The Great Dilemma
Proverbs 17:15 presents us with the greatest dilemma in all of Scripture: “He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just, both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD.”
What’s the dilemma? God has both justified the wicked (us; sinful man) and condemned the righteous (Jesus Christ). How can God do this and yet remain just? The subject before us is that of the doctrine of justification.
The Solution of the Cross
This is at the heart of the gospel. There are two very key New Testament Scriptures that solve this dilemma for us:
2 Corinthians 5:21 “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Romans 3:21-26 “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witness by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
The simple answer to this dilemma is the cross of Jesus Christ. Christ’s sacrifice was a penal (punishment bearing) substitutionary sacrifice. The key word that speaks to this is propitiation. To propitiate is to appease or satisfy. In regards to Christ’s sacrifice, He appeased or satisfied the just wrath of God against our sins (cf. Rom. 1:18). Although Christ lived a perfect, righteous life toward God, God was just to inflict the penalty of sin on Christ because, as 2 Cor. 5:21 says, Christ took our sins upon Himself. The result of this is, that through faith, our sins are forgiven and Christ’s righteousness is imputed (or credited) to us.
Due to this Great Exchange (as it is often called), God is able to be both just and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus Christ. The greatest dilemma in all of Scripture points us to the greatest event in all of Scripture, the cross.
The Baptist Catechism
Q. 36: What is justification?
A. Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein He pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.
(Rom. 3:24, 25; 4:6-8; 2 Cor. 5:19,21; Rom. 5:17-19; Gal. 2:16; Phil. 3:9)