“It will be credited to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”
Shortly before Paul began arguing to draw this point in Romans 4, he finished another point with these words: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This leaves us in a state of helplessness – not because of the number of good things we’ve done compared to the bad – but because we do the bad things, we fall short of Gods standard.
We are separated from him – from life. Our sin causes this. Every time we are selfish, every time we are greedy, every time we are dissatisfied, every time we are angry, every time we lie, every time we are proud – these are sins that no amount of good works can make up for. These are sins that God must convict us of, and sentence us for. Jesus came to earth to die on the cross to pay our sentence for us. Here’s the point: if he only died, but didn’t rise from the dead, then there would be no one to mediate between us and God, no one to apply Jesus’ work for us in heaven, and no way to know for sure that Jesus’ sacrifice was enough to help us. That’s why it says that Jesus was raised for our justification.
In the Old Testament, when someone sinned, they needed to bring an animal sacrifice to symbolically forgive their sin (not actually, because only Jesus’ sacrifice can actually forgive sin – all of the Old Testament sacrifices symbolize Jesus’ sacrifice that was coming in the future). If the animal was killed with no priest to apply the blood to the sinners and on the mercy seat, then the sins would never be forgiven. The sacrifice with no priest to apply its benefits is like making a withdrawal from your account to pay a bill, and then forgetting to send the payment. It’s like if I ask my son to get me something while I’m sitting at my kitchen table, and he just sets it on the floor within eyesight.
The resurrection applies the benefit of Christ’s work on the cross. It allows Jesus to take that work into the courts of heaven. There, God observes the complete and sufficient sacrifice of Jesus for the sinner’s punishment, hears the testimony of Jesus’ perfect obedience on the sinner’s behalf, and declares all who believe in the risen Christ to be forgiven from their sin.
Perhaps the thing that shakes us the most is shame and guilt – or fear of how past or future failures may hurt us. We are shaken by the ways we mess up. We are shaken by the possibility of someone else thinking we messed up. At times, our whole world crumbles when a memory from the past flashes into our mind, or when that one person gives you a sideward glance. The resurrection helps us, because we know that Jesus is alive and ascended to heaven at the Father’s right hand; because we know that he stands before God to plead our case even right now. We know that his arguments are simple: his sacrifice swallowed the guilt of our sin, and his righteousness clothes us perfectly to be with God. The Father now and forever will say to us, “No condemnation,” and “you are Loved, Holy, and Chosen,” and “Justified, now and forever.” The resurrection can build your faith into a mountain that can’t be shaken when the earthquakes of shame and guilt come.