How is the resurrection of Christ linked to the idea of justification in the New Testament? To answer this question, we must first explore the use and meaning of the term justification in the New Testament. Confusion about this has provoked some of the fiercest controversies in the history of the church. The Protestant Reformation itself was fought over the issue of justification. In all its complications, the unreconciled and unreconcilable difference in the debate came down to the question of whether our justification before God is grounded in the infusion of Christ’s righteousness into us, by which we become inherently righteous, or in the imputation, or reckoning, of Christ’s righteousness to us while we are still sinners. The difference between these views makes all the difference in our understanding of the Gospel and how we are saved.
Losing Something in the Translation
One of the problems that led to confusion was the meaning of the word justification. Our English word justification is derived from the Latin justificare. The literal meaning of the Latin is “to make righteous.” The Latin fathers of church history worked with the Latin text instead of the Greek text and were clearly influenced by it. By contrast, the Greek word for justification, dikaiosune, carries the meaning of “to count, reckon, or declare righteous.” The verb “to justify” and its noun form, “justification,” have shades of meaning in Greek. One of the meanings of the verb is “to vindicate” or “to demonstrate.”
The Justification of Jesus
The Resurrection involves justification in both senses of the Greek term. First, the Resurrection justifies Christ himself. Of course, he is not justified in the sense of having his sins remitted, because he had no sins, or in the sense of being “made righteous.” Rather, the Resurrection serves as the vindication or demonstration of the truth of his claims about himself.
In his encounter with the philosophers at Athens, Paul declared: “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has appointed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom he has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).
Here Paul points to the Resurrection as an act by which the Father universally vindicates the authenticity of his Son. In this sense, Christ is justified before the whole world by his resurrection.
The Justification of Sinners
However, the New Testament also links Christ’s resurrection to our justification. Paul writes, “It shall be imputed to us who believe in him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (Romans 4:24-25).
It is clear that in his atoning death Christ suffered on our behalf, or for us. Likewise, his resurrection is seen not only as a vindication of or surety of himself, but as a surety of our justification. Here justification does not refer to our vindication, but to the evidence that the atonement he made was accepted by the Father. By vindicating Christ in his resurrection, the Father declared his acceptance of Jesus’ work on our behalf. Our justification in this theological sense rests on the imputed righteousness of Christ, so the reality of that transaction is linked to Christ’s resurrection. Had Christ not been raised, we would have a mediator whose redeeming work in our behalf was not acceptable to God.
However, Christ is risen indeed!
Romans 4:25 bugged me for years and I used to ask everyone I knew whom I thought might know something, and the only answer I ever got was, “Because God’s Word says so.”
Thanks to Ligonier Ministries for this short article detailing the relationship between Christ’s resurrection and our justification. Be sure and click on the link above in the title, “Easter Theology” and patronize their ministry. You’ll be amazed how much you’ll learn about God, do so on your knees and allow the theology to become doxology (praise)!