Justification: The Beautiful Exchange


Scripture Readings: Deuteronomy 32:4; Proverbs 17:15; Isaiah 53:5; Romans 3:20-30; 4:5; 5:9, 19; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 2:8; 3:9

Key Verse: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as 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. 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 3:23-26

It is amazing how we can so easily forget some of the most fundamental and foundational things that bring us joy in life. Today in my devotion time, I was humbled and reminded of a fundamental truth that may well be the greatest reality in the history of the world. I was reminded of a key reason as to why God came to earth as a man. Often, I try to keep it real with myself by examining my own faith by forcing myself to dictate what it is that I truly believe. I have found it to be a great tool in sharpening my own faith, receiving joy, as well as preparing myself to lead others to Christ. By communicating verbally or through writing, from time to time I will dictate the gospel and the reality of my situation before Christ, my reality with Him, and the mission He has called me to.

Today, however, I revisited justification. I mean, what does this big word actually mean? We here it so often from pastors, evangelists, and Christian authors, but what does it really mean? Merriam-Webster defines the action to justify as “to prove or show to be just, right, or reasonable.” In our court system, one is considered justified when they are declared innocent of a crime. This must be separated from forgiveness since forgiveness indicates a condition of guilt that is let go. If you harm me and I truly forgive you, then I will not get even but rather give up the right to get even. However, justification is quite different in the sense that there is no guilt to be spoken of. A judge, who justifies someone, declares them innocent after observing the evidence presented to him. A just judge will never justify someone who is guilty, but rather he will punish them.

All humans are obviously (from human experience) guilty of sinning against God. We all deliberately seek glory for ourselves, worship our families and accolades, all the while ignoring the One who gave us the ability to even rebel against Him. We are guilty of breaking His moral law. We all know how we ought to act, however, we do not always do so. More so than not, we do what we shouldn’t. This is a constant battle that none of us can win. With this perilous human condition in mind, we must revisit the biblical truth that we are justified by our faith in Jesus Christ apart from works of the law (Romans 3:28). From our look at the meaning of justification, it can be said that in the courtroom of heaven, God acts as judge who justifies those who have faith in Christ. In other words, God declares those believers to be innocent. On the surface there seems to be a major problem with this thought. Earlier I said that a just judge will never justify someone who is guilty. We know from Scripture that God is just (Deut. 32:4) but we also know from personal experience that humans are guilty. When viewed in this light, the teaching of justification is that a just God justifies guilty people. This is a contradictory statement in itself that would even be scripturally contradictory (we will see that it is in fact not at all). Scripture in fact states that “He who justifies the wicked [is] an abomination to the LORD.” The question now becomes, how can a just God justify wicked, guilty people?

The answer to this troubling question is simply beautiful. It can be defined in a two part exchange. Firstly, God can declare us innocent because the obedient work of Jesus Christ in his perfect life and death cancels our guilt. We are justified by His blood (Rom. 5:9). This does not yet venture into declaring us righteous, but only affirms that we are no longer guilty by the suffering and death of Christ cancelling that guilt. It is like a teacher who cancels an F from a student’s exam. This cancelation does not mean the student now has an A, but rather that he no longer has an F. While this cancelation of guilt doesn’t declare us righteous, which is necessary for complete just justification, it must happen.

Even more so than a cancelation of guilt, justification is also the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us. This is the beautiful exchange and it truly is beautiful. This truth is so beautiful that it nearly brought me to joyful tears when I revisited it today. God can justly declare us innocent because Christ became sin so that we can become righteousness. He exchanged His perfect righteousness for our sin so that we may be declared innocent and righteous in God’s sight. This indicates that Jesus fulfilled all righteousness perfectly in His life and death. We are not righteous ourselves, as we have seen (Phil. 3:9). Jesus’ perfect righteousness is counted as mine the moment I trusted in Him, declaring Him as Lord. Because of this, our just God looked on Christ’s righteousness and declared me to be righteousness viewing His righteousness as mine. Because of Jesus’ perfect obedience and work in his life and death, God is just in his declaration of innocence upon us as sinful beings. Christ took on our sin, so that when we trust in Him, we are given His righteousness. Oh how beautiful! One man’s disobedience led all to be sinners while one man’s obedience leads many to righteousness (Rom. 5:19). Jesus humbled Himself by becoming a man and He was obedient to the point of death, even a torturous death on a cross (Phil. 2:8). Christ’s death pays for the debt of our unrighteousness (He took the punishment we deserve) and His obedience provided the righteousness necessary for justification in God’s just court. This perfectly just God is right to declare us innocent by our faith in the obedient and perfect work of Jesus Christ. His death is the basis of our pardon (removal of guilt by His blood) as well as our perfection (His taking on sin and imputation of righteousness). By becoming sin, Jesus became our pardon and by imputing righteousness, He became our perfection (2 Cor. 5:21). We are declared righteous because of the perfection of Christ imputed to us.

I close by urging you to worship today. Yes, I realize that it is not a Sunday or a Wednesday night. However, find your joy today in the reality that this great and magnificent God loved you enough to make this way for you to be declared innocent. This examination of justification pleads one word: grace. Remember, we are sinners, yet His grace provided us a way out of our deserved punishment as Jesus took that for us. His grace placed our sin on a sinless man so that we might be pardoned of our guilt. His grace imputed Christ’s righteousness to us as He became our perfection. His grace led Him to come to earth as a man to do what we could not. His grace will lead to His ultimate glory and our ultimate joy as He will receive praise and we will be in His presence. Praise God today for His Son’s obedient and perfect work through suffering and death which achieved us justification in His heavenly courtroom. See and savor Jesus today for the perfect Savior that He is. Praise Him for His grace. Praise God today that He is just in declaring, “You are justified! You are innocent!” all because of the pleasing, obedient, and perfect work of God the Son, Jesus Christ and your faith in Him. Place your faith in Him today and be declared justified by His blood!

By His Grace,

Mathew Gilbert

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