Each Wednesday at 5:30 a.m. my men’s small group meets in a member’s home for prayer, study, accountability, and encouragement. It’s been the intentional strategy of our church’s Men of Iron groups (Prov 27:17) to repeatedly study the practical theology of sanctification from different, biblical angles in order to counsel one another with God’s truth. Our current study is Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change by Brian Hedges. The following portion (quoted in full) was especially helpful to this morning’s discussion of justification by faith. Hedges writes under the heading In Christ Alone:
When we look closely at what Christ did for us on the cross we realize that he represented us in two ways. First, he represented us by taking the punishment of our sins—past, present, and future—‘For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin’ (2 Cor 5:21a); ‘For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous’ (1 Pet 3:18a). And second, he represented us in his perfect obedience and righteousness; ‘By the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous’ (Rom 5:19b).
This double representation clarifies how we can be justified before God. We all begin with a two-fold need. We need to have our violations of God’s law, our sins, paid for in full. And we need a perfect record of obedient righteousness by which to enter God’s eternal kingdom and presence. Jesus has secured both of these benefits for us. He paid the penalty for our sins, and lived a perfectly righteous life on our behalf.
On the cross, God treated Jesus as if he had lived my sinful life, so that he could then treat me as if I had lived the perfect, obedient life of Jesus. The only way I can be accepted as righteous by God is through the doing and dying of Jesus on my behalf. He died the death I should have died and lived the life I should have lived. God counted Jesus as a sinner so he could count me as righteous. The Father accepts me, not because of anything I have done or can do, not even because of anything he has done in me, but solely because of what Jesus Christ has done for me. His flawless record is counted as mine. As Paul says, ‘For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’ (2 Cor 5:21).
So we have learned that justification means being declared righteous in the sight of God, our Judge. And we have learned that this can happen only because Christ has become our representative, dying for our sins and obeying God on our behalf.