You are a sinner. I know, the truth hurts sometimes, but that doesn’t make it any less true. I know you do good things every day. I know that you can think of thirteen people off the top of your head who are “worse” sinners than you are. I know you mean well, at least sometimes. But none of that changes the fact that you are a sinner. In fact, ever since Adam and Eve and that whole apple thing in the Garden of Eden, we have all been sinners, rebels against the God who created us.
God demands that we keep his law. All of his law. God demands righteousness. Complete righteousness. Are you getting nervous yet?
God is righteous, meaning that he is perfect in every way. He is without sin. He is the great Law-giver. Everything that is moral and decent in this world comes from him. And he demands that we be perfect if we ever want to have a relationship with him. This creates a major problem because we aren’t perfect. In fact, we don’t even want to be perfect. We like to sin. We enjoy being in control of our own destinies. We like being the boss. We like feeling good, even if we have to sin to get there. This is what it means to be lost—living as if God (and his law) doesn’t exist, pretending that we are in control. But God still demands perfection. Total perfection. God demands that we keep his law. All of his law. God demands righteousness. Complete righteousness. Are you getting nervous yet? If God is perfect, and he demands perfection from us, but we can’t be perfect, how in the world are we supposed to have a relationship with him? How can God save rebels like us when we can never have the perfection he demands from us?
The answer is Jesus Christ. You see, of all the people who ever lived, Jesus Christ is the only one who never sinned. Never. Not once. Jesus Christ perfectly kept God’s law. And people hated him for it. In fact, they killed him. But the good news is that all of this was part of God’s plan. You see, Jesus’ death on the cross paid the penalty for the sins of the world. He suffered the punishment you deserve, because you are a sinner. And he did it even though he didn’t need to die for his sins, because he didn’t have any sins! When Jesus was on the cross, God treated him as if he were a sinner and punished him for all our sins. But how does that save us?
Jesus didn’t sin but died the death of a sinner. Because of Jesus’ perfect life and sacrificial death, the opposite is true for us.
That’s where justification comes in. Justification means that God treats us like we are not sinners. Wait, did you get that? I’ll say it again, and listen carefully this time. Even though we are sinners, and even though we still rebel against God every day, God treats us like we are not sinners. He treats us like we are perfect. And perfect people go to heaven and live with God forever. How is this possible? Because Jesus kept God’s law but died the death of a lawbreaker. Jesus didn’t sin but died the death of a sinner. Because of Jesus’ perfect life and sacrificial death, the opposite is true for us. We are lawbreakers but do not suffer the punishment of lawbreakers. We are sinners but do not die the death of sinners. Because Jesus was treated like a sinner, we are treated like we are righteous. We become perfect in God’s eyes, and God’s treats us like we are not sinners. He justifies us. He saves us.
If you are a Christian, the moment you repented of your sins and believed in Jesus you were justified. You were made right with God because of your faith. Jesus’ death penalty took the place of your death penalty, and his righteousness became your righteousness. That’s justification, and it happened because of your faith. This is the beginning of the Christian life.