I really want to take a look at Romans 4 & 5, especially after the claims I made about justification meaning I can go out and sin without fear of condemnation. The Scripture doesn't present that as something we want to do, nor as something we should do, but we don't get that until Romans 5 & 6. Justification is entirely a work of God, and we don't want to try and beef it up, so to speak, with our own efforts. There's a reason justification is presented in Romans without a lot of the fluff that modern evangelicals add to it.
But before moving off chapter 4, I feel I ought to mention three things that are in Romans 4. I wish I could expound on them, but I don't have time to do much more than notice them:
"But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." (Romans 4:5, KJV)
"(As it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were." (Romans 4:17, KJV)
"But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead;" (Romans 4:5, KJV)
These three verses give us three descriptions of God, which are brought out especially in the Gospel. We do well to remember that the Gospel is primarily about God, not about us. We very rightly look at the Gospel as a wonderful story of God's love to us, and we (rightly) happily remember it as our own salvation from Hell: but in the end, the Gospel is one of the clearest pictures of the heart of God: a heart so overflowing with love for the unlovable, that He would do the unthinkable to save them.
So the four descriptions of God in Romans 4 are these: him that justifieth the ungodly; God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were; and him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead.
Him that justifieth the ungodly: God is characterized as the one who loves the unlovable. It isn't hard to love the lovable. It isn't hard to justify the godly (remember, "justify" means "acquit"). But it takes God to love the unlovable, to justify the ungodly. The Mosaic Law contained warnings about justifying the wicked: they strictly forbade it (De. 25:1; Isa. 5:23). Why? Because man cannot justly justify the wicked. That is to say, our concept of justifying the wicked is that we simply let the matter drop, pretend it didn't happen. But God's justifying the ungodly was actually done justly: that is, He provided a Substitute to be punished, to take the penalty in the place of the wicked sinner. Consider Romans 3:24--26 "Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." (KJV). Did you catch that? Because the Lord Jesus died in our place, God can both "be just" and "be the justifier of him which believeth". The Lord Jesus' dying for us has resulted in God's being able to act in love without ignoring justice.
What does that tell us about God? It tells us that He is willing to do the unthinkable in order to take sinners to Heaven. It tells us that God is good.
God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were: God is the one who "quickens the dead". Not only the One who can quicken the dead, but the One who actually does it. "Quicken" means "bring to life". God is described as the One who brings the dead to life.
Further, He's the one who "calls those things which are not as though they are". This one sounds funny in King James English, almost like God is delusional. But that's not what it means. It means that God is able and willing to make declarations that cannot be contradicted. In the immediate context, God has declared believing sinners to be just, even though they aren't. That doesn't mean God doesn't know what you're really like. It means God has made a declaration that cannot be contradicted. The Judge has dismissed the case, and the defendant can walk free, regardless of whether the accusations are true.
But think about this for a minute. God is also the one who can make the untrue true. He can bring the dead to life. He can make the unjust just. The Christian Gospel starts with justification: with an absolute declaration that God won't punish us for our sins if we believe. But it doesn't end there. There are 16 chapters in Romans, the wonderful truth of justification is brought out in chapters 3 & 4: there are 12 more. God doesn't justify us to leave us as worthless sinners. I know what I said yesterday, but listen to what I'm saying now. Justification is the start of something more.
1 Corinthians 4:6 says, "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (KJV). The same God who said "let their be light" and the light shone from darkness is the God who "hath shined in our hearts". The same God who makes something out of nothing, who calls light to shine out of darkness, who brings the dead to life; is working in the hearts of the sinners He justifies.
Justification is the start of the Christian life. It is the absolute, objective declaration of God that we rest on for assurance and comfort. But it's not the end. Those who are justified are now the objects of God's work.
"Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified." (Romans 8:30, KJV).
Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead: The God we believe for justification is the same God who raised up the Lord Jesus from the dead. This is not merely the "quickening" we've already talked about. This is something bigger, better, grander.
It was through His resurrection that the Lord Jesus was declared to be the Son of God in power (Romans 1: 4). It was not merely that God touched a dead man who got up alive. It was that God was declaring, according to "the Spirit of Holiness", that this was Son of God.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ was not merely "Raising from the Dead Part IV": the Lord Jesus raised 3 people from the dead in the Scriptural record (there may have been more that aren't mentioned): Jarius' daughter, the widow's son at Nain, and Lazarus. But they all died again. They all came out of the grave more or less as they went in. Jesus Christ, while rising from the dead in the same body, was raised as "the firstfruits of them that slept" (1 Corinthians 15: 20, KJV). Christ's Resurrection was the start of what Scripture calls the New Creation.
There are many who would deny the Resurrection: mainly worldlings, but also many in Christendom. Many Christians are more and more denying the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is an insidious teaching that cuts to the core of Christianity "For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable." (1 Corinthians 15:16--19, KJV). Without a risen Christ, we are unjustified, Hell-bound sinners.
When Paul was on Mars' Hill (the Areopagus) in Athens, it was the Resurrection that proved to be the watershed: "And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter." (Acts 17:32, KJV). Things haven't changed that much since then: the Resurrection is still the lynch-pin of our faith. People are willing to think about a vague, nebulous god out there somewhere: they aren't happy to be reminded of the God who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead.