God wants us to be so sure that we are forgiven that he went the extra step and stated it in legal terms. Just as we would tremble in fear if we heard the judge’s gavel drop followed by his verdict of “guilty,” so we tremble with joy to hear the judge pronounce us, “not guilty.”
And that is the exact picture lying behind the biblical word “justify”! It was a word taken from the courtroom where it described the direct opposite of being condemned by a judge. It describes an acquittal.
God formally and legally acquits people, not on a whim, but on the basis of Jesus’ complete payment of their debt to his justice (Romans 3:24). Salvation, forgiveness, justification – they all rest completely on Jesus’ doing everything for all people. Because this is an accomplished fact, we now have an air-tight legal case.
Jesus’ resurrection proves that. Scripture says that he “was raised again for our justification” (Romans 4:25). The picture is that of a prisoner being released after serving his sentence. Being released from prison proves that he has paid his debt to society.
Likewise Jesus’ release from the prison of his tomb proves that he had paid our debt to God. The sequence is as follows: Jesus paid our debt to God’s justice with his death. As a result of Jesus’ paying our debt, God acquits us. Then, as a result of our acquittal, or of our being justified, God releases Jesus from the prison of the tomb. He raises him from the dead.
By describing our salvation in legal terms, God is going out of his way to convince us that he has forgiven us. The last thing God wants is for us to have any doubts that we are forgiven!
State vs. Status
One thing that has helped many people understand this is to sharply distinguish between their state and their status before God. Our present state is one of repeated sinning. If we fight off temptation in one area, it gets us in another area. We keep from watching that questionable movie only to yell at the driver who cuts us off. We resist the temptation to snap back at our co-worker, only to turn around and listen to gossip about a friend. That’s the state we are in.
But people’s status in Christ is completely different. Their status before God depends not on what they do, but on what Jesus did for them. Because he paid their debt to God’s justice, God has justified them, acquitted them, forgiven them. In Jesus, their status is one of not guilty, acquitted, righteous.
Don’t think that this is too good to be true. Just believe it. That is the key to happiness.
Additional Questions You Might Have
Are there different levels of sin?
The American legal system has an extensive classification of crimes. But the Bible doesn’t do that in regard to sin.
Can a gift be earned?
Do the messages of Santa and Jesus have anything in common? Why do you give gifts to people you love?
How do you know if you're forgiven?
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Who can receive God's forgiveness? What does the Bible say about forgiveness? Can anyone be sure of their forgiveness?
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