When God Justifies an Elect Sinner, The Verdict is the Right Verdict, and God is Justified
In human justice, some innocent people get the death penalty. And also some criminals get away with murder. But God’s salvation of elect sinners is not only by grace but also by justice.
Romans 4:4 “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due”. The salvation of the elect (with all its blessings) has been earned by Christ because of His death. It is not grace from God the Trinity to give Christ the salvation of His people.
This does not mean we can say without qualification that the elect are entitled to salvation. Salvation is by grace to the elect. But this salvation is by justice. The Son not only “has it coming”, but God the Trinity’s nature and just character demand that this salvation one day be given to all the elect.
This is important, and it is something which I did not know when I was a lost five point Calvinist for 20 years. We need to avoid a nominalism in which God is only sovereign and not just in His character or actions. God is both just and justifier of the ungodly.
The death of Jesus was not merely one way (among many) God could have saved the elect. Calvin seemed to think that God could have saved by grace apart from the death but only sovereignly chose to do so. John Owen agreed at first , but then changed his mind. See also Abraham Booth, Justice Essential to the Divine Character.
Now some would say that Owen and Booth denied God’s sovereignty to have the option of saving apart from Christ’s death. But God cannot lie. And God cannot save sinners apart from the death of Son.
After Christ died and rose again, God cannot in justice not save all those for whom Christ died. This is not about the infinity of Christ’s person (both divine and human). Christ has earned by his death all future blessings for the elect (access, adoption, resurrection!!!).
Counting is involved in this justice. 1. Christ’s death was offered only for the elect and will count only for the elect. 2. But the death did not count for the elect all at one time. it is imputed by God (not by the sinner, not by the church) to individuals one at a time, both before and after the death. This view (see John Owen in Death of Death) best fits the evidence which says that the elect are both loved and also born under the wrath of God. It fits the evidence that Abraham was not simply tolerated but justified (before his circumcision!)
The soundbite that “Abraham was saved 2000 years ago when I was” is more misleading than helpful. Christ obtained by His work of death the justification He imputed to Abraham years before He died. Christ by His death justly obtained for every last ungodly elect sinner who will ever be justified that correct verdict.
One thing I learned at conversion is that God is justified in justifying. God is not only sovereignly gracious to us. God is right, and we are wrong. God is right in saying that we deserve to die. God is right in the way that Christ dies to satisfy justice. We learn to take sides against ourselves in agreeing with God about this.