. . . for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Romans 3:23-24 (ESV)

“Foreman, has the jury reached a verdict?” “Yes we have, your honor.” “What say you?” “On the sole count of sinning and falling short of the glory of God, we find the defendants, guilty.” And there we stand in the presence of the judge, guilty as charged. There really could not have been another verdict. We could not help but sin (Psalm 51:5). We were born sinners and sinning is what sinners do (Romans 5:12). We really had no defense. And since the wages of our sin in death (Romans 6:23) we await the gruesome sentence about to be handed down from the judge.

Before the judge condemns us to death, we drop to the floor and ask for leniency. “Please have mercy of me judge,” we cry. The judge smiles and says, “You are acquitted. Go and sin no more.” What!? Did he just say ACQUITTED? How can that be? How can the judge acquit a guilty sinner? What could ever justify such a verdict?

The answer: For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. (Romans 5:6-9 ESV)

Many times over the years I have heard the term “justified” defined “just if I’d never sinned.” Though it is true that upon faith in Jesus we are born again (1 Peter 1:3) and are a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), such a definition tends to water down the meaning of justification. The fact is we did sin, but upon repentance and faith in Jesus Christ we were acquitted of all crimes against God. It is a free gift given by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).

John Piper puts it this way, “My debt was paid in the death of Christ while I was still helpless and ungodly. The wrath of God against me was appeased and averted not by my faith but by the death of Christ while I was still his unbelieving enemy. But only when I surrendered all attempts at self-justification and trusted in Christ alone did I hear and know and delight in the announcement: NOT GUILTY.”

The Greek word for justified means to render just or innocent or righteous. God not only declared our sins forgiven, his wrath was removed and his righteousness was counted as ours. This was made possible because God imputed our sin upon Jesus on the cross and imputed to us his righteousness. The apostle Paul wrote, For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)

Have you heard the judge (God) say “NOT GUILTY”? Have you thanked him today for his mercy?

Scriptures for meditation:
Psalm 32:1
Romans 3:24

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