To justify is to defend as right… or just. Justification, then, has to do with the means by which we who are anything but just, are declared by God to be just.
We the unjust
The reason justification is necessary is that we are not just and we cannot be just. We have rebelled against God and we do rebel against him. The godliest saint has a deep-seated bent toward rebellion.1
God hates sin. His wrath rests on those who rebel against him.2 God’s perfect justice demands that sinners be condemned for their crimes against him.
God the just
The great concern in justification is how God can declare us just and still be just himself. After all, we are not just. We are sinners. Rebels.
God’s perfect mercy desires to rescue us but his perfect justice cannot ignore our crimes. This is the theological dilemma that Paul is dealing with when he says that it was necessary “to show God’s righteousness” (Romans 3:25). In other words, if justice has not been done, how can God justly—righteously—pardon me? I am a criminal. And justice has not been done.
Perfect love and perfect justice
This theological dilemma is resolved at the cross. Because Jesus paid the penalty of my sin, the Judge can justly declare me “not guilty.” Paul puts it like this: Jesus death made it possible for God to “be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (v. 263). God is just because he has meted out the just penalty for the crime. He is the justifier because he bore the penalty of those crimes himself at the cross allowing me to be declared just (i.e. justified)!
This is what Paul means in 1 Corinthians 1:30 when he says “Christ… became to us… righteousness.” Isaiah described it eight hundred years before Christ when he said of the Messiah “By his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous [justified], and he shall bear their iniquities.”4
Paul’s conclusion for those who are justified is that “There is therefore now no condemnation”!5 He asks a series of question: If God is for us, who can be against us? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? Who is to condemn? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?6
And what is Paul’s answer? It is God who justifies! Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us!7
In other words, do you have an issue with me? You have to take it up with Christ! Because he’s the one who died to deal with that! You have an accusation against me? You have to take it up with God! He’s the one who declared me righteous!
But most stunning is the answer to Paul’s question about God’s love for us. Because of justification, I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!8
When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there,
Who made an end to all my sin.
Because the sinless Saviour died,
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God, the Just, is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.9
Grace to you.
1 Romans 3.
2 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9.
3 Emphasis added.
4 Isaiah 53:11, emphasis added.
5 Romans 8:1.
6 Romans 8:31-35.
7 Romans 8:33-34.
8 Romans 8:38-39.
9 Taken from the text “Before the Throne of God Above” by Charitie Lees Bancroft.