Justification consists of two basic parts. These parts are two acts of God. One is the forgiveness of sins and the second is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. As we look at these two acts of God we must keep in mind two basic concepts. These concepts are:
(1) We are sinners, worthy and deserving of the condemnation that we live under and eternal judgment to which we are destined, and
(2) God is holy, worthy and demanding of perfect obedience and honor from His creatures.
As we explore these acts of God, let us remember our place in this world that He has created.
Act One-The Forgiveness Of Sins
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
One thing that both of these passages make very clear is that the forgiveness of sins is not something man can do for himself.
Take note that the Colossians passage says that we were delivered and transferred from darkness to light. This deliverance takes place by a deliverer. It is a picture of a rescue from a kingdom that has us bound in slavery. Christ, our savior, saves us from that dark and evil kingdom and delivers us into His own kingdom of light and holiness where we are granted forgiveness of sins.
In the Hebrews passage we see another imagery. An imagery of the temple and the Law and the sacrifices. The significance of this passage is that by the Law, almost always the purification rites involved the shedding of the blood of an animal. All things in our world are contaminated by sin. So any time anything or person was to be used for the service of God there would be a sanctification process. In this process, usually an animal would be sacrificed as a sort of acknowledgment of the presence of sin in the cursed world we live in. In this way there existed a type of the forgiveness of sins. Insofar as the worshipper looked to God for forgiveness and looking to the perfect sacrifice that would appear his sins were forgiven, but not dealt with. It is only in Christ’s sacrifice that sins are actually and permanently dealt with. It is on Christ that our sins were once for all put to death. And only by faith in the death of Christ as our substitute can our sins be forgiven.
Act Two-The Imputation Of Righteousness
And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Genesis 15:6 is referred to no less than five times in the New Testament. Paul uses this verse to tell us how Abraham was justified before God, who the true descendants of Abraham are, and James uses this verse to tell us how justification worked itself out in Abraham’s life. While we will not look at James’ use in depth, I will point out that when he speaks of justification by works, that he is referring to the outworking of faith in Abraham’s life whereby he gained the testimony of righteousness from his peers and not from God. This means that Abraham’s faith, by which God declared him righteous was not an idle faith.
But Paul’s use of the verse is interesting. It is one thing to think of Abraham himself being counted righteous by faith and quite another to say that everyone who has ever been counted righteous are counted so by faith. But Paul uses different arguments to prove this is so. Paul argues that Abraham was counted righteous before circumcision, pointing out that it is not only Abraham’s immediate offspring who are counted righteous, but everyone who God calls, Jew or Gentile. He also argues that Abraham was counted righteous before the Law was given, proving that the declaration of righteousness was a gift that those who were not under the Law could also receive. But he also points out in 2 Corinthians the basis for that imputed righteousness. It is the death and resurrection of Christ.
In the verses leading up to the ones listed here, Paul tells us that it was for us that Christ died and was raised. He died to take our sins away and rose again to grant us new life. Our sinful nature died on the cross (forgiveness) and our new nature rose from the dead with Him (righteousness). In the book of Romans Paul puts it like this, “But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. ” (Rom 4:23-25)
The first act of Christ dying for our trespasses we have already discussed. Now we see that He was raised for our justification, or, our righteous standing before God. And now in 2 Corinthians 5:21 we find that since He was made sin for us, now we are made the righteousness of God in Him. That is to say, that standing in our position in Christ, we are righteous just as He is righteous.
We had two problems. We were sinners and God is holy. Christ by His death took care of both problems. He took the punishment for our sins allowing the Father to forgive us and imputed His righteousness to us allowing the Father to declare us legally and truthfully righteous.
Soli Deo Gloria