1 Timothy 3:16 says that Jesus was “justified in the Spirit.”
That is a confusing idea to us because of how we typically define “justified.”
Repeatedly we have been told that “justified” means “To be declared righteous.” This is fine, since that’s what it means.
Unfortunately, what comes next in people’s explanation of “justified” undermines that definition!
Typically, what comes nest is, “You were a sinner, but God changed His mind about you and now thinks you are righteous. You’ve been taken out of the sinner column and placed into the righteous column. God is really happy with you now!”
“Justified” then seems to have its place in God’s head. Justification is a cosmic mind-game. Yes, you are a sinner, but God decides to ignore that and think of you as righteous anyway.
This is where it all falls apart.
“Justified” means “to be declared or shown righteous.” Jesus Christ was never a sinner. The phrase about Jesus being “justified in the Spirit” means that God has declared that His Son is righteous, and through the Spirit He shows this righteousness through all He said and did.
“Justified” for us should mean the same thing. In other words, we should think of our justification along the same lines as the justification of Jesus Christ.
The issue isn’t one of “you used to be a sinner but now God thinks you are righteous,” but rather who you are in Christ declares and shows that you are righteous.
In other words, Christ, by His Spirit, mortifies the deeds of the flesh, makes you the righteousness of God, and equips you to do the righteousness of God.
Being a justified person means that you now have part in declaring and showing the righteousness of God.
“That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.“
When we walk in the Spirit, we are showing and declaring God’s righteousness. It is then that we realize the full extent of justification.
Being Justified is not a mind trick, nor is it a legal declaration in some heavenly courtroom, nor an accounting device in God’s ledger.
It is much more than that. It is bodily taking part in the righteousness of God and declaring it loud and clear. This is all done by the Spirit at work in us and our being exercised by His doings.
Don’t minimize these great Biblical words. Especially don’t do this to justify your sin. You cannot live in sin, walk in the flesh and declare God’s righteousness. You can’t, doesn’t happen that way.
Justification is a huge deal. Yes, it is what makes us right with God, but it is also what equips us to declare His righteousness. God won’t leave you alone, He will have you declare His righteousness!
“In Him we have redemption through His blood…” (Ephesians 1:7). To identify with the death of Jesus Christ means that we must die to everything that was never a part of Him.
“God is just in saving bad people only as He makes them good. Our Lord does not pretend we are all right when we are all wrong.”