Just and Justifier

April 6, 2018

God forgives sins, right? The answer is, of course, yes. But I fear that many people have mistaken notions about forgiveness. One faulty idea is akin to balancing scales. If I have more good deeds than bad deeds, then the scales are in my favor, and God should forgive me. I’m a pretty good person after all. If my bad deeds outweigh my good deeds, then I’m in trouble and subject to judgment. But in this faulty idea, only really bad people have to worry about this.

The problem is that this is not the biblical view. Sin separates me from God. If I imagine my sin as a debt, then I must also imagine all of my good deeds as something I already owe. My good deeds are not extra credit that a teacher assigns to help students get a passing grade. My good deeds are not extra funds which I can place in an account that is overdrawn.

But the problem goes deeper. We must ponder how a just God can forgive sins. Is it as easy as we might first think? Imagine someone accused of a crime who opts to have the trial by judge rather than a jury. All of the evidence is presented, and it is quite overwhelming that the accused is guilty. But when the judge comes to sentencing, he declares the accused as not guilty. How would we respond to such a thing? Wouldn’t there be an outcry that justice had not been done? Wouldn’t the judge be accused of being unjust, and maybe the newspapers would investigate whether a bribe had taken place. The public would question the character of the judge.

In Romans 3:21-26, Paul uses three terms to explain the death of Christ. Justified comes from the realm of the law court. To be justified is to receive a favorable verdict, to be in right standing. Redemption is a marketplace word. It is to purchase something or in the case of the ancient world, someone out of slavery. The redemption in Christ is like a new Exodus from slavery — in this case slavery from sin. The third term is propitiation. It comes from the realm of the temple. It was a sacrifice that averts the wrath of God. Paul’s point is that Christ has done something in dying on the cross to make it possible for God to forgive sins.

This leads to Paul’s statement in 3:26: “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 3:26, ESV). In other words, without the death of Christ God could not be the just judge and forgive sins. The penalty had to be dealt with. The redemption price had to be paid. The sacrifice had to be offered. But in doing this in Christ, God could maintain his justice and yet be the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus. God could forgive. He could render the favorable verdict without it compromising his character as in my story of the unjust judge.

Popular understandings of forgiveness are faulty. We must learn the biblical view and help others to see this view. Forgiveness is not possible without the death of Christ, and receiving forgiveness is not possible without faith in Jesus and all that it entails (ponder “obedience of faith,” Romans 1:5, 16:26).


The Transforming Cross

March 30, 2018

The cross of Jesus refers to his crucifixion by the Romans, his burial in a rich man’s previously unused tomb, and his resurrection from the dead. Christians look back on this once for all event as permanently dealing with sins and gaining the victory over death. But Paul also uses the cross as a model for our lives as Christians.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20, ESV)

This daily crucifixion is a putting to death of myself so that Christ may live in me. The voluntary death to self is motivated by the great love that Christ and the Father have for us.

And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24, ESV)

The above passage from Paul lets us know that this crucifixion of ourselves also has to do the flesh. Flesh in Paul is defined well by the descriptive phrase that follows “with its passions and desires.” In other words, it is a putting to death of sinful desires in our life. It is a life lived by faith (Gal. 2:16), “through the Spirit, by faith” (Gal 5:5), and involves faith working through love (Gal. 5:6). Although we may be engaged in an inner moral struggle for Christian maturity, it is love that motivates us and the Spirit who strengthens us (Romans 8:13, Ephesians 3:16). It is not an unaided struggle.

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14, ESV)

The model of the cross is also a model for putting to death the world on a daily basis. Paul’s use of “world” is not to evoke the beauty of creation around us. Rather it is the world system that is hostile to God. My death to self is to result in a new creation (Gal. 6:15). It will be because I’m walking by the Spirit which is the opposite of gratifying the desires of the flesh (i.e., worldly, sinful desires). I’m to be led by the Spirit (Gal. 5:18) which will produce the fruit of the Spirit, which is a very different lifestyle from the one lived by worldly values. And Paul offers a challenge to us: “let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25).We must pay attention to what it means to let Christ live in us. We must be vigilant that we are not slipping back into worldliness for the new creation is in Christ, it is not in the world.

As you ponder the cross of Christ, also consider your daily crucifixion of self. The cross of Christ is to be a transforming cross.