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By Scott Walsh

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Let's talk about justification. You might think you know what it means, like you were justified in laying that guy out with a dangerous boarding hit because he took a questionable run at your leading scorer.

Um, not so much. From a legal perspective, justification is rather like acquittal. But justification in the biblical sense doesn't quite mean the same thing. It's also a very, very important New Testament term-so critical that some scholars believe that the bulk of the protestant reformation hinged on precisely what justification meant.

In a nutshell-and this is a simple definition-biblical justification means to be made right with God. It is an act, not a process. We are justified, we don't become justified, and that act of justification takes place in the moment when we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior.

Justification is not to be confused with sanctification, which means being made holy, or set apart for God. Sanctification is a process that entails becoming more like Christ as we progress in our Christian walk.

You see, God is holy and perfect. Since the end game of our faith is to spend eternity with God in Heaven, the problem of our sin needs to be addressed-and not just addressed, but dealt with. Because God is perfect, He not only can't sin Himself, He cannot even be in the presence of sin. Therefore, if we, who are sinners, are to be with Him, our sin has to be erased. But how?

Here's how. God made His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, the propitiation for our sins. Propitiation is another big word you may never encounter outside of the Bible that basically means substitute, but there is more to its essence than that. It also means a turning away from wrath. In this sense, God took our sin-all of it, every sin each of us ever committed-and placed it all on Jesus when He was nailed to the cross on Good Friday. In that act, Jesus took upon Himself the punishment we deserved, and in so doing allowed us to be justified before His Father at the moment of our salvation.

It might help to think of God as a referee. The referee (at least in theory!) can't permit penalties to go unpunished on the ice. If referees selectively looked the other way when they saw infractions, think not only of the chaos that would ensue, but how doing so would warp the sense of justice one would expect even in a simple hockey game. And we humans yearn for justice.

The wages of a minor penalty are two minutes in the sin bin-a two-minute timeout, hockey's contribution to parenting. Sit for two minutes, pay your penalty and you get to go out and play again.

Goalies are fortunate that they do not have to serve their own penalties. When a netminder slashes, trips or otherwise violates an opponent, one of his teammates on the ice at the time of the infraction is selected to serve the penalty in his or her stead.

Of all the positions in hockey, that also makes goalies the most like the rest of us. If we were like position players, we would be in deep eternal trouble. But because we are sinners-and commit penalties that violate the rules of the game established by God-there must be a payment for the sin. The problem is, there aren't enough minutes in eternity to serve the penalty for even one of our sin.

Nonetheless, sin demands a payment. So, as if we were all goalies, Jesus Christ stepped in and served our penalty for us. But of course, He didn't simply serve a two-minute timeout and go back in the game. He suffered unimaginable torture and agony for nearly 18 hours. It was so bad that we had to invent a word to describe the pain He suffered: excruciating, which has its root in the word "crucifixion."

He was beaten, punched, slapped, scourged, and spit upon-and those were just the preliminaries. After that he had thorns driven into His scalp, had a roughhewn piece of lumber thrown on His back, was whipped while he walked nearly a half mile with what amounted to a railroad tie lain across His open, raw and bleeding back, and finally had large nails driven through His wrists and feet. Then His cross was erected and He hung there for six hours before finally surrendering His spirit to His Father.

He endured that, and He died. For you, and for me, that we may be justified. And we think hockey players are tough.

Discussion Questions

  1. Would players be more or less likely to commit penalties they knew they would suffer no consequences for?
  2. If you knew you could commit a penalty and get away with it, would you?

Additional Reading

  1. Romans 3:22-26
  2. 2 Corinthians 5:21
  3. Romans 5:18
  4. Galatians 2:16

About the Author

Scott Walsh works for Liberty Institute, the largest law firm in the United States dedicated solely to defending and restoring religious liberty in America. He and his wife Monica live in Oceanside, California and homeschool their son Jack. They attend Coastline Baptist Church in Oceanside and are constantly trying to figure out how to help Jack achieve his dream of playing in the NHL without playing travel hockey.

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