A word that Paul repeats several times in Romans 5 (and elsewhere), is the word Justification or Justified. It’s a legal term to describe a person’s legal status as being exonerated or acquitted of their crime. Let me explain it this way: Suppose a man named John drove down the street and pulled into Wendy’s. That 980 calorie Baconator looked really good to him… but instead of ordering lunch, he pulls a gun… robs the cashier… jumps in his car and drives off. A customer sitting there eating their own Baconator saw what was happening and calls 911 on their cell phone. Before John can drive very far, he hears the police sirens getting closer & closer. So he pulls over and gets rid of the evidence – the money – and throws it in the canal. The police show up, arrest him, handcuff him, and cart him off. (No one knows what happened to the money.) Eventually, he goes before a judge downtown and is charged with armed robbery. He’s found guilty. He’s condemned to prison time. But… before he’s taken away… the judge decides instead of condemning him to 3-5yrs in prison, he’s going to show grace. In an amazing turn of events, he puts John on probation and lets him go free! Not only that, but the judge does something unheard of! He pulls money out of his own pocket and gives it to the bailiff with the instructions to repay what was stolen. Meanwhile, John’s a happy, free man.
Paul would say John has been justified freely through the grace given by the judge. In this case, John has been given the legal status of free man. Did he commit the crime? Yes. Did he sin against God by stealing? Yes. Was he caught, charged and found guilty of a crime? Yes. Did he deserve to be condemned with prison time? Yes. So we can say that he committed the crime, sinned, was charged, found guilty and deserved punishment. It wasn’t as if he never sinned. He did sin and deserves the consequence. It’s clear he did it! But… the crime or sin was met with forgiveness and substitute payment. The judge who pulled money out of his own pocket paid the price for the crime, the sin. It’s not as if John never sinned, because… there’s always a price to pay. Sin is costly. There’s always a consequence for sin. Your sin – your crime – can be forgiven, but someone must pay the price of forgiveness, the price for your freedom. Freedom is never free.
When you or I are justified – that is, treated as if we’d never sinned – that is only half the story, half the equation. The other half of the equation is that someone paid the price for that gracious treatment. The more complete definition of justification is that Jesus paid the exorbitant price for our sin. Our understanding of justification is much more accurate, more powerful and more complete when we acknowledge our sin (don’t ignore it), AND we acknowledge by faith the one who paid the price for it. I acknowledge my sin yet don’t suffer the consequences. Jesus paid it all at the cross! He has done the work (made the payment) of justification. I am now a free man. As the song says, I couldn’t earn it. I don’t deserve it. Justification is truly all about the work of Jesus dying on the cross to pay the price for my freedom. I diminish the work of Christ if I only focus on the benefit of justification for myself and overlook the price that was paid. Justification is not really about me. Through faith, we are merely the beneficiaries of his sacrifice. Freedom is never free!