Justification by Faith
“Which one of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:46a).
In our discussion of the atonement so far we have focused on the various aspects of the death of our Lord. This part of Jesus’ work is typically referred to as the passive obedience of Christ, because the Son suffered passively as the recipient of the Father’s wrath on the cross. We could not be saved without the passive work of Christ.
Often neglected by evangelicals — but just as necessary for our salvation — is what theologians call the active obedience of Christ. This part of Jesus’ mission is His utter faithfulness to God’s covenant, the living of a completely sinless life in active obedience to all of God’s commands. In today’s passage, Jesus asks the Pharisees which of them can convict Him of sin (John 8:46a). He expects them to answer “none of us.” No one was able to find fault in Jesus (Luke 23:4) or cast doubt on His fidelity to the Law (Matt. 3:13–17; 5:17–19).
Christ could have become incarnate as a thirty-year-old man and gone straight to Calvary, if dying was all He had to do to redeem us. However, eternal, resurrected life in God’s kingdom required more than just the defeat of sin or the atonement of our sins. By itself, the death of Jesus only returns us to a point of innocence, much like Adam before the fall. Yet Adam’s innocence was not enough for him to live eternally, he had to obey God utterly and faithfully. By obeying the Creator’s commands to multiply, take dominion (Gen. 1:28), and refrain from eating the forbidden fruit, Adam’s life would have never ended (2:16–17).
All of Adam’s children, that is, all human beings, are bound by the stipulations of the Creator’s covenant with Adam, and therefore we must also perfectly obey God if we want to live. Jesus earned this righteousness for His people, and it is reckoned, or imputed, to our account when we trust in Him alone. When we believe in Jesus, our sins are transferred to Him, and they are condemned on the cross. His goodness is put on our record, and we receive eternal life (2 Cor. 5:21).
Justification by faith alone means that we are justified by Christ alone. His perfect obedience is the only way we can gain eternal life, and God accepts His record as ours by faith alone (Gal. 2:15–16).
When the Father imputes the righteousness of Christ to us, He knows we still struggle with sin. And though we are disciplined for these transgressions (Heb. 12:3–17), He nevertheless sees Jesus’ faithfulness when He looks on those who trust in Christ, and on that account He grants them eternal life. Consider the faithfulness of Jesus who did all that the Father commanded. If by faith you attempt to imitate this holiness, you are truly in Him and have eternal life.
Passages for Further Study
- Isa. 61:10
- John 4:34
- Rom. 5:18–19
- 1 Peter 2:21–25
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