grace

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.

Last week’s article, Anchored in the Word, emphasized our need to be dependent upon the Bible for our spiritual life.

This week’s article is going to build from that previous post. Not only do we need to be anchored in God’s Word, but we need to be anchored in the gospel of Jesus Christ. At first glance, it might have made more sense to emphasize our dependence upon the gospel prior to our dependence on God’s Word. However, it is through God’s Word that we become acquainted with the gospel.

The Apostle Peter wrote:

Since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

1 Peter 1:23-25 (Emphasis mine)

In the first chapter of his letter, Peter grounds Christian conduct on the salvation of the believer. Paul does something similar in his letters. Doctrine (who we are in Christ based on Scripture) grounds Christian conduct (what we do in Christ commanded by Scripture). In other words, it is from the Scriptures that we learn the gospel and our need for Jesus Christ.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news of salvation. For the earliest Christians, the gospel repeated the basic story of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus’ passion and resurrection have always been the central focus of the Christian gospel.

The gospel intertwines with our lives as we reflect on the reason for Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. This good news of salvation flows out of the truths of God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness. God is supremely holy and demands absolute righteousness (the reason for the OT Law). But mankind has not been able to keep God’s standard of holiness. From our first parents in the garden until now, we are all sinful (Romans 3:23).

That God’s demand is holiness and we are sinful is not good news. Rightfully, God judges sinners, and if God gave us justice, we would be eternally punished for our sinfulness (Romans 6:23).

This is where the good news of the gospel comes in. Jesus came to take our place. The story of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection is the story of the God/Man (Jesus Christ) who met God’s standards and became the Substitute for mankind who did not meet God’s standards.

The good news, the gospel, is that through Christ we might be justified (that is made right with God, Romans 3:24-26), made new (2 Corinthians 5:17), made alive (Ephesians 2:1-10), and experience the fullness of God’s life for us (John 10:10).

  • To experience this gospel, we must admit that we don’t deserve it or earn it. Rather, we receive it by faith (Romans 10:9-10).
  • To experience this gospel, we must admit that we are spiritually broken and impoverished. Rather, we receive it through grace (Matthew 5:3).
  • To experience this gospel, we must recognize that it is both our entry point into relationship with God and the means of spiritual growth in our relationship with God (Ephesians 2:8-10; 1 Peter 1).

The reason we must be anchored in this gospel is because Satan, our enemy, has developed many false gospels that distract and distort from the true gospel. These false gospels deceive many into believing they have the real thing. These false gospels damage the spiritual lives of many believers. These false gospels bind many to untruths that hinder their spiritual development.

False gospels:

  • Legalism. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were legalistic. In legalism, one’s standing with God is based on behavior rather than the gospel of grace. Some, who claim to be Christians, believe their salvation is dependent on their works. And some Christians receive salvation by grace, but then proceed to depend on their deeds as a means for God’s approval. In short, legalism rests on our ability to fulfill the law. Legalism is not good news, because we can never be righteous enough.
  • Antinomianism. This word means anti-law and is the extreme opposite of legalism. If legalism says that our spiritual lives depend on obedience to the law, antinomianism says that how we behave has no bearing on our spiritual lives. Paul decried this false teaching in Romans 6:1-2. Antinomianism misses the point of the law altogether. God’s laws reflect the holiness of his character. As believers, we are to obey God, but not as a means to God’s approval. Rather, we are to obey God out of the approval we have from God through Jesus Christ. Antinomianism is not good news because it rejects the basis for the gospel–God’s holy demands.
  • Prosperity Gospel. The prosperity gospel teaches that enough faith, prayers, and generosity to the right ministries will result in health, wealth, and status. Prosperity teachers emphasize the experiences of here and now as opposed to God’s eternal plans for glorification and reward. This false teaching is unfortunately spreading very rapidly in our world. The prosperity gospel is not good news because it treats God more like a genie in a bottle than the Sovereign and Holy God that he is. It also puts much more emphasis on our response than God’s character and actions.
  • Liberalism. In theological liberalism, the primary emphasis for Christians is on love and justice in the world. The social gospel and social justice are common phrases in this false gospel. Liberalism emphasizes behavior (love and justice) far more than belief because it oftentimes rejects the supernaturalism found in the biblical worldview. I want to be careful here. Christians are to show love and pursue justice. But these are not the means of the gospel. Rather, these are the characteristics of Christians living out of the gospel. Liberalism is not good news because it does not recognize the depth of human sin nor the supernatural means of God’s redemptive work.
  • Moral Therapeutic Deism. This false gospel is a fancy way of articulating much of Western Christianity’s emphasis on doing good and treating biblical characters as mere moral models. God’s primary responsibility here is to encourage Christians to be good in behavior. Moral therapeutic deism is not good news because it diminishes God’s nature and minimizes Christian experience to being “good people.” This false gospel is seductive because many Christians fall into it unknowingly when they emphasize moral behavior over the good news of the gospel.

The root of these false gospels is pride and self. The root of the true gospel is Christ and what he brings to us.

We need to be anchored in the gospel because the gospel makes much of God. The glory of the good news for us is that the only part we truly play is that we come to God as sinners. God gets the glory for our salvation. We get the privileges of forgiveness and walking with God.

We must think on these things. In his helpful book Your Mind Matters, John Stott encourages us to think on the gospel regularly.

We are to consider not only what we should be but what by God’s grace we already are. We are constantly to recall what God has done for us and say to ourselves: “God has united me with Christ in his death and resurrection, and thus obliterated my old life and given me an entirely new life in Christ. He has adopted me into his family and made me his child. He has put his Holy Spirit within me and so made my body his temple. He has also made me his heir and promised me an eternal destiny with him in heaven. This is what he has done for me and in me. This is what I am in Christ.”

John Stott, Your Mind Matters, 59.

Reread that quote. If you need to, keep reading it. It will do you good to reflect on who God is and what he has done in the gospel to bring you to himself.

Take a moment (or more than a moment) and praise God for the good news. Being anchored in the gospel requires that we think on these things often, praise God for these things regularly, preach the good news to ourselves consistently, and seek to obey God on the basis that he has made us his children.

Photo by Lucas Sankey on Unsplash