By Faith Alone
Romans 3-5This week I spent some time playing around with the new computers we have in the church office. We bought them a few months ago and whenever I have a free moment I like to sit down and fool around and see what I make the computers do.
As it turns out, there are a lot of things our computers can do. You can make boxes and squares and a whole assortment of amazing designs. Or you can draw a diagram or an outline and put it anywhere you like on the page. Then you can pick out your letters and make them very big or very small in an almost unlimited number of combinations. They tell me you could even write a book or publish a magazine on our computers.
So this week I sat down at the floating terminal in the office and starting writing something. Along the way I learned how to justify my margins. Some of you will smile at hearing such a trivial piece of information, but to me it was a big discovery.
Justified margins is what you have when the computer arranges the letters in such a way that all the lines on a piece of paper end up at the same place. That is, the right margin is straight all the way down the page. There’s an easy to put it. Simply run your eye down the right side of a page:
—If the right-hand edge is straight, the margin is justified.
—If the right-hand edge is crooked, it isn’t.
It’s simple, really. To justify margins means to make them straight. If they are crooked, they are unjustified.
Made Straight With God
Now take that same concept and transfer it over to the Bible and you will discover something very helpful. To justify something means to make it straight. If it is left crooked, it is unjustified. When someone asks, “How can I be justified?” they are really asking, “How can I be made straight with God?”
Today is Reformation Sunday. It is always celebrated in Protestant churches on the Sunday closest to October 31, the day in 1517 that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg, thus striking the spark that blazed into the Protestant Reformation.
I’m sure you remember Martin Luther’s story. He was a Roman Catholic monk struggling to find acceptance with God. Day after day in his cloistered room he would pray and seek God and try to find peace in his soul. But the harder he tried the greater grew his despair for he knew the greatness of his sin. He went to mass, did penance, crawled on his knees up the holy stairs in Rome, kept every decree of his religion and still he found no peace.
Until one day he read in the Bible, “The just shall live by faith.” Then he saw that a right standing with God is not based on merit or good works but on wholly on what Jesus accomplished when he died on the cross. At that moment, he trusted his soul to Jesus Christ for his salvation … and in that moment the Reformation was born.
As the message spread across Europe, men began to write it on placards and on walls where everyone could read it. The great truth of the Reformation finally came down to two Latin words—Sola Fide, by faith alone. It was written everywhere. How can a man be justified? Sola Fide! By Faith Alone! How can a man be made straight with God? Sola Fide! By Faith Alone!
The Cornerstone of Christianity
Keep these three words together in your mind: Just, Justify, Justification. They all come from the same root word in Greek. To justify means to “make straight in the eyes of God.” Justification is the act of “making someone straight.” Just is what you are when you’ve been made straight in God’s eyes.
The doctrine of justification is central to our faith. Martin Luther called it “the cornerstone of Christianity.” J.I. Packer said, “A church that lapses from justification by faith can scarcely be called Christian.” It is the doctrine that answers the question, “How can a man be made right with God?”
When you turn to the New Testament, you find that the Greek words for Justification, Justify, Just and Righteousness (which comes from the same Greek root) are used over 100 times. Nobody can read the New Testament and miss this concept. You especially find it in Paul’s thinking and most especially in the book of Romans.
For instance, turn to Romans 3 and take out a pen or pencil. Circle in your Bible every instance of the word Justify, Justification or Just in Romans 3-5. Here are the occasions:
That’s 14 times in 3 chapters. This is clearly a major doctrine to the Apostle Paul.
The Verdict Is In: “Not Guilty”
But exactly what does it mean to be justified? It will help to know that Paul is borrowing a term from the courtroom. In particular, it’s a term for the final verdict in a trial. It’s what happens when the jury has returned and the judge says, “Have you reached a verdict?” and the foreman says, “Yes we have.” The judge says, “What is your verdict?” and the foreman replies, “We the jury find the defendant not guilty.”
To justify someone means to find them “Not Guilty.” But it means more than that. Because if someone is “Not Guilty” then they are declared to be innocent of the charges brought against them. When you justify a person, you declare publicly that they are not guilty and are in fact innocent in the eyes of the law.
If you are justified, it means that in the record books by your name there are no black marks. If you are justi-fied, it means your record is clear and clean. It means the charges are dropped. There is no guilt, no penalty, no condemnation. Every demand of the law has been met in full.
Go to the Head of the Class
Here’s a definition that will help us. Justification is the act of God whereby he declares publicly that when a sinner believes in Jesus that sinner is righteous in his eyes. Note four things about justification from Romans 3-5.
It is …
1. Based on God’s grace. Romans 3:24
2. Grounded in the blood of Christ. Romans 5:9
3. Not according to our works. Romans 4:5
4. Through faith Alone. Romans 3:28
Sometimes you hear people talk about justification and forgiveness as if they were the same thing. They are not. It is true that they happen at the same time and are inseparable. No one is forgiven who is not also justified. No one is justified who is not also forgiven. But they are not the same.
—Forgiveness is the subtraction of that which is sinful from your record.
—Justification is the addition that which is righteous to your record.
Let’s put it this way. If you God gave you a report card on your life without Jesus Christ, what would it look like? It would be covered with black marks for all the sin you committed. Indeed, God gives you and the whole human race an F. You flunk every test. But when you come to Jesus, your F is washed away and your sins are gone.
But now what grade would God give you? A C (barely passing)? A B (okay but not great)? No, the moment your F is washed away (that’s forgiveness), God gives you an A (that’s justification). You get the grade Christ earned because he finished his course as valedictorian of the class. You don’t squeak by with God. You make the honor roll. You go to the head of the class.
Why? Because you are so good? No. Left to yourself you would still flunk every course. You get an A because you are united with Jesus Christ.
The same righteousness that once demanded that you get an F … now demands that you get an A. You are not half justified and half condemned. You are not partially forgiven and partially punished. You are altogether forgiven. Your record is wiped clean. You are declared righteous. You are made straight in the eyes of God. That’s what justification is all about.
Do Versus Done
You can see why this changed Martin Luther’s life. It was this doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone that sparked the Protestant Reformation. It is the central doctrine of our faith and the one doctrine that sets Christianity apart from the religions of the world.
Friday night as I was driving with the boys out to the football game in Downers Grove, I turned on WMBI and listened to a message by Bill Hybels, pastor of Willowcreek Community Church. At one point, he told how they train their people to explain the difference between religion and Christianity.
He said, “We teach our people that ’religion’ is spelled with two letters—’D-O.’” Religion is a list of things people think they have to do in order to be accepted by God—go to church, give money, keep the Ten Commandments, say the Rosary, be baptized, pray every day. The list is endless. It’s always Do … Do … Do. That’s what religion is all about. If you want to go to heaven, you’ve going to do something and keep on doing it until the day you die.
Then Bill Hybels said, “We teach our people that ’Christianity’ is spelled with four letters—’D-O-N-E.’” He’s exactly right. Christianity is not based on what we do but upon what Jesus Christ has already done. If you want to go to heaven, you don’t have to do anything; you just have trust in what Jesus Christ has already done for you.
That’s it. That’s the whole difference—Do versus Done. Either you do it or you believe that Jesus Christ has already done it for you.
What Justification Means
There are three important personal implications of this truth for the believer. If you are justified, then …
1. Your standing with God couldn’t be improved because God sees you in Christ. Think of it. You am in Christ. When God looks at you, he sees his Son. Therefore, your standing before God could not be better. Through faith, you am united with Jesus Christ and his righteousness covers you both. When God looks at you he doesn’t see your sin; he sees the righteousness of his own Son.
2. Your salvation is secure and certain because it rests on what Jesus did for you. This is the great truth of eternal security. Justification means that you am straight in the eyes of God by virtue of the straightness of Jesus Christ. He is right therefore you are right. He is holy therefore you are holy. He is accepted by God therefore you are accepted by God. He is seated in heaven therefore you are seated in heaven with him.
Your salvation is secure because it does not rest on you in any way, shape or form. It doesn’t rest on your works because you are justified by faith. But it doesn’t even rest on your faith because your salvation is based not on your faith but on what Jesus Christ did on the cross.
In the words of Jack Wyrtzen, because you have believed in Jesus Christ, you are as sure of heaven as if you had already been there for 10,000 years.
3. Your self-image is healthy because you know God accepts you just the way you are. You don’t have to try justifying yourself. God has already justified you. You don’t have to try to clean up your act so that God will accept you. He has already accepted you on the basis of what Jesus Christ did on the cross. Nothing you can do or could ever do can add to the value of the death of Jesus Christ. It is fully sufficient.
The old hymn says, “Just as I am, without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me, and that Thou bidst me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.” The nice thing about that hymn is that it is entirely accurate. You come to God just as you are. It’s the only way you can ever come to God. You come on the basis of the blood of Christ. You come because he bids you to come. And most importantly, you come. That’s what saving faith is all about. It is coming to Jesus Christ just the way you are.
Who Will Condemn Me?
A few chapters later in the book of Romans, Paul comes to a great triumphant conclusion about the security of those who are in Jesus Christ. This is how he puts it:
Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Romans 8:33-34
Will my enemies condemn me? No, God justified me.
Will my friends condemn me? No, God justified me.
Will the demons condemn me? No, God justified me.
Will Satan himself condemn me? No, God justified me.
Will Jesus turn on me? No, he died for me.
Will my sins rise up to condemn me? What sins? My sins are gone forever. My slate is wiped clean.
Will my conscience condemn me and guilt overwhelm me?
Maybe on earth but not in heaven. Up there the record is clear forever. I’m justified. I am declared righteous in the eyes of God. I am acceptable to him on the basis of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And that wholly apart from my works. And only through faith in Jesus Christ.
Best of all … God is not confused by my confusion. He does not doubt because I doubt. He is fully satisfied with Jesus. And I have put my faith in Jesus. Therefore God is satisfied with me. I’m justified.
Ruth Bell Graham
Most of you know the great evangelist Billy Graham. His wife, Ruth Bell Graham, is a vibrant, dynamic Christian who is worthy of recognition in her own right. Several years ago she wrote a wonderful book entitled It’s My Turn. In one of her chapters she quotes from her journal … from a day when she was burdened with many cares … from a day when she felt totally inadequate as a mother and wife. These are her words:
I am a weak, lazy, indifferent character; casual when I should be concerned, concerned when I should be carefree; self-indulgent, hypocritical, begging God to help me when I am hardly willing to lift a finger for myself; quarrelsome where I should be silent, silent where I should be outspoken; vacillating, easily distracted and sidetracked.
Thou knowest how soon my mind
from Heavenly things to earthly
is drawn aside.
How oft I fail and fall.
I have found tremendous comfort in this old hymn:
Come ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded,
Sick and sore;
Jesus, waiting, stands to help you,
Full of mercy, love and power …
Let not conscience bid you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness he requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.
“What would I do,” wrote Chalmers, “if God did not justify the ungodly?”
And “What would I do,” said Thomas Boston of Scotland, “but for the imputed righteousness?”
There it is. All that I am not, He is; all that I am and should not be, He forgives and covers. (pp. 104-105)
There it is—the doctrine of justification in one simple question. “What would I do if God did not justify the ungodly?” Ask yourself that question. What would you do? Where would you go? Where would you be if God were not willing to justify the ungodly?
The answer is, you would be where Martin Luther was—crawling on your knees, praying desperately to God, sinking ever deeper under the crushing load of unforgiven sin. Reformation Sunday is all about this great truth—That God does indeed justify the ungodly. And he does it by faith alone.
Let me put it to you directly. Where do you stand with God today? Are you straight with him or is your life still one big crooked mess? Have you been justified by faith alone?
Let your mind pause to consider the phrase Ruth Bell Graham quoted from that old hymn: “All the fitness he requireth is to feel your need of Him.” Think of it. The only requirement is that you admit you need Jesus. Do you need him? If the answer is yes, then come to Jesus and you will discover that he will take you just the way you are.
Our Father, we thank you that you are able to straighten that which is crooked and make right that which has gone wrong. Some of us have struggled under such a load of guilt for so many years that we hardly believe that anyone—even you!—could ever take it away. Grant us faith to believe your word, and in believing, to find rest for our souls. This we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.
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