In the last study we looked at what ‘law’ means, and began to think about the idea of being ‘justified’ (or ‘just’ or ‘right’) with respect to a law. In verse 16 we read that ‘a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ’.
It’s really important that you try to understand what it means to be ‘justified’ in your relationship with God. You need to know that it’s a legal word— it’s a word that belongs to the law courts.
I said in the last study that we are ‘just’ if we have completely observed a law. So then, with respect to any given law, we are regarded as ‘justified’ if we have fully obeyed, or if someone else has obeyed or fulfilled the requirements for us.
All the law is interested in is this: Has its demands been met with respect to a particular individual? If they have, then that person is a justified person. Or, to put it another way, he is not a guilty person. He is guiltless.
Our lives are intended by God to line up with His law. We have been designed by Him to live in such a way as to always be ‘just’ with respect to His Word and His will for us. Sadly, we don’t comply. We are very much ‘out of line’ or ‘out of step’ with Him and His laws. What is more, we can’t do anything about it ourselves. As hard as we try to obey Him (to obey His laws), we fail.
That’s why it’s impossible to ever be justified law-way. It’s impossible for God to ever look at any of us as one who has perfectly obeyed. We never have, and we never will. The fact is, if ever we are to be treated as justified persons, God has got to do it.
The Bible teaches us here and in many other places, that God justifies us when we have faith in Jesus. It is because we can’t justify ourselves that God has provided this fantastic way by which we can be justified by Him. God justifies us!
When you came to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and believed in Him, God justified you. He declared you to be a person who is no longer guilty with respect to His law. Assuming that this has been a genuine experience in your life, then you can say of yourself that ‘God looks on me just-as-if-I’d never sinned!’
When God justifies you, He counts you as having obeyed all His laws. He counts you as never having sinned! He looks on you as someone who has no past—that is, no sinful past.
It’s hard to imagine a more wonderful blessing for a sinful human being than to know we have no past which can condemn us! No matter what we have done, or have been, God deals with all of that on the cross by placing our sin upon Christ.
However, our experience of the benefits and blessings of that great transaction is made real to us only as we have faith in Christ. It means nothing to the person who refuses to believe in God’s promise. It is of no value at all if we do not have faith in God’s appointed solution and God’s appointed way of salvaging us.
Understand that we do not have to do anything in order to be justified. It is not law-way, it is faith-way. We are justified by faith. We are not justified by keeping some rules or regulations or rituals, but by simple faith in what Jesus did on the cross for us, and in what happened when He died and rose again. He fulfilled the law’s requirements for us by taking our place. God counts His obedience as our obedience.
Paul says in verse 20 that when Jesus died on the cross, you died too. And he also says (not here, but in Romans 6:5) that when Jesus rose again, you rose again. Somehow God identifies us with Jesus in His death and resurrection. Somehow, God places us on the cross with Jesus.
His death there is counted by God as being our death.
You will never fully understand how He has done it. but you can be sure it’s true. By faith, you can trust that God has not lied about what He has done. He has taken your sin (about which you can do nothing, and for which you deserve His anger), and He has placed it all on Christ.
Whereas you should have died, Christ died. He died your death for you. Although you were not there, God looks on Christ on the cross as if He were you! In that very real sense, then, God counts you as having died on that cross.