and through our personal relationship with Jesus, God declares his verdict concerning us--innocent!
Let's discuss some of the 'particulars' of how this happens. Because I am assuming you know what all people know--we are not innocent. If a judge declared a wicked and guilty criminal innocent--just because he could--we would cry out that justice had not been delivered. There would be a sense that the judge himself was wicked, unwise, and cruel. So how does God do it concerning us?
God doesn't "wink" at our sin when he declares us justified. He waves no magic wand. Our sin has been punished and dealt with--through Christ. The Father can declare us justified because Jesus took our sin and suffered the punishment for it--in our place. Jesus then offers us his perfect righteousness. This exchange is called imputation. Our sin is imputed to Christ--as if he had done it--and Christ's righteousness is imputed to us--as if we had lived perfectly. Because Christ satisfied the payment for sins, God the Father sees us as perfect. Our personal relationship with Jesus causes the Father to see us the same way he sees the Son.
Adam received garments in the garden to cover his nakedness (Gen. 3:21), Joshua the high priest received pure vestments in exchange for his filthy clothes (Zech. 3:2-5), and the prodigal son got the finest robe when he returned home (Luke 15:22). Just like them, we receive and put on the perfection of Christ. No more wearing clothes soiled by sin, shame, and guilt. We are now clothed in the righteousness of Christ.
What Justification Does
It's a tragedy, but many assume that they can justify themselves. They hope that their 'good' deeds outweigh their 'bad' deeds and, because of this, they are justified in God's sight. Many of the forty plus references to justification address the impossibility of someone justifying themselves. Justification doesn't come as a result of works of righteousness. We can't simply stand up and declare we are innocent.
And because our justification comes through Christ by faith alone, this frees us up to pursue holiness and right living without the fear of rejection.
We don't have to constantly wonder if we are measuring up. We don't have to grit our teeth and obey God because we are trying to obtain something. Being justified by Christ means we are totally loved and accepted by God. Our obedience to him is not a means of justifying ourselves, but rather the way we grow in his love and acceptance. We obey God in light of his mercies, not as a condition to get something. This means that when we find ourselves in a guilt-ridden and condemned state, we can approach our Father without fear of rejection. Yes, we may have sinned, and we need to repent, but our justification isn't hanging on our performance--it's hanging on Jesus'.
See, being clothed in the righteousness of Christ is not just the heart of justification. It is the heart of the whole Christian faith.