Home Pastors Articles for Pastors The Subtle Difference Between Vindication and Justification, and Why It Matters

The Subtle Difference Between Vindication and Justification, and Why It Matters


If you are a follower of Jesus it is relatively safe to assume that you know what to do with your guilt. We know that when we blow it, that we are to go to Christ in repentance for the forgiveness of sin. What we need in this moment is atonement and then justification. In other words, we need our guilt to be paid for and then for our record to be declared clean.

But what do you do whenever you’ve been wronged? Where do you go when you’re being slandered? What do you do when you need God to “justify you” not in the forensic sense but by way of vindication?

I’m convinced that it is the second question which is fixed on the mind of the apostle Peter and his hearers when he delivers the message of 1 Peter to them. Vindication. That’s the thrust of his encouragement to these elect exiles who are experiencing shame instead of honor. He is encouraging them to press on by showing that they’ll ultimately receive honor instead of shame. In other words, they’ll be vindicated.

But something interesting happened to me in my attempts to do a deep dive on this concept of vindication. I kept running into a road block. Most of my searches hit a dead end:

See Justification.

If I were creating one of those nerdy Venn diagrams there would be significant crossover between justification and vindication. They have similar roots, they’re both grounded in the work of Christ, they both have to do with us being declared innocent. But there is a subtle difference. And I think this difference is important.

In fact I think a good deal of our in-fighting, certainly as a nation but more specifically as believers in Jesus, comes from our lack of having a robust theology of vindication. Yes, we need to know that the justice of God is met and satisfied through the substitutionary death of His Son. We need to know and experience the depth of His forgiveness of our sin. But we also need to know that Jesus has something to say about all the slander against us, the injustices we’ve experienced, and all of the mocking and pain we’ve endured as followers of Jesus.

The gospel has something to say about this too. And to mute this aspect of our redemption is to miss an incredibly healing piece of the atonement. It’s also going to rob us of powerful fuel in our labor to love as Christ did. This was the fuel that Peter was putting in the tank of these Christ-followers who were enduring such trying times. “I know you’re being dishonored right now. I know you’re losing relationships and status. I know you’re losing face. But that’s temporary. The honor you receive from God will be eternal.” That’s the core of his message to them. And fueled them to love those who were reviling them.

What happens if I don’t have a sturdy theology of vindication? My efforts to love will collapse under the pain of my shame. My tank runs on fumes. And my heart, longing for vindication, lashes out instead of loves. If I don’t believe the gospel has anything to say about the slander against me, then I’m going to speak my fallen words into that void.

Of course there is much more to be said to develop a hardy theology of vindication. But rest in this simple truth today: you’re not only justified in the sin you’ve committed but you will also some day be freed of all the injustice against you. Eugene Peterson said it well:

“Nothing counter to God’s justice has any eternity to it.”

But your vindication in Christ? That’s eternal!

This article originally appeared here.

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Mike Leake is husband to Nikki and father to Isaiah and Hannah. He is also the lead pastor at Calvary of Neosho, MO. Mike is the author of Torn to Heal and his writing home is http://mikeleake.net