The Doctrine of Justification
Yesterday, we spoke of the doctrine of regeneration. You will remember that I called Christian doctrine a “tapestry” in which every single doctrine is interwoven with every other and makes for a beautiful and glorious work of art wherein we are enlightened into the mysteries and glorious truths of God. Today, we speak of another doctrine which makes our regeneration possible. I remember an excellent professor I once had when taking a course on the theology of Martin Luther, a man who struggled mightily with the guilt of his sin until he discovered the doctrine this anecdote will illustrate.
Picture a courtroom in which Jesus enters and before him is the judge whose name is “Law.” Law says to Jesus, “As you know, the wages of sin is death. Now as you are sinless, I have no claim on you. You may go in peace. But I have heard that you intend to take the sins of the world upon yourself. Now please understand—as the Law, I have a job to perform—of divine appointment even. And that job is that I must convict the sinner and pronounce sentence which, as indicated above, is death. Again, I find no fault in you; I have no quarrel with you; I have no reason to condemn you. But if you persist in this plan of yours, I shall have no choice but to condemn you as the sinner you will be if you fulfill your intention. I am righteous, holy, and just (Romans 7:12), and never once have I a shirked my duty—and I shall be just as merciless to you as I have been to every other sinner.
So Christ goes to the cross and dies as a result of bearing the sin of the world—the just condemnation and punishment of which Law had faithfully warned him. But then something happened which gave heaven and earth whiplash—Christ rose from the dead! Those sins which he bore on that tree he nailed to that tree. Law is now summoned to court where he has to render account of his own sin: “What is this that you have done,” demands the Judge (who is Christ himself per John 5:22), “in slaying a sinless and innocent man?” Law has nothing to say in his defense and “the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands” is canceled.
The doctrine is called “justification.” It is that wonderful teaching that because Christ has taken our sins upon himself, God has canceled the debt we rightly owed through law-breaking and pronounced us guiltless—indeed, even righteous. We have been justified, meaning that we have been given a right standing before the Father through faith (Romans 5:1). And because we are justified, we may be regenerated. I love that tapestry!