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In Order to Deliver Us

27 September 2012 by Daniel

Q. 70. What is justification?
A. Justification is an act of God's free grace unto sinners, in which he pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in his sight; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.

There is a big difference between settling a debt and cancelling it.  God did not cancel our sin debt, He settled it.  There is nothing righteous about a judge who cancels the sentence of a man found guilty of rape and murder.  If that man walks out of the court free, justice has failed.  But let that man serve 60 years in prison, and walk out of the prison robbed of sixty years of his own life, and some may be willing to say the man has settled his debt to society.

Justification is the doctrine that describes how our sin debt was settled (not cancelled).

Simply put, each one of us is one of God's creatures.  He has supplied us with bodies and life for a purpose, but we have taken that body, filled with that life on a self serving joy-ride, and in doing so we have made ourselves cosmic criminals.  We have rejected God's rule in favour of our rule, and the "just" penalty for our treasonous rebellion is an eternity in hell separated from God.  We have earned this just as surely as a man earns a wage that he works for.  God is obligated by His own righteousness to repay us what is owed to us.

If God owes every sinner damnation, the question we should be asking is, how can anyone be saved?

That's where the doctrine of justification comes in.  In order to deliver us from damnation God has to settle our sin debt on the one hand, and deliver us from the consequences of that debt on the other.  Given that the penalty for our sin is to experience the eternal wrath of God - an experience that no on can live through, we find ourselves left with an impossible situation.  God cannot cancel our debt and be righteous, and God cannot pour out His wrath on us without killing us.

How then can a just God punish our sin, and save us from it at the same time?

The answer is found in the story of Noah's ark.  How could God pour out His wrath on all the earth, and yet still save Noah and his family?  By providing an ark - a means of passing through God's judgment unscathed.  Through the believer's union with Christ, the believer is crucified with Christ.  God doesn't cancel the sinner's debt - the sinner is crucified with Christ.  The sinner does not live through this, but is buried with Christ.  Christ on the other hand is innocent, and so even though He has been crucified, died and was buried, God cannot let His holy One see corruption - and so God, in order to satisfy His own righteousness, must raise the innocent Christ from the grave.  But in order to do so, God has to raise us with Him because we (who are in Christ) are still united with Him.

Our debt is paid because we died in Christ, such that God is just and righteous in raising us up with Christ because there is no longer any debt associated with us - it has been paid.  But more than this, because we are united to the life of Christ, we are united with the favour that God has for Christ, adopted, as it were, into God's family through our union with Christ.

Thus our sin debt is paid (expiated) by the death of Christ, and we find favour (propitiation) with God through the life of Christ in us - and all this through our union with Christ.  In other words we are "justified".  That is what it happens when we become Christians - we are made eternally right with God, not on the basis of anything we have done, but entirely on the basis of what Christ has wrought in  us and for us.