When we think about our justification, we often (and rightly so) talk about the death of Christ, but we hear comparatively little about the resurrection of Christ. We should hear more. The resurrection is essential to our understanding of the doctrine and the experience of the assurance it brings.
In Romans 3–4, the Apostle clarifies that justification, the act of God declaring a sinner righteous in his sight, is a gift of his grace and not a result of any works of the law. This gift is to be received by faith, which by its very nature is non-contributory. At the end of the chapter, he hammers the tent peg in thoroughly to make it clear that this status of righteousness is certain and fixed because it’s tethered to our resurrected Lord.
“who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” (Romans 4:25)
The Justification of Jesus
What does Jesus’s resurrection have to do with our justification? To get the full sense, we need to go in the back door. We have to look at a couple of passages.
The first is 1 Timothy 3:16, “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.”
This was likely a hymn or a confession of faith in the early church. What’s interesting here is what we find in the middle: vindicated by the Spirit. This is referring to Christ, and the Holy Spirit does the act.
What does it mean then that Jesus was vindicated or, perhaps more shockingly, “justified” by the Spirit? The word translated “vindicated” is the same word translated as “justified” or the act of being declared righteous.
You might be thinking, Why would Jesus need to be justified? He’s sinless. He is sinless, for sure. What Paul is referring to is the fact that he is who he said he was. He is the righteous one. He is a law-fulfiller (Matt. 3:15). He is the Son of God (John 5:25). He is the one who always did what was pleasing to his Father (John 8:29). The Holy Spirit vindicates or justifies Jesus in the sense that he declares that Jesus is, in fact, the righteous one. In the Old Testament, the prophets trained their readers to anticipate this concept of the suffering servant being vindicated or justified after his suffering (Is. 50:4–9).
When then did this vindication happen? When was Jesus justified by the Spirit? Turning back to Romans 4, you can stop off briefly in Romans 1:3: “concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
When was Jesus vindicated as righteous? It was at the resurrection. There we have God’s declarative word that Jesus is righteous. He is who he said he was. He is the righteous one. In this sense, Jesus was vindicated. This is the justification of Jesus.
The Certainty of Justification
All of this work through the back door to get to the front door, and we find our verse in Romans 4:25. Paul, referring to Jesus, writes, “who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”
You might be wondering, how was Jesus raised for our justification? I thought 1 Timothy said it was for his? Is it his or ours? The answer is: Yes.
How is this? In his resurrection, Jesus was indeed vindicated. But so was everyone else who would believe in him. All who receive the gift of Christ through faith are united to him in his death and resurrection (Rom. 6). Believers are like barnacles on the boat of Christ; where he goes, we go. And what he experiences we experience. Paul is saying that because we are united to Christ, Jesus’s justification or his vindication is for our justification. In other words, we experience what he experienced. This has massive implications for our understanding of justification.
I like how Sinclair Ferguson says it; he says that “justification is God’s last-day verdict about us that’s been brought forward for us to enjoy this present day.” Because Jesus has been raised from the dead and was declared righteous, all of those who trust in him will now, on and on the last day, also be declared righteous.
Justification is God’s last-day verdict about us that’s been brought forward for us to enjoy this present day.
Paul wants the joy of the final judgment to be experienced now in the life of believers. The “not yet” aspect needs a little more “already” in our experience. This is why he writes this in Romans 8:1–2: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” For the Christian, condemnation is no longer possible. Not only are we pardoned, but we’re counted righteous in Christ. This is for now and through the judgment on the last day. Praise the Lord, Christ’s righteousness is judgment proof on the last day!
We should emphasize the active obedience of Christ. By faith, we receive his righteousness; the law-breakers are considered law-fulfillers!
We should emphasize the passive obedience of Christ. By faith, we receive his pardon and full atonement for sin. The alienated and unclean are reconciled and made clean.
We should also emphasize the resurrection of Christ. By faith, we cling to our covenant head. We are united to him by faith in a legal, spiritual, and vital union. Christ’s justification secures our own!