If you didn’t know already, Jerry Bridge’s has a new book out called The Transforming Power of the Gospel. We are working through it in our men’s ministry right now and have found ourselves challenged and encouraged as Bridges teaches us how the gospel is both the foundation and motivation for holy living. One of the things I appreciate most about Bridges is that he walks in imitation of the Apostle Paul in being adamant that we have a balanced understanding of the gospel; that we don’t emphasize certain aspects of the gospel over others and end up in error (both in theology and life). He also tends to do this in a way that is clear and straightforward so that any Christian can get a grasp on it.
In chapter 4 of the book he helps bring this kind of balance and clarity to the doctrine of justification. He quotes an old play on the word justified I had never heard that says Christ’s death for me as a believer makes it so that God treats me “just as if I had never sinned”. Justified = Just as if I had never sinned. God has removed our transgressions from us “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12). In Christ our penalty was paid, we are no longer in the red. That means God’s justice is not for us because it was poured out on Jesus; we will not be punished.
But that’s not all there is to justification. The other side of that play on justified says that Christ’s death for me as a believer makes it so that God treats me “just as if I had always obeyed”. Justified = Just as if I had always obeyed. Paul says that Jesus died in our place as the embodiment of our sin, so that “we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus lived a life of perfection, and through his death that perfection is transferred to those who believe so that we’re not just out of the red, but our account is fully funded forever. As our senior pastor often says, this means that God treated Jesus as if he’d lived my wicked, sinful life so he could treat me as if I’d lived his perfect, righteous life.
Justification is not one or the other, it is both, and our lives should be lived out of this balance so that we please God according to the reality of what he has done for us in Christ.