23 But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone,
24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
These closing verses give us the chapter’s ninth, 10th, and 11th uses of the Greek verb “to reckon” (logizomai, “counted” ESV). As I noted in the beginning of this chapter, Paul saw in Genesis 15:6 the precursor of his message of justification by grace through faith. Abraham believed God, and on the basis of his faith he was reckoned righteous.
In verse 21 Paul closed his discussion of Abraham’s faith, saying the patriarch was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” Now Paul seeks to apply the lesson of Abraham to the church in Rome and of course to us. Verse 22 repeats the crucial truth from Genesis 15:6 that faith is reckoned as righteousness.The progressive revelation of what must be believed
Abraham was reckoned righteous—he obtained eternal salvation—because he believed God’s promise about offspring. So let’s consider how Abraham’s example applies to us. Over the years I’ve seen several childless couples ask God for the ability to give birth to a child, and in a few instances a child came forth. Because these couples believed God’s “promise,” did that make them saved? Definitely not, but why not?
God has progressively revealed his plan of salvation from the time of Abraham, and now what must be believed is not a promise but a Person. God sent his Son to take on human flesh and die for the sins of humanity. Now righteousness is reckoned to those who believe in Jesus Christ or, as Paul says here, believe in God “who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord.” God is the author of the gospel, and Jesus stars in that gospel as the author of our salvation.
The content of faith has shifted over the course of salvation history. But the structure or elements of salvation have remained the same. Those elements consist of God’s offer of grace, human response of faith, and God’s reckoning of righteousness. They are the same for us as they were for Abraham, which is why Paul can say the words “it was counted to him” were written not for his sake alone but also for us.
As God unfolded his drama of redemption he revealed some things far in advance to his prophets. For example, Isaiah 53 speaks of God’s Servant bearing the sin of many. “We have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). Paul’s phrasing in the first part of verse 25 suggests he had Isaiah 53 in mind. It’s notable as well that the Septuagint version of Isaiah 53 has three uses of logizomai. To learn how knowledge of that word helps our understanding of those verses in Isaiah 53, see “Bible Verses on Reckoning.”The relationship of resurrection and justification
Jesus’ death was clearly necessary for our justification, because he took away our guilt by bearing our sins on the cross, and his righteousness was reckoned ours. But Paul also says in verse 25 that Jesus was “raised for our justification.” Nowhere else does Paul make this claim. From the forensic or legal-transaction standpoint, Jesus completely atoned for our sins on the cross and he did not have to be raised for us to be justified. But there is more to say.
Two things connect resurrection and justification:
1. Faith: Jesus’ resurrection confirms our justification by validating our faith. His “continuance under the power of death would create serious doubts about the efficacy of his sacrifice on the cross” (Everett Harrison). Had he not been raised, people might wonder: Was God satisfied by his Son’s atoning sacrifice? Did God find Jesus worthy? And if he did not, we are still in a world of hurt. But, hallelujah, Jesus was found worthy!
RC Sproul says, “The resurrection of Jesus is the verdict of the Judge of heaven and earth, that the atonement has been made and all who trust in Christ will participate in the benefits of the righteousness of Christ.”2. Life: God united us with Christ not only in his death but also in his resurrection so that “we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Having been declared righteous, now we are called to live righteously (6:13). We have been set free from sin to live for God.
At times Paul and especially James speak of justification as living a godly life. Righteous behavior demonstrates the genuineness of a person’s faith. Bob Utley identifies “two aspects of Paul’s use of the term ‘justify’ (1) a forensic (legal) standing and (2) a godly, Christlike life!”
Also, this important point: The resurrection was necessary to vindicate Jesus, who was innocent and undeserving of death. As Sproul points out, “Jesus was sinless, and if God had allowed sin to hold him eternally, this would have been an injustice against Jesus.”