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Justified by Faith - Part 1

2nd August 2019

This passage contains the heart of the Christian message, the doctrine known as Justification by Faith.

Romans 3:20-28
Therefore no-one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But a righteousness from God, now apart from the law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.
There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

Firstly, no-one will be declared righteous in his [God's] sight by observing the law because we've all broken God's law. Although some people might deny it, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Every one of us, including the person you most admire, and the people you most love and want to affirm, have sinned. They have done things contrary to God's revealed will. They have failed to do things God requires. In Biblical language, they have broken God's law. They have sinned.

God is absolutely perfect. He is the only person without sin in the entire universe. And He will not permit sin to come into His presence. This gives us humans a major problem. The most obvious aspect of this problem is that we will all die. Many people seem to believe that everybody goes to heaven when they die, and we can understand why they would want to believe that, but it's not true. Because we are what the Bible calls "sinners" – people who live contrary to God's will – we cannot enter heaven, where God lives. Instead, our sin condemns us to eternity in hell.

The other aspect of our problem is that we have no relationship with God on earth before we die. When we pray, God doesn't seem to answer. When we need peace, joy and hope, we have none – or, at least, none that's lasting, pure and genuine.

Romans 6:23 tells us that The wages of sin is death. The reward we get for living a life that fails to meet God's standards is eternal death. Of course it is, since we can't enter into heaven. But that verse goes on to say "but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord". We can't earn eternal life, we can't deserve eternal life, but eternal life is a free gift from almighty God.

You know that advertisers often claim to offer us free gifts. But you also know that there's always a catch; the free gift isn't really free. And you know that many people don't receive the free gift, because they don't ask for it. But God's gift of eternal life is genuinely free to all who will receive it.

Nonetheless, many people don't ask for God's free gift. And it's the church's job to explain the free gift as well as we can to those around us.

How do we receive this free gift? Our first passage tells us the answer. It tells us that God is willing to make us righteous. Romans 3:24 says that we can be justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

It's important to understand this word "justified". It's used in the courtroom. When a person stands before the judge, and the judge hands down the verdict, that verdict might be "guilty", or it might be "innocent", or it might be "no case to answer". If the verdict is either "innocent" or "no case to answer" then the defendant is justified – it is declared that he can go free because there is no longer a charge against him. God offers us this justification freely.

How does this happen? The next verse tells us: "God presented him [Jesus] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood". Jesus's death on the cross was not a mistake; it was not pointless, it was not merely a demonstration of God's perfect love for us. It was necessary. It was a sacrifice of atonement for us. To make atonement is to pay whatever is necessary to put right what has been done wrong. For every crime, there is a set penalty: so many years for burglary, so many years for murder, and so on. And, as we've already seen, the set penalty for sin is death. Jesus's death on the cross paid the price necessary for us to avoid the death penalty, and so live for ever in the presence of God.

This is the Gospel – the Good News: whatever you've done, no matter how much harm you've done, no matter how much of your life you've wasted, Jesus has paid the penalty for your wrongdoing. And because He's paid the penalty, you don't have to pay it. Because God is just, He will never punish you for a sin that He's already punished Jesus for. You're declared innocent of all charges, and you don't have to do anything at all to atone for your sin.

As Hebrews 10:14 says "by one sacrifice he [Jesus] has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy", and verses 17-18 of that chapter say, "Their sins and lawless acts I [God] will remember no more. And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin".

This seems too good to be true. Many, many people don't believe it for that reason. They think there must be a catch. But there is no catch. But if you don't believe it, it does you no good.

It's rather like this. If you were in court, and the crime you'd committed required you to pay a fine of a million pounds, you couldn't raise the money. You couldn't atone for your crime. But if Jesus wrote out a cheque for a million pounds and offered it to you, and if you took it from Him, you could use His sacrifice to pay for your crime. But you would have to trust him that the cheque wouldn't bounce, and you'd have to take the cheque from His hand and give it to the judge. In the same way, we have to believe that Jesus's atoning sacrifice actually pays for our sin.

Sadly, many people, including some people who regularly go to church, don't really believe that. Many churchgoers are still trying to pay for their own sin. Many churchgoers still feel guilty. Going to church doesn't pay for your sin. Doing good doesn't pay for your sin. Only the blood of Jesus pays for your sin.

As we read, the righteousness that God offers us "comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe". If you can trust Jesus that His death pays the penalty for your crimes, then it will, completely. If you reject His offer, then it won't. Can you believe this? Do you believe it? This is the most important question you will ever face.

Romans 10:9 tells us "If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."

No other sacrifice is needed. At the moment that you accept that Jesus's death pays for your sins, and say out loud that Jesus is your Lord – that you will live for Jesus from now on – and mean it, you are 100% forgiven your sins, 100% adopted as a child of God, 100% accepted by God as His follower, His friend, and His child.

Of course, this changes your eternal destiny. Every Christian is justified by faith and so can now enter heaven. Every one of us will live with God for all eternity.

And it also affects our life on earth. We'll think about that next time.