…“It was accounted to him (Abraham) for righteousness.” Now it was not written for his sake alone that “it was accounted to him,” but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our trespasses, and was raised for our justification. (Romans 4:22-25)
Thousands of years ago, a man by the name of Job asked a question that has puzzled humanity for ages: “How can a man be right before God?” (Job 9:1). Perhaps the clearest answer to this question is found in Paul’s epistle to the church at Rome. The book of Romans chapter 4 is the chapter in the Bible that most clearly tells us how we might gain a righteousness that is acceptable in the sight of God. Romans 4 teaches the doctrine of justification by faith apart from works of the law. In this chapter we learn that because Abraham believed God, that his belief was credited to him as righteousness. That is, that he was legally counted righteous on account of his faith – before he was circumcised – making Abraham the father and model of all who would follow him by believing. We learn in verse 23 that this faith that was counted to Abraham as righteousness was not for his sake alone, but we are told of it, so that we too might know the basis for our justification; that it is not based upon what we do, but what we believe. In verse 25 we see the familiar phrase telling us that Jesus was “delivered up because of our trespasses.” Here we see the doctrine of Christ’s substitutionary atonement – that He bore our sin on the cross. Any true Christian knows that the basis of his forgiveness and justification is found in Christ’s atoning sacrifice. But then what does it mean when it says, “he was raised for our justification?”
While Christians are often comfortable with the idea that we are justified by the blood of Jesus, we must not forget that our individual salvation is secured in our union with Christ in his obedient life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection. To include the resurrection in our understanding and our preaching of the Gospel need not downplay the centrality of the cross. In fact we can rightly say that the resurrection gives meaning to the cross. Neither the cross nor the resurrection achieves anything without the other. Obviously, the resurrection could not have occurred unless Jesus actually died on the cross – and certainly on the cross, sin was abolished and death annihilated. But likewise, the cross on its own means nothing, for if Jesus had not risen, we remain in our sin. It is the power demonstrated in the resurrection (2 Cor 13:4) that declares that Jesus is the Son of God (Rom 1:4) and proves that Christ secured victory over death on the cross.
John Calvin insightfully wrote in the Institutes regarding the resurrection, that without it,
…all that has hitherto been said would be defective. For seeing that in the cross, death, and burial of Christ, nothing but weakness appears, faith must go beyond all these, in order that it may be provided with full strength. Hence, although in his death we have an effectual completion of salvation, because by it we are reconciled to God, satisfaction is given to his justice, the curse is removed, and the penalty paid; still it is not by his death, but by his resurrection, that we are said to be begotten again to a living hope (1 Pet. 1:3); because, as he, by rising again, became victorious over death, so the victory of our faith consists only in his resurrection. The nature of it is better expressed in the words of Paul, “Who (Christ) was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification,” (Rom. 4:25); as if he had said, ‘By his death sin was taken away, by his resurrection righteousness was renewed and restored.’ For how could he by dying have freed us from death, if he had yielded to its power? How could he have obtained the victory for us, if he had fallen in the contest?