Theme: Justification Illustrated
This week’s lessons teach us what justification is, and how a proper understanding of
grace and faith are necessary for it.
Scripture: Romans 3:22-24
Yesterday’s devotional concluded with an explanation of what justification is. We can understand this by imagining that someone is brought before a judge owing a lot of money. He is about to suffer an adverse judgment in which his property will be forfeit. (In ancient times the individual could have been sold into slavery for debt.) But now a benefactor enters the judge’s courtroom and asks, “How much does my friend owe?”
“$350,000,” says the judge.
“I’ll pay that debt,” says the friend. So it is done. The debt is paid, the papers are signed, and the judge dismisses the case. The defendant is now in a right standing before the law. He did not pay the debt himself, but it has been paid, and that is all the law requires. The man who was on trial is free to go. In the same way, Jesus pays our debt and so gives us a right standing before the bar of God.
Another way of saying this is to point out that justification is the opposite of condemnation. When a judge condemns a criminal, perhaps to prison, he is not turning the man into a criminal. He is only declaring in an official setting that the prisoner does not stand in a right relationship to the law and must therefore suffer the law’s penalty. In the same way, justification does not mean that a sinner is somehow turned into one who is not a sinner, but only that the sinner now stands in a right relationship to the law and there is therefore now no penalty for that one. It is as Romans 8:1 states: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
But there is even more to justification than this. Justification is a two-part transaction. The first part is our sin being placed on Jesus Christ and being punished there, so that we do not have to be punished for it. The second part consists of his righteousness being placed to our account, so that we appear before God in his righteousness.
One of the great influences on my early life and ministry was Donald Grey Barnhouse, a former pastor of the church in Philadelphia I still serve. When Barnhouse was about fifteen years old he heard the testimony of a man who had been a narcotics addict but who had been delivered from that life and had become a Christian minister. Barnhouse approached him and asked about his experience of Christ, because he believed that the preacher had something he did not have, and the man gave him an object lesson that led to Barnhouse’s conversion.
The man took Barnhouse’s left hand, turned it palm upward, and then said intently, “This hand represents you.” On it he placed a hymnbook, saying, “This book represents your sin. The weight of it is upon you. God hates sin, and his wrath must bear down against sin. Therefore, his wrath is bearing down upon you, and you have no peace in your heart or life.” It was a telling statement, and Barnhouse knew it was true.
Then he took the young man’s other hand and said, “This hand represents the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior. There is no sin upon him, and the Father must love him, because he is without spot or blemish. He is the beloved Son in whom the Father is well pleased.” There were Donald’s two hands, the one weighted down by the large book, the other empty. Again he knew it was true. He had the sin. Jesus had none.
Then the older teacher put his hand under Barnhouse’s left hand and turned it over so that the book now came down upon the hand that earlier had been empty. He put the left hand back, its burden now transferred to the hand that stood for Jesus. He said, “This is what happened when the Lord Jesus Christ took your place on the cross. He was the Lamb of God, bearing away the sin of the world.”
While the hymnbook representing Barnhouse’s sin still rested upon the hand representing Jesus Christ, the preacher turned to his Bible and began to read verses that taught what he had illustrated:
First, 1 Peter 2:23, 24: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sin in his own body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.”
Then, Isaiah 53:4-6, the verses to which Peter was referring:
Surely he took up our infirmitiesand carried our sorrows,yet we considered him stricken by God,smitten by him and afflicted.But he was pierced for our transgressions,he was crushed for our iniquities;the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,and by his wounds we are healed.We all, like sheep, have gone astray,each of us has turned to his own way;and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
The preacher stopped reading and addressed the young man directly. “Whose sins were laid on Jesus?”
“Our sins,” Barnhouse replied.“Whose sins does that mean?” the preacher probed.“Our sins,” came the same answer.“Yes, but whose sins are those?”“Well, everybody’s sins—your sins, my sins…”
The older man interrupted and caught the words almost before they were out of Barnhouse’s mouth. “My sins; yes, that’s it,” he said. “That’s what I want. Say it again.”
Barnhouse obeyed. “My sins,” he repeated.
The preacher then went back to Isaiah 53:6. He put the hymnbook back on Barnhouse’s left hand and pressed down upon it as he read: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” The pressure was strong. But then he turned the book and hand over once again, so that the burden was transferred to the hand that represented Jesus Christ, and he continued his reading: “and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Barnhouse understood it then, and he never forgot it. In fact, he used that same illustration to teach many others about justification and lead them to the Savior.
Describe how justification is a “two-part transaction”?
From the lesson, what is the opposite of justification? In justification, what is the sinner’s
relationship to God’s law?
Application: Today, take time to praise the Lord that Jesus has not merely taken on himself the sins of people in general, but for your sins specifically.
For Further Study: To learn more about justification, download for free the audio message “The New Perspective and the Doctrine of Justification” by Sinclair Ferguson. (The discount will be applied at checkout.)