How do you solve a problem like our guiltiness? More to the point, how does God solve it? For let’s be sure, we are all guilty: ‘whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it (Jas. 2:10).’ On the face of it, there are two possible – and opposite – ways of solving this problem.
Some would say: Let God just forgive us. After all, He is love, and forgiveness is His job! But that would be to say, in effect, that good and evil don’t matter. That there is no ultimate difference between the two. That God doesn’t care what we do, how we live or who we cause to suffer. The holiness of God cries out against that, just as our hearts would cry out against a judge who constantly let vile offenders go free.
Others might say: well, if that’s a problem for God, why doesn’t He just start again? Wipe out our guilty race, start a new race in a new garden of Eden. It might work out better next time. But that would be to deny God’s love, and condemn countless millions to hell without any option at all. God is love, and it is not His will that any should perish (2 Pet. 3:9). From his point of view, this option is as bad as the first. This is – as it were – God’s dilemma. To put it in Bible terms – we are all sinners, how can God justify any of us? And it’s that word ‘justify’ that matters. What does it mean?
First, can I ask you to try and put any cliché out of your head at this point? You probably know the cliché I mean, and it’s not helpful. (If you don’t know – I’m not going to put it there!) To help us understand, please turn to the book of Romans chapter 5 verses 6-9.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!
Justified (v.9) is a law-court word. Imagine those TV trial dramas that are so popular. The accused is in the dock; the evidence has been presented; the jury has retired to consider its verdict. The jury returns, the judge asks for the verdict – and the whole court holds its breath.
If the verdict is ‘guilty’, then the accused is convicted and waits for sentencing. If the verdict though is ‘not guilty’ then we say the accused is justified; before the law he is innocent; he may go free from the courtroom immediately. ‘Justified’ therefore means that the law has no claim upon him.
But wait! In God’s courtroom, we are all guilty – that’s the problem. ‘For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God’ (Rom. 3:23). And God knows everything – He cannot be fooled.
Blessed be God – He doesn’t need to be fooled! He himself has provided for our justification. While we were still powerless (v.6) and could not hope to save ourselves, Christ died for us, paying the penalty of our sin. We were ungodly (v.6) – in active rebellion against God. We were sinners (v.8), living out our ungodliness in full and open disobedience to God’s law. And it was precisely while we were ungodly and unrighteous sinners that Christ died for us, making it possible to be ‘justified through his blood’ (v.9). Our Saviour’s death – paying the price of a broken law in his own blood – makes it possible for God to justify us, to be the ‘just and the justifier’ of those who have faith (Rom. 3:26).
This is a massively rich, powerful, glorious, thrilling truth, worthy of a life-time’s study and an eternity’s praise! All I have space to do now, though, is point to some of the results of being justified.
Firstly, we are saved from God’s wrath (v.9). Do you believe in God’s wrath? Sadly, even many professing Christians seem to have lost this faith. Yet it’s the clear teaching of Scripture: a terrifying day of Judgement is coming when God will, at last, unleash his anger against those who have not taken refuge in his mercy.
Secondly, it leads to a rejoicing in God (v.11) as we are reconciled to Him. The believer’s relationship with God is not cold and distant, as if God had said ‘Well, I guess I have to pardon you – but I’ll be glad never to see you again.’ No, instead it’s a relationship pictured by the Lord Jesus in the parable of the prodigal son – a father so delighted at his returning rebel that he runs to greet him, clothes him in the finest clothes and throws the biggest party imaginable.
What an amazing God, the God of the Bible is! He gives his Son to die, so that rebels may be justified. He calls the ungodly and unrighteous to come and enjoy his pardon. He removes all threat of wrath. He spends all eternity showering his love upon the redeemed.
My friend, are you one of them? For God’s mercy is open to you, even today. Ungodly? Undoubtedly! A sinner? Yes, indeed. But for the ungodly and the sinner, God provides justification, He provides forgiveness, He provides joy, He provides heaven itself. Call on the Lord while he may be found!
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