The Law Justified Christ

Someone going by “Todd” (profile not available) wrote:

Your first counterargument is that “Christ fulfilled the law. The law didn’t condemn Christ, it justified Him.” I’m going to ignore the bizarre phrasing that the Law justified Christ, which hints at all sorts of problems. But more to the point, you seem to completely miss who the Law is for. Is it for God? Or did God give it to us sinners? You’d think the answer would be obvious, and yet you feels the need to point out that Christ was not a sinner. Duh. When Lutherans say “the Law always accuses”, we are not talking to Jesus, we are talking to fellow sinners.

I answer:

It’s a pity Todd ignored it. It’s an important point, something that Todd may not understand. Justification is a declaration of righteousness. As to those who are under the law, the law declares all (except Christ) to be sinners. The law accuses them.

This is why works righteousness as means of salvation is not just wrong, it’s stupid. Scripture puts it this way:

Romans 3:19-20

Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

The way that law could, in theory, justify someone is by the person perfectly obeying the law.

Romans 2:13

(For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.

Christ was justified in this way: he obeyed the law perfectly. This use of the term justify is found not only in the New Testament, but in the Old Testament:

Deuteronomy 25:1

If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment, that the judges may judge them; then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked.

That is the role of judges: to declare the righteous and the innocent.

Moreover, the idea of justifying God is similarly to be found in the Old Testament:

Job 32:2

Then was kindled the wrath of Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the kindred of Ram: against Job was his wrath kindled, because he justified himself rather than God.

Notice that what Elihu wanted was for Job to declare God righteous and for Job to declare himself to be a sinner. But Elihu felt as if Job had declared himself to be righteous.

David provides us with a positive example:

Psalm 51:4

Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.

See this similar New Testament example:

Luke 7:29

And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John.

So, you see, if one gets too immersed in justification by faith, one may miss the broader context of justification as a declaration of righteousness.

We actually see the idea of an imputed righteousness (negatively) in the Old Testament:

Isaiah 5:23

Which justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him!

What is remarkable here is that unjust judges are being blamed for accepting a bribe to declare a guilty person as not being guilty.

Later in Isaiah, however, we see that something similar (though proper and legitimate) is going to take place in Christ:

Isaiah 45:25

In the LORD shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.

Isaiah 53:11

He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.

This gospel message is later explained by the apostles:

Acts 13:39

And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.

This is, indeed, the critical point that struck home with Luther as it should also with you:

Galatians 2:16-17

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid.

Roman apologists (and not just them) love to try to tell folks that the law here means simply circumcision and the ceremonial laws. But Paul goes on to explain the imputation of Christ’s righteousness rather than our personal righteousness, explaining it this way:

Galatians 2:18-21

For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.

In short, therefore, recall that we are justified by faith. We trust in Christ for our righteousness – not in our own works or in the works of some other creature, whether Mary, a martyr, or a saint. In Christ we die to the law. In that dread transaction, our sins are laid to his account, and though the law justified him, we are declared righteous, he is declared unrighteous, and he is crucified for us. We take his death for our sins, and we therefore live. Thus, our righteousness does not come by the law, but by the grace of God in Christ. The law no longer accuses us (as I explained in my previous post), because we are no longer under the law.

Paul beautifully explains it this way (by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit):

Galatians 4:3-5

Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: but when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.



One Response to “The Law Justified Christ”

  1. todd Says:

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