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Volume 8, Issue 3: Stauron

The Justification of God in the Cross

S. Stephen Thomas

Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth to be a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness . . .
(Rom. 3:24-25)

The justification of sinners by faith is a common subject among the professing faithful today. Less common, yet quite related, is the subject of the justification of God. But how is this so?

First, the study and knowledge of God Himself (in contrast to His acts) is uncommon. Drinking deeply in contemplation of God as He is in His essential nature and being, in distinction to His doings and relationship with man, is considered by many to be a worthless exercise -- more like gargling than drinking. As one acquaintance recently told me, "If God someway, somehow, doesn't relate to me, what good is He?" More evidence that pride can be one's strong suit even when not playing with a full deck.
The second reason is the humanistic nature of contemporary salvation presentations. The religious, pseudo-Christian pop "gospel" knows nothing of a holy God. Rather, it is the felt psychological needs and desires of God-haters which this "gospel" purports to satisfy. Thus, to them, the satisfaction of God's law and the maintenance of the rectitude of His own character is a nonevent.
The third reason why the justification of God is uncommon knowledge is the widespread hatred for the law of God. The law is the backdrop for, and stage upon which, the drama of a sinner's salvation is played out. It is the revelation of the very character of God Himself. Thus the true gospel in which the righteousness of God is revealed (Rom. 1:17) has law as its necessary referent.
But what is justification? Negatively, it is not the infusion of an amorphous glob of spirituality into one's soul. Rather, it is the legal act of declaring one righteous. It may imply accusation of guilt, but not necessarily so. What then is righteousness? Righteousness is the quality of conformity to the law, both in obedience to its precepts and the execution of its just penalty when it is violated.
Christ, by His sinless life, accomplished perfect obedience to the law, thus fulfilling the demand of its precepts. His sinless life (not His punishment) is the ground of the righteousness which God imputes to us, while His "sinful" punishment (not His sinless life) is the ground of our release from the condemnation which God imputed to Him. This makes way for the reception of His positive righteousness (Rom. 5:9). What an awful, glorious exchange!

The sinless Son of God must die in sadness;
The sinful child of man may live in gladness;
Man forfeited His life and is acquitted,--
God is committed.

Here the justification of God is demonstrated. God justified Himself (declared His righteousness) by publicly displaying His Son as a propitiation through faith. Thus we see that the atonement was not a transaction between Jesus and folks generic. It was between the Father and Christ who stood in the place of the elect. And the horrors of this covenantal exchange flowed richly into our Surety. By the crushing grief heaped upon His Son for His people (Is. 53:10), He demonstrated and declared Himself to be in conformity to the law-standard, namely His own essential nature. He is true to Himself (2 Tim. 2:13).
But this demonstration of His righteousness was not displayed from any necessity within His own nature, nor from any demand upon the rectitude of His character from without. His self-justification was not in order to become what He was not; rather it was His declaration to the world that He is just and is the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus. Thus the impetus of the cross was two-fold -- our sin and God's holiness. So great were both that God's holiness would demand wrath even against His only Son when He became sin for us.

And the deepest stroke that pierced Him
was the stroke that Justice gave.

The intensity and extent of sin is not measured by the nature, character, and capacities of the offender. Man is not the measure of anything. It is the infinite holiness of God which is the measure. And to offend God is so grievous that sinners can never, of themselves, say, "It is finished." Therefore they spend all eternity under God's righteous judgment. The righteousness of God is demanded in the cross because the righteousness of God was offended in our sin.
As man is utterly incapable of meeting the demands of His holiness, God, rather than lowering His standard, provides what He demands -- perfect conformity to the precepts of His law (righteousness) and perfect execution of the penalty for its violation (justice). He is thus shown to be just and the justifier, for grace reigns, not through indifference to justice, but through righteousness, which is conformity to the law (Rom. 5:21). Thus God is justified.
His justification and ours is, as are all things, from, through, and to Himself. To Him be glory forever. Amen (Rom. 11:36).

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