Romans 4:25 states Jesus was “raised for our justification.” It was a verse that got under my skin when I was studying to write my book Raised With Christ (which from this week is now also available in Logos Bible Format!) In an abridged section from a whole chapter in my book which deals with this verse, here is what I said about this pivotal verse:
WHAT DOES “RAISED FOR OUR JUSTIFICATION” MEAN?
In Romans 4:25 the Greek behind our English word “for” could mean either “because of” or “in order to produce.” The ESV here, as it often does, deliberately maintains the ambiguity of the original. Some have argued that both “fors” must mean the same thing. However, Jesus’ death did not produce sin in us, and surely Jesus’ resurrection was not as a result of our justification. It is almost certainly the case that Paul intended to say that Jesus died to deal with our sin and was raised to produce our justification. There are several aspects of that link between Jesus’ resurrection and our justification, which I explain further in the book:
1. Raised to Give Us a Future Resurrection
Some believe that “justification” here includes the future result of our justification, our resurrection. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, one day our physical bodies will also return to life. There are more straightforward ways of saying this, however, which means that it is unlikely that this first suggestion is what Paul intended here.
2. Raised to Prompt Faith in Us
It is the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, following his sin-defeating death, that will inspire us to believe in, trust, obey, and worship him. It seems impossible to imagine having faith in a dead Savior. How could we convince ourselves that Jesus’ death achieved anything for us if he was not alive?
The resurrection causes in us the faith that saves, and it is faith in the resurrection itself that saves. According to Romans, the substance of a saving response to God consists of a declaration of the lordship of Jesus, which presumably includes both his divinity and his right to rule over our lives, and faith in the fact of the resurrection. Thus Jesus’ resurrection is in this sense the source of the faith that is the grounds of our justification: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
3. Raised for His Own Justification
It may sound strange to talk about Jesus’ need for justification. But justification is a declaration, a vindication. The resurrection of Jesus has evidencing power. Jesus’ vindication convinces us that he is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Prince of Life, that he had fulfilled Scripture, that God was pleased with him, that the work of the cross was now complete, and that he had no need to remain dead.
The resurrection proves Christ’s divinity because not only is the event described as an act of God (see Acts 13:30) and of the Holy Spirit (see Romans 8:11), it was also an act of Jesus himself. The resurrection, as the beginning of the new creation, was an act of the whole Trinity. Jesus has the divine power to raise himself from the dead.
The credit of Jesus’ righteousness is much larger than the debt of our sin. His account had more positive approval than the negative disapproval that was due to all of us. The debt was paid, and as a result, as a righteous man and the beloved Son of God, the Father was entirely just to raise him. Jesus had turned away God’s wrath, he had destroyed sin, our guilt could now be taken away, and we could be counted righteous. If the cross was Jesus’ payment for our sins, then the resurrection marked God’s acceptance of that payment.
4. Justified So We Can Be Justified
The resurrection of Jesus has justifying power. Despite our usual understanding that the cross alone is responsible for our forgiveness, Paul is elsewhere very clear. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). We share in the justification of Jesus. Because of his right standing with God, his people are made righteous too.
The resurrection shows the positive delight of God in his Son, which is now shared by us. Many people think of salvation as the removal of our sin and its punishment. If Jesus had only wiped the slate clean, forgiven our wrongdoing, and taken the wrath God had for us, we would be left in a neutral position. We would no longer be under God’s displeasure, but he would not be pleased with us either. Many Christians, even if they do not articulate their theology like that, certainly live as though it was true. Many live as though they must still work to please God.
Our justification consists not merely of a canceling of our debt, but also of an imputing to us of the righteousness of Christ. It is not only “just as if I’d never sinned,” but also “just as if I’d already completed a perfect life.” Jesus doesn’t merely give us a clean slate and then sit back and watch whether we will mess it up again.
If you think of sin as producing an overdraft, Jesus takes over our bank account and pays off our debt. He then gives us access to his own account which holds so much money that no matter how much sin we commit we could never exhaust the supply.
The righteousness of Jesus was credited to us, not only our sin to him. God declares his positive favor toward us, and as a result we will ultimately never die. Life is the judicial reward for righteousness. Jesus was made to be sin, and so he died, but once sin was dealt with, he remained righteous.
5. Raised So He Can Apply Justification to Us
It is Jesus himself who saves the Christian. The two phases of Jesus’ saving work for us are described in complementary ways. It is the blood or death of Jesus that saves us, but we are “much more” saved by his life, since he himself continues to save us from the wrath of God. Would the teaching of the gospel in an average evangelical church today leave you with the idea that it is “much more” the resurrection that saves us than the cross?
(Abridged from Raised With Christ published by Crossway)