faith

Often, when we think about the doctrine of salvation, we mean the specific aspect of salvation called justification.

Justification is the aspect of salvation where we are declared righteous by God.

The doctrine of justification was seminal to Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther struggled regarding salvation for years. He sought to be justified (made right with God) through his works. This is the basic teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and was certainly Luther’s primary understanding prior to his conversion. For Roman Catholics, the works that justify are the sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, Penance, Eucharist, etc.) By participating in these sacraments, the good Catholic is supposed to be justified, that is made right with God. Luther’s problem was that he was a consistent confessor of his sins and an effective participant in these sacraments, yet had not experienced salvation. He had no peace or assurance that he had been forgiven.

Luther’s turning point (and indeed the significant turning point in the Protestant Reformation) was Habakkuk 2:4 quoted in Romans 1:17, “The just shall live by faith.” Like a lightning bolt, Luther understood. One could not be justified by works or good deeds. Rather, justification came by faith alone.

Justification by faith alone initiated the Reformation emphasis of the five solas. Salvation is through Christ alone, by grace alone, in faith alone, from Scripture alone, for the glory of God alone.

Paul details the doctrine of justification further in Romans 3.

20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Romans 3:20-26, emphasis mine.

Justification comes by God through Christ’s work on the cross. Justification was earned by Christ. It is a gift of grace to the believer. It is received by faith.

You might ask, “Why doesn’t God just unilaterally forgive sin? Why did God need to go through the terrible judgment of the cross and judge our sin through Christ?”

Think about God as a Judge. He will one day judge every person who has walked planet earth. Could he just wipe away sin? I guess he could, but what kind of judge would he be if he just wiped away our sins? Consider a court of law. Imagine if a murderer were facing a judge. The murderer was evidentially and admittedly guilty of the crime. There was no challenging his guilt; he was guilty of his crime. But when standing before the judge, the judge pronounced him innocent and let him walk away. The judge said something like this, “The evidence is here. I’ve seen it. I choose to ignore the evidence and the guilt. I pronounce you innocent. You may go your way.” What confidence could we have in that judge or that judicial system? This is not what it means to be justified before God.

God, the Father, our Judge, has seen our sin and wickedness—with perfect clarity. Our guilt and sin are against God. He’s the One who has judged us guilty. But then God does something unique and wonderful. In the midst of his indescribable holiness, in the depth of our sinful depravity, in the truth and justice of our sinful guilt, God the Father does justify us (declare us right before him). He is able to do so, not because he unilaterally declares us innocent, but because he sent Jesus to take our place. Jesus’ death on the cross was God’s judgment on sin. As such, God did punish sin. He punished Christ for our sin. So when God declares us justified, he does so on the basis of Christ’s death on the cross that paid the penalty for our sin.

Justification is an act of God through Jesus Christ. It is a gift of grace, not merited by our works, but solely by Christ’s works. It is received by faith alone in Jesus Christ.

Justification motivates us to receive the glorious gift of salvation by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:24-25). If you haven’t received the gift of salvation, consider trusting in Jesus Christ today.

Justification provides us ample reason to praise God. Your salvation is not by your own deeds or from your own goodness. It is a gracious gift of God that reveals the unfathomable depth of God’s mercy and grace.

March 2021. A year ago this month, the Covid-19 pandemic shut down society. Schools went remote. Churches stopped gathering. Remote school became a thing. Daily virus updates began. The list could go on. By now, we are very familiar with the changes that have affected each of us during this past year.

For many, the change in circumstances has been intensely personal and difficult. Some of us have dealt with sickness and disease. Some with Covid-19 and some with other illnesses. Some have lost loved ones. Some have experienced isolation. Some of us have battled demons we thought were long gone. Some of us have faced new temptations. Some of us have been devastated by our fears. But all of us have been affected.

In light of the circumstances of the past year God spoke to me through my devotional reading, and I wanted to share these thoughts with you.

I’m reading through the book of Exodus. One of the most powerful verses in the Bible comes from God speaking to Moses in Exodus 12.

For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. 

Exodus 12:12

The people of Israel have been in Egypt for more than 400 years. Most of those years they were enslaved. God sent Moses back to Egypt from the wilderness to lead the people of Israel out of slavery. At this point in the story, Moses and Aaron have been back and forth in front of Pharaoh requesting permission to leave Egypt to worship God in the wilderness. Pharaoh hardened his heart and refused to relent even after 9 devastating plagues on Egypt. So God promised a final plague of judgment on Egypt’s gods. Pharaoh himself was a god in Egypt, so the act of judgment against the firstborn is God’s judgment on the worship of Pharaoh. The truth of the text is that God executes authority over false gods. The LORD alone is sovereign.

What stood out to me was considering this text in light of how the people of Israel had to feel. They were enslaved, burdened, beaten, and treated poorly. They did not have freedom. They suffered greatly even after Moses’ arrival and promise of rescue. Israel’s experiences of suffering and difficulty kept them in a place of unbelief. From the rest of the Exodus account, it is clear that even God’s miraculous interventions and judgments were not enough to keep Israel believing in the Lord.

What is the most important lesson in this text? What is the best medicine for our circumstances in life?

It is the statement, “I am the LORD.” This affirmation is the name of God, Yahweh, that God gave Moses in an earlier conversation (Exodus 3:14).

The LORD, when used in all caps in the Bible is the personal name for God, Yahweh. It is literally, “I AM that I AM.” The LORD is. He alone is God. He is sovereign. He rules. He can be counted on.

In the context of Exodus 12, God is affirming his existence, reality, and sovereignty over the supposed deities of Egypt. And the LORD proved these through the plagues and judgments on Egypt.

The Psalmist picks up on this very idea as well when he pens the beautiful affirmation of the LORD’s love and goodness in Psalm 100.

Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Psalm 100:3

The Psalmist uses the personal name for God, Yahweh. His point is the same as God speaking to Moses in the book of Exodus. The LORD is in control, and he wants us to know him and trust him.

Are you struggling with isolation? Know the LORD, and know that you are his. You are never alone.

Are you worried about powers, circumstances, and politics that have changed our lives so drastically? Know that the LORD is the one who defeated Egypt’s deities and rescued his people from slavery. The LORD alone is God.

Are you afraid of what’s going on around you? Know that the LORD is God. He cared for his people in Egypt, as they left Egypt, as the wandered in the wilderness, and as they entered the promised land. He will care for and keep you wherever you are.

Are you unwell and facing physical illness? Know that the LORD is Creator. He made you, and he is able to heal. And if he does, then you will be well. And if he doesn’t, then your illness cannot separate you from the Lord.

Are you confident in him today? Know that the LORD is with you. Remember that if you are his, he will never lose you or let you go.

Pause and thank God today that you know him. Pause and praise God today that he knows you. And trust that he is LORD.

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash