“He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord.”
– Prov 17.15
Wait. What? Doesn’t the entirety of our hope, doesn’t the core of Christianity center on sinners’ justification? Doesn’t Romans 4.5-8 say: “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works, ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.'”
How then does God justify the wicked without being an abomination to Himself?
What does it mean to justify? Merriam-Webster defines it as “to prove or show to be just, right or reasonable”. Often times in church circles we like to play a word game with the gigantic doctrine of justification defining it as “just-as-if I’d never sinned”. This is simply not true. All of our deeds are written down. And we will give an account for everything that we have done (2 Cor 5.10). And God is holy; He does not sweep our sins under the rug. He hates sin. Nahum 1.2-3 says “the Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.” Yes, God is love. But he does not just let things go. All sin will be punished, one way or another. Either eternally, in Hell by the sinner – or on the cross.
But the question still stands: How does God justify the wicked? How does he show the wicked to be “just, right or reasonable”? How does he legally declare us not guilty, without being an abomination to Himself?
When one is saved, he is saved from his sin to Jesus Christ. Being saved means being unified to Christ (Col. 3.13ff). Salvation is a progressive story that first happened to Jesus. The foundational problem that all of humanity has is that God is angry at sin. He is a wrathful God. So Jesus propitiated that wrath! Jesus perfectly obeyed and kept the Law of God. Jesus died, and was resurrected – receiving newness of life, regeneration, justification, sanctification, glorification. Yes, I realize that these are all giant theological terms that speak to the different aspects of salvation. But suffice it to say that Jesus was fully human and fully God. He never sinned, and therefore he did not deserve to die. Deut 21.23 says that the one who is hanged on a tree (cross) is cursed of God. Jesus became the curse – he became sin (2 Cor. 5.21) when he died on the cross. And when he was resurrected he was justified. Therefore God justified Jesus – who was not wicked – and He took our punishment that we deserved.
If you are in Jesus, this justification is yours! Because to be hidden in Christ means that when God looks at you, he sees the identity of Christ. We are now one with Him, as He is one with the Father (John 17.11, 21). If you are in Christ, all of the aspects of Christ’s atoning work belong to you. Thus the Bible uses the imagery of marriage – when you get married, everything that your spouse owns now belongs to you as well. Or the imagery of Jesus as the head and the Church as the body: you cannot separate the head from the body and still have life! The head cannot be saved without the body being saved as well!
In conclusion, God does not justify sinners – in the sense that he does not look at one who has offended Him and deserves His wrath and say, “It’s OK, no big deal”. He does not sweep sin under the rug. And therefore He is not an abomination to Himself, letting sin go. God poured out the fulness of His wrath on His undeserving son. He punished all of the sin that those who are being saved will ever commit in the person of Jesus Christ. And those who are being saved are found IN Christ, and since Christ paid for those sins, we – being one with Christ – are forgiven. Our sins were paid for, mind you, in the person of Christ. When God looks at us, His anger is appeased and He sees the blood of Christ covering us. The sins of those who are not being saved will also be punished. In eternity. In Hell.