Romans 3:23-26. 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
If your understanding of Christianity and union with Christ is primarily one of morals, you have missed it. If your understanding of your relationship to Christ is primarily one of imitation, you have missed it. If you see God primarily as a parent saying “clean your room,” you have missed it. Christianity is not primarily a moral system. It is not behavior modification. It is justification.
Paul simply could not explain salvation to the Romans apart from explaining righteousness and justice (the same word in Greek). And neither should we.
Too often we think of justice simply as the punishment of sin or wrongdoing. But God’s justice is never merely punitive. It is always aimed at restoration. God’s justice always seeks to restore both the victim and the victimizer to a place of righteousness.
We also tend to see righteousness as simply moral perfection. And yes, God’s righteousness is his holy rule for life including his moral standard. But God’s righteousness is also God’s active movement to restore the world to the way it was meant to be. To fullness. To shalom. Righteousness is God making what is wrong right again.
Paul declares that we are justified by his grace. We are made right. We are rectified. We are returned to the state of righteousness. Not by law, but by grace. Law could never accomplish the righteousness of God, and bring fullness to our lives, because the law cannot change our unrighteous and unjust hearts. Only grace can do that.
Paul is also showing us that our salvation in Christ is more than just forgiveness. Forgiveness alone does not make everything right. It is not justice. It does not restore. The forgiven murderer can kill again. The forgiven abuser may harm again. For there to be salvation the heart of the victimizer must be changed, transformed, restored. It must be justified.
And what about the victims? Are we to think that the victim can simply forgive with no hope of the abuse being made right? Can there ever be forgiveness without a promise of justice? Of course not. Therefore, God never separates forgiveness from justice. We do. Especially as Christians and as the Church. We call for people to “forgive and forget” with no justice in sight. But this is not the gospel. Yes, Jesus’ work on the cross calls for forgiveness, but never by forgetting that there is still the need for justice. And we, the Church, must never ask people to forgive without also offering them the hope of justice.
So how does God bring justice to both the victim and to the victimizer?
The answer is found in Christ. In his death and resurrection. On the cross, Jesus took every sin with him into God’s cosmic courtroom. In Christ’s crucifixion, every human was declared guilty and every sin was punished. By becoming the victimizer that each and every one of us is, and by taking our place on the cross, Jesus has made it possible for justice to go beyond punishment to restoration. By grace through faith and repentance, every victimizer (that’s all of us) can be forgiven.
But Jesus wasn’t only the victimizer on the cross. He was also the victim that each of us is as well. And as the victim Jesus experienced God’s justice at the resurrection. Now Christ offers this restoration to every victim. All shame removed. Everything stolen restored. And the unrepentant victimizer eternally dealt with by God.
Only the cross of Christ could accomplish justice so full and complete. Every victimizer offered a new heart by God’s mercy. And every victim offered a new position by God’s grace. But remember, each of us is BOTH the victim and victimizer, the oppressed and the oppressor. Thus the necessity of the cross. Without it, we would all be destroyed.
“To live is Christ” means we are justified by God’s grace. No more guilt (victimizers) and no more shame (victims). Christ’s imputed righteousness has made us whole. Now, we the justified, can live as instruments of God’s righteousness in a guilty and shame filled world, sharing the message of Christ’s reconciling death and resurrection with that world.
Can you see yourself as both victim and victimizer? Do you see your need for justice and righteousness?
You in Christ
How does your union with Christ offer you the hope of God’s justice today?
Christ in you
How does Christ’s justice in you empower you to seek justice wherever you are today?
Playlist: Songs of Justification.