This is blog #6 in “The Gospel” series that covers what Jesus Christ accomplished completely for us through His death and resurrection. We are looking at specific words describing what God did to cure our fatal sin disease.
Because of what Christ accomplished on the cross for us, everyone who puts their faith in Him has a completely revitalized relationship with God. It is much more than having your sins forgiven and going to heaven when you die. What has happened to you is described by 6 terms sometimes called the “words of the cross” representing what Jesus Christ accomplished completely for you and for me through His death on the cross.
You need to know these 6 “words of the cross” because they are in your Bible. If you stumble over them, you are going to miss the riches of understanding your salvation. When you read them, you need to know what they mean because they are so important to your experiencing a life of freedom and joy in Christ. They are gifts of the cross for you and me. God took the ugliness of the cross and made it beautiful for us.
Because of His great love for people, God sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross. Word of the Cross #1 is Propitiation. His anger against sin was satisfied. He is no longer angry at you, dear believer, because of your sin. Word of the Cross #2 is Reconciliation. You can dwell on the fact that the barrier of sin has been taken away. Your relationship with God is restored and no longer broken. Word of the Cross #3 is Redemption. You have been purchased out of bondage and released into freedom from any entrapping sin and to serve God in obedience. Word of the Cross #4 is Forgiveness. Your sin was transferred to Jesus Christ and taken away from you so that you are now completely forgiven and no longer burdened by your sin and guilt.
Word of the Cross #5 is Justification. It means that “you are declared righteous in God’s eyes.”
As a teen, I wrestled with the notion that I was not good enough to please God. I could never measure up to His standards of perfection. I was always guilty of not doing something right, of falling short of whatever it was He expected of me. Then, I heard some good news when I committed my life to Christ and chose to follow Him. God declared me “not guilty” of all my sin. Not guilty. Really?
Yes, dear believer, God declares you “not guilty” of all sin, once and for all, based on your faith alone in His Son. It is an amazing plan that is totally based on His grace towards you, not anything you have earned by your own efforts. And, the word used to describe this one decision made by God the Judge on behalf of every Christian is justification. The truth wrapped up in this one word has rocked the world for centuries.
But, what is justification?
Justification is a legal term that literally means, “to declare righteous, to declare not guilty.” English New Testaments use “justified” and “made righteous” interchangeably, but both mean just about the same thing.
Because of Christ's finished work on the cross, God the Judge chooses to give a “not guilty” status to anyone who places their faith in Jesus Christ. This “not guilty” status can never be earned. God gives this because the sacrifice of Jesus Christ fully honored and satisfied the righteous anger of a holy God against sin. That was propitiation. We learned about that in blog #2 of this series.
Jesus Christ took your sin; God declares you righteous.
There are two aspects to justification. The first aspect is the removal of guilt from the offender. That’s forgiveness. The second aspect is the addition of righteousness to the one who believes. That’s justification. The two aspects together are called the “Great Exchange.” Paul describes it clearly in 2 Corinthians 5:21,
"God made the one who did not know sin [Jesus] to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21)
God not only declares you “not guilty” of all sin through your faith in His Son, He also gives you a new status called “righteousness before God.” That’s the end result of justification: "The believer in Jesus Christ is declared righteous before God."
It is not your own righteousness that does it. You receive this righteous status by faith alone and not depending upon any works that you do to earn acceptability in God’s sight. The amazing thing is that God does this while we are still capable of sinning! When God looks on you, He sees His Son’s righteousness taking the place of your sin—even your sin after you’ve been a believer for a long time.
Picture an accountant’s spreadsheet dedicated to your life. On the left side of the page is the heading “my sins;” on the right side of the page is the heading “Christ’s righteousness.” When you sin (intentionally or unintentionally) for the rest of your life, God replaces that sin on the “my sins” side with Christ’s righteousness and puts your sin on His side. Your sin is taken away (forgiveness). It is a continual balancing. Your sin never stays on your side of the page because God declares in 2 Corinthians 5:19 that He is “not counting people’s sins against them.” Only 1 sin is counted—rejecting Jesus Christ. All believers are forever declared “not guilty” in His sight. Double win. Isn’t that great news?!
Righteous…no longer guilty
But, wait, there’s more. We now have peace with God as a benefit of being justified (Romans 5:1-2). We are no longer deserving punishment for our sin. Instead, we are now presented as “holy in His sight,” without blemish and free from accusation (Colossians 1:22).
In Galatians 3, Paul declared that every believer is a child of God by faith and, therefore, clothed with Christ (Galatians 3:26-27). When God looks on you and me, He sees Jesus and His righteousness, not all of our faults. It is an amazing plan that is totally based on His grace toward us, not anything we have earned by our own efforts.
In Philippians 3 (Philippians 3:2-9), Paul considered his birth status, education, pursuit of knowledge, and zeal to get rid of Christians as evidence that he had plenty of reasons to convince himself that he was a “righteous” Jew and that God should have been pleased with his efforts. But, after knowing Christ, Paul declared all those things that he once thought were in his favor to be rubbish—a loss, not a win, when it comes to faith. Instead, he discovered that knowing Jesus Christ as Lord was far better. He now preferred to be found in Christ with the righteousness that comes through faith, not by his own efforts. All Paul had to do to gain his new righteous standing before God was to trust in Jesus Christ as His Savior and Lord. That is true for you as well.
Dear Christian, dwell on the fact of your justification. You have been declared righteous so that you are now perfectly acceptable to a holy God based on your faith in His Son. So, when you are tempted to think that God could not possibly accept you because of your weaknesses and guilty past, declare this to yourself: “Because of my faith in Jesus Christ, I am declared righteous…no longer guilty in God’s sight.”
How does that make you feel? Embrace it. That’s another gift of the cross to you. Dance! Shout! Sing!
As Paul wrote in Colossians 3:12, you are dearly loved!
Let Jesus satisfy your heart with His finished work on the cross. Then, live in the freedom of your new life in Him.
Go to the next “word of the cross”: Sanctification.