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God Is Just Judge and Merciful Justifier

Furthermore, such a notion would mean that Jesus Christ did the same thing, in dying, for those in hell as He did for those in heaven. It would mean that He did not actually, really atone for anyone’s sins. He just offered a potential atonement that is converted to a real one by the willing sinner. Christ died for no one in particular if He died for everyone. As Christ Himself explained, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep… . I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:1114–15). It’s clear there was no limit to the punishment Christ could endure on the cross, but there would be no sense in enduring God’s wrath if it didn’t purchase redemption for those He would one day reconcile to Himself. Put simply, Christ is not the Redeemer for those who will not be redeemed.

There’s more. Paul saves arguably the best news for last. Second Corinthians 5:21concludes that God made Christ to be sin for us “so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Not only has God imputed our sins to Christ, He has imputed Christ’s righteousness to us. God treated Jesus as a sinner, though He was not, so that He could treat us as if we were righteous, though we are not. In the most personal terms, God treated Christ on the cross as if He had lived my life, so He could treat me as if I had lived His life. That’s the beautiful glory of the gospel. God sees us covered with the righteousness of His Son.

Many people—including some Bible scholars—wonder why Christ had to live through the humility of the incarnation for thirty-three years. Why didn’t God just send Him down for a weekend—to be crucified on Friday and return to heaven on Sunday? Why wouldn’t that suffice? Why did the Lord have to endure all the stages of life—most of them spent living in total obscurity?

The answer is the glorious truth we know as the doctrine of imputation. The writer of Hebrews says, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Christ had to live a complete life, fulfilling all righteousness, so it could one day be credited to us. The comprehensive nature of God’s reconciliation is staggering. When God looked at the cross, He saw us; when He looks at us, He sees His Son. Our Lord did not just take on the punishment of our sins—He lived a holy, blameless life credited to us by faith. And we now stand before God fully reconciled to Him, cloaked in the righteousness of our blessed Redeemer.

This excerpt is adapted from Good News: The Gospel of Jesus Christ by John MacArthur.

This article originally appeared here.

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jmacarthur@churchleaders.com'
John MacArthur is the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, as well as an author, conference speaker, president of The Master’s College and Seminary, and president and featured teacher with the Grace to You media ministry. He has written nearly 400 books and study guides, including The MacArthur Study Bible.