Since it is now Easter Sunday, I thought I’d rehearse one of my favourite Easter themes: justification by resurrection. One of my most treasured Pauline texts is Rom 4:25, “He was handed over for our sins and raised for our justification.” I’ve invested a lot time studying and meditating on this verse. I wrote my Honours Thesis on the theme of resurrection and justification (see my Saving Righteousness of God chap 3; and Daniel Kirk did his Ph.D thesis on the same topic, published as Unlocking Romans: Resurrection and the Justification of God).
Once upon a time I believed that our salvation and justification was something achieved principally by the cross (i.e. justified by his blood, Rom. 5.9). The resurrection, then, was really just the proof that God accepted Christ’s atoning death and proof of life after death. However, after I read through the Pauline letters more carefully, I came to see that God’s justifying verdict was more intimately bound up with the resurrection of Christ. Passages such as Rom. 4.25; 1 Cor. 15.17 and 1 Tim. 3.16 (obliquely Rom. 5.18-21; 8.10-11) show that God’s saving action is executed in Jesus’ death and resurrection. For in the cross, we see God’s verdict against sin, our sin, meted out in the flesh of the Son of God, the condemnation of our evil is given its due. But then, the resurrection transposes that verdict from condemnation to justification, taking us from death to new life, from guilt to acquittal. Moreover, Jesus himself is justified in his resurrection, he is vindicated as the Son of God, and because we share in his death and resurrection, his justification becomes ours as well. In other words, we are justified because we participate in Jesus’ own justification!
The cross without resurrection is merely matyrdom; the resurrection without the cross is just a supernatural freak show. But together they constitute the fulcrum of the divine saving action to rescue, redeem, justify, and transform a whole new humanity; a humanity that has passed through death into new life, from condemnation to justification, and begun experiencing the power of the new creation.