Sunday, March 31, 2013

Christ's Resurrection and Our Justification: Romans 4:25

"He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification."
~St. Paul, Romans 4:25

In the evangelical piety in which I was raised, our "salvation" was almost exclusively tied to Christ's achievement on the cross of Calvary. The bodily resurrection of Christ on the third day, while celebrated and affirmed as a theological nonnegotiable, was seen often as simply proof that Jesus was who he claimed to be (sometimes wrongly seen as "proof that he was God," but that's a matter for another time) and that God had accepted the sacrifice he had offered on the tree. Sometimes the classic piece of oldest Christian tradition cited by Paul in Romans 4:25, based on a Christological interpretation of Isaiah 53, was interpreted in the sense that Christ was raised because (Greek dia) our justification had been "accomplished." Of course, such an interpretation is rendered unlikely because justification is consistently used by the apostle as a metaphor dealing with the application rather than the accomplishment of salvation in the context of Romans 3-4.

Years ago Westminster Seminary Professor Richard Gaffin pointed my way to a better solution by looking at yet another piece of tradition quoted by Paul in 1 Timothy 3:16:
Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:
He appeared in the flesh,
    was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
    was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
    was taken up in glory.
The verb "vindicated" is the verb dikaioō, which is precisely the term used by the apostle to speak of God's act of "justifying" or "acquitting" those who believe in Christ. Another piece of the puzzle came together when, in the course of my research for my doctoral dissertation on Galatians, I noticed Galatians 2:17, where St. Paul says that we are justified "in Christ," i.e., by virtue of our union with/incorporation into Christ. At that point I had a Damascus Road experience, as it were: Christ's resurrection was his vindication, "justification," and we who believe are justified as we, through faith-union with Christ, are incorporated into that vindication.

Thus I was thrilled when I read Mike Bird's blog this morning, where he had this to say:
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!
Amen! So on this Easter morning, I leave you with the famous words in the venerable Anglican liturgy: "Alleluia! Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!"

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