Doctrinal Matters: Salvation
Questions & Answers: Are Christians Justified by Christ's Death, or by His Resurrection?
Are Christians justified by Christ’s death, or by His resurrection?
In a familiar passage on the bodily resurrection, the inspired apostle Paul wrote: “If Christ hath not been raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). At first glance, this might seem difficult to reconcile with the many passages that speak of Christ’s atoning death and the forgiveness of sins that comes to us through His blood (Romans 5:9; Ephesians 1:7; 1 Peter 2:24; Revelation 1:5). Is Christ’s death efficacious without the resurrection?
Paul told the Christians in Rome that Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses, and was raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). Justification is a forensic term meaning “declared guiltless,” and was used extensively by Paul in his letter to the Romans. In that particular epistle, Paul taught that the person who had faith in Jesus would be justified by His blood (Romans 3:25-26).
It is true that Christ died for our justification. But He also was raised for that purpose. His death denotes a present reality, while His resurrection refers to a reality yet to come. Those who obey the law are justified (Romans 2:13), but through Christ’s obedience, many will be justified (Romans 5:19). Justification is both a past and a future event. The declaration of guiltlessness will occur in the last day, when all nations shall gather before God to be judged.
Again, it is true that believers have been justified by the blood of the cross. But that justification must be confirmed by God’s verdict on the Day of Judgment. This reality was affirmed by Paul when he wrote in Romans 8:33-34: “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth? It is Christ Jesus that died, yea rather, that was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.”
If it were true that Christ lies moldering in a Palestinian grave, there would be no one to intercede for us on the great Day of Judgment, and His death would be utterly meaningless. We cannot be saved by a dead Savior! But it is not true that Christ is still in the tomb. He has been raised. And His resurrection is just as central to salvation as His crucifixion, because it is the resurrection which proves that Christ lives, and living, continually makes intercession for us.