Thank you all for your insights on how we are justified by Jesus’ resurrection. I don’t have much to add, except to point to I. Howard Marshall’s fine chapter on this topic in his recent book, Aspects of the Atonement (Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster Press, 2007).
Marshall observes that the average Christian tends to think that the work of justification was accomplished on the cross and that the resurrection merely serves as Christ’s greatest authenticating miracle. Many theologians go further and note that the resurrection expresses the Father’s vindication of his Son, accomplishes his victory over evil, and enables the Son to ascend to heaven where he intercedes on our behalf.
But Marshall goes even further, and, by planting Rom. 4:25 in its Pauline context, argues that the resurrection justifies us because by it Jesus “is now just and experiencing the new life that God grants to those whose sin has been taken away; this is happening representatively to Christ so that believers may share in this new life” (90). Marshall observes that Jesus is our substitute on the cross (he died instead of us) but our representative in his resurrection (he was raised with us, 91). The resurrection “representatively justified” Jesus so that we who are baptized into his death may also share in his new life (97).
Here’s how I see it. On the cross Jesus bore our penalty of sin and death (2 Cor. 5:21). If there was no resurrection, then Jesus would continue to bear the penalty of our sin. He would remain guilty. He would not be justified, and so neither would we. The resurrection is the Father’s vindication of the Son, whereby he releases Jesus from the guilt and penalty of our sin. The resurrection restores Jesus to life, freed from the punishment of our sin, and us with him.
And one important application. In Romans 6:3-4, Paul says that the way we identify with the cross and resurrection of Jesus is through baptism. Baptism is where the cross and resurrection of Jesus become our story. If we refuse to be baptized, we are telling God that we don’t want the cross and resurrection of Jesus to count for us. There are far too many people in our Bible and Baptist churches who have never come around to being baptized, and this Sunday would be an excellent opportunity to remind them of its importance (there is a reason why the early church celebrated its baptisms on Easter morning). I wonder what Paul would make of the many unbaptized believers in our churches. I doubt that he would consider it an optional “step of obedience.”