The Doctrine of Justification
The Doctrine of Justification
If you’re new to River City, we want to welcome you to the middle of our sermon series, called Do You Believe?, where we are exploring 12 core doctrines of the Christian faith. If that word “doctrine” scares you a little bit, or makes you nervous that we’re going to be talking about something you need a Doctorate in Theology to understand, the word doctrine simply means belief. So we could say we’re studying 12 core beliefs and mean the same thing. But as we’re studying these core beliefs or doctrines, we’re making sure to spend time on why it matters.
Guilty As Charged
So where we left off last week is that sin is active rebellion, crossing the boundaries God has established according to his absolute moral perfection and holiness. With Adam as our chief human, our table leader, the head of the human race, we are all guilty of his rebellion and of our own. That sin-guilt has stained and corrupted every part of us – mind, body, soul, emotion, work, relationships, wants, desires, etc – down to our very DNA, to the point where, like a zebra can’t just try harder to not have black and white stripes, we are helpless to do anything about our moral condition.
The bad news is that before a holy God, a righteous Judge, we have blood on our hands. We are guilty, not just of the actions of sin, but guilty of giving our hearts to something other than God.
Well, I’m a Good Person
When we understand sin from that perspective, it sort of makes a mockery of the “I’m a good person” argument. Right, we’ve talked about this before, where a person says, “Well, I know I’m not perfect, but I’m a good person.” Here’s why that statement is a problem:
- It puts you in the position of ultimate authority. You make yourself the Judge of what is ultimately right and wrong. No longer is God the one who decides what is good and what is evil, like Adam and Eve, you have moved away from his wisdom and applied your own wisdom, which leads to the second problem.
- You are judging by your own standard. If you go to Menards and you want to buy a sheet of plywood that is 4ft by 8ft, they ring you up for $30 and hand you a small square of plywood, you would be upset. When you complain to the manager, he says, well we’re using our own tape measure, and by our measurements that is 4ft by 8ft.
- There is a set standard for measuring lumber. An inch has to be an inch all around or it’s chaos.
- So it is with right and wrong. If everyone just uses their own measurements of what is good and right and true, we don’t have freedom – we have chaos.
God’s Standard for Good is Jesus
God’s standard for us is that we are holy, just like he is holy, and the measuring tape so to speak that he holds us up against is Jesus Christ himself. And the first part of Romans 3 that Chris read for us a minute ago tells us what God knew before he held us all up to the measuring tape of his Son Jesus:
There is no one righteous, not even one. 11 There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away; all alike have become worthless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one.
20 For no one will be justified in his sight by the works of the law, because the knowledge of sin comes through the law.
But there is a word in verse 20 that we’re going to be talking about today, and that word is the word “justified.” Our study today is on the Doctrine of Justification.
Change in Status
When we use the word justified these days, we use it in a situation where you got caught doing something you shouldn’t have, or you just feel guilty about something, and you try to talk yourself into why you were actually right instead of wrong.
This might be a dumb illustration because it’s too simple, but in our home, we recently had a family meeting where we let the kids help us make some new family rules about screens and devices. So, our agreement is that we’re staying off of devices from the time we wake up until 3pm, and when they can be used, they can’t be in bedrooms or the kitchen.
Well, we’re all people in progress, especially dad, so twice this week I got called out for breaking the new rules.
Now, confession and repentance would be to admit that I was wrong, and put the phone away. But that’s not what came naturally for me. The first thing I tried to do was to wrack my brain to find some loophole in the agreement that proves that not only was I not wrong to be on the phone, I was in fact doing something good and right and necessary that required me to be on my phone.
I wanted to, here’s that word, justify myself in that case. I wanted to make my wrong into something right; or another way to say it is, I tried to change my status from being guilty into being righteous.
Paul writes there in Romans 3 to say that in God’s eyes, we are all guilty of sin. We’ve all turned away, we’ve gone astray, etc and that I cannot change my own status of being guilty into being righteous, simply by trying harder to obey God this time around.
What I experienced when my kids called me out on my phone issue is that the sin of pride and self-preservation is built into my DNA – it is my natural first reaction: How do I get out of this? How do I protect myself from the shame of being found out to be wrong? Well, I have to manipulate the facts to fit my narrative.
It was built into me. It was part of my sin nature from before I was born. I can try harder to not be on my phone, but I can’t just try harder to not give my heart to other things. It was corrupted by Adam and Eve’s rebellion. In God’s eyes, in my natural, unredeemed state, as we talked about last week, our legal status is guilty and there is nothing we can do about it.
There is a legal term used in courtrooms which you might recognize, and that is the word “acquitted.” Someone was charged with a crime, but a jury of their peers found them not guilty. They are acquitted. That term gets you from the negative, being charged with a crime, back to neutral – you are free to go, try not to put yourself in this kind of situation again.
But the doctrine of justification says the blood of Jesus does more than just say you’re free to go, try harder next time.
Skipping ahead in Romans a few chapters to 5:19, we read last week that in the same way that Adam’s disobedience in the Garden has made us all guilty, through Jesus’ obedience many have been made righteous.
That’s actually the word “justified.” It means, “to be made righteous.” So what justification does is more than just say you’re not guilty anymore, it changes your status from “guilty” to “righteous!” The doctrine of Justification says that your guilt was applied to Christ, and his Perfection was applied to you.
It’s a Free Gift!
And the apostle Paul writes there in Romans 3 that yeah, you had nothing to do with that.
To explain this in school terms, since we’re meeting in a school, all humans were required to take the test of holiness to see if we met God’s standards, and when test day came, no one even showed up to take the test. Knew about it, but said forget it. Except one.
Jesus showed up and aced it. Then, without asking anyone for permission, Jesus grabbed some of those tests that weren’t even filled out, and switched them out. He put your name at the top of his perfect test and handed it in to his Father for you, and he took your blank paper and put his own name on it, and suffered the penalty in your place.
And here’s the crazy thing – you try that with your actual school teacher, and you will always be on edge that she will find out and then you’re really in trouble.
But God actually wants you to let Jesus do this for you. He actually loves it when he gets another one of Jesus’ papers with someone’s name on it. He was so fired up about it, that he raised Jesus from the dead to prove that the cross worked! Why? Because everytime a sinner gives up on being in control of their own lives, gives up on trying harder to be a good person, and willingly turns instead to faith in the finished work of Jesus, it’s one more completed step in his plan of redemption.
For that plan of redemption, please turn to Romans 8 with me, if you would.
Romans 8:28-30 talks about what that plan of redemption looks like. 28 We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose…which was that we would praise him for his glorious grace. And since no one would do that if completely left to ourselves, he specifically chose some to follow him.
29 For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
In other words, God decided from the very beginning that the measuring standard for the lives of humans would not be how well they do compared to others in their church, or community group, or in their school, or at their workplace, or who they play baseball with or who they go camping next to – but that the measuring standard for goodness and holiness and right-living would be his Son Jesus. He would be the first in line. Everything else is compared to him.
And since all of us fall far short of that standard, God had to go to work for us if anyone was to be saved.
- Those he foreknew he predestined… Since God knew we would all be born dead in our sin, he had to bring us back to life before we could do anything that looked like what Jesus would do. He would not have had to save anyone. He was under no obligation to do so. But, in love, Ephesians 1 says, he graciously chose to resuscitate some rebellious humans – to bring them to life. When you who are parents found out that you were expecting your first child, or you had a family member who was expecting, you hadn’t met that child yet but you were already madly in love. You were going to do everything in your power to raise them the way you believed was right, but you didn’t actually see the future. You didn’t know and still don’t know what choices they will make tomorrow, but were determined to love them no matter what. God actually could see the future. He foresaw every second of your story. He knew every single act of rebellion. He knew every single evil thought, motive, and desire that your sin nature would produce in you. He knew the things you would give your heart to, and he decidedly set his heart to love you anyway, before you had given him a second thought, or even a first thought. He knew you as a person, saw your sinful state, and decided to move toward you in love and grace to save you before you had made any decisions about him, so that you could voluntarily and willingly receive the good news and be saved. Jesus didn’t die to make people saveable – he took names to the cross (Tripp, 314).
- It completely strips us of our pride, completely robs us of our self-congratulations. It forces us to say, “It is by grace I have been saved.” There is no other explanation.
- This is one of the motivations for missions and VBS and mentoring programs and planting new churches! When we came to Riverside, we came knowing full well that God had chosen to bring some of this city’s residents to faith in Jesus. There’s no way we can know which ones, so we want to make every effort to bring the gospel to everyone.
- Those he predestined he also called. 2 Thess 2:14 says this calling comes through the preaching of the gospel. Maybe it happens in a coffee shop as someone shares the good news of Jesus with a friend. Sometimes it’s through a sermon at a church or a conference or at camp. It could be through reading or watching something where someone hears the gospel. For those God had chosen to bring to life, ever since they were born, God was preparing their hearts for the day that they would hear the message of the gospel, and would willingly, voluntarily respond to it. And as that gospel is being preached or taught or explained, God does something in that sinner that causes them to want to respond to the gospel and trust it alone for their salvation
- Those he called he also justified. Look at the verse – Who is doing the justifying? He is. Galatians 2:16 says, we know that a person is not justified (made righteous) by the works of the law (or earning it by doing a better job of being a Christian) but by faith in Jesus Christ. What does this mean? It means that at the exact moment that God opened your eyes to see the beauty of the gospel, and you willingly responded by trusting the gospel of Jesus to be true, you were instantly justified. In a split second, what God had planned for you since before he said “Let there be light” happened exactly as he intended it to, where your status in God’s eyes was changed from sinner, enemy, guilty, helpless, ungodly, to righteous, adopted son or daughter. In that exact moment, everything gained by Jesus' life, death, and resurrection is applied to you without your lifting a finger to make it happen.
- His perfect record of obedience to the Father throughout his life - applied to you! You’re not just back to neutral to try harder, the righteousness of Christ is applied to you just as if you did it.
- His death as the punishment for your sins, past, present, future, standing in for guilty, condemned, DNA-level sinners - applied to you just as if you were the one who died! You don’t have to pay for your sin!
- His resurrection is applied to you, meaning the DNA-level sinner that was you stayed in the grave, and a new creation, a new YOU, with a new heart that is capable of loving and serving and enjoying the Father was given to you; then you were filled with new life in the Spirit!
- His direct relationship to his Father was given to us: Our relationship to God is no longer marked by separation, but by open and direct access through prayer - given to you as a gift.
- From this point on, you are in Christ, meaning you’re not going to hell anymore! Author Elyse Fitzpatrick writes, “The Father has immeasurable love for his Son, and because we are in his Son, one with him, part of the family, the Father has immeasurable love for us. When the Father looks at us, he doesn’t scratch his head and wonder, “How did she get in here? What is he doing here?” No, he says, “this is my beloved daughter, my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased (Tripp, 315). Romans 3:24 says this all is a free gift of his grace… they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
- Those he justified he also glorified. What I want you to notice about this is the verb tenses. The moment you were justified, glory is as good as a done deal. So much so that Paul writes it in past tense, as if it already happened. Ephesians 2 puts it like this: He also raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace through his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. Raised us up, seated us with him – both past tense – so that in the coming ages, in the future, he would display the riches of grace to us in Christ Jesus. What God planned before the foundation of the world, he will most definitely, most certainly, follow through to completion all the way to the moment you step into the fully realized kingdom of God, where he makes all things new and wipes away all tears.
The Doctrine we’ll look at in two weeks after the break deals with what happens between these realities. What happens between our salvation now (entering the kingdom of God) and the fully realized kingdom that is on the horizon (the coming ages).
So why does this doctrine matter so much? Why is believing this so important?
“The doctrine of justification tells you that your acceptance with God has not been nor ever will be based on the track record of your own righteousness. Your acceptance with God, even on your worst, most foolish, most rebellious day, stands on the solid rock of the perfectly righteous life and the complete penalty-paying death of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Tripp, 337).
This doctrine absolutely crushes our pride, and unleashes a new kind of living in us.
- We can show grace to the people we live with, the people we work with, the people we go to school with, because we are completely forgiven and eternally loved! It’s a love we didn’t deserve and could not have earned.
- You don’t have to measure up to any of the laws requirements before you come to God! Jesus met those requirements for you, so that you can come as you right now to the full access granted you by Jesus.
- Because your salvation doesn’t depend on you, you are freed from having to prove you are worth something. You don’t have to be something. Your identity doesn’t come from your accomplishments or your job, or from being in control, or serving in church, or winning at life, or being strong or prepared or capable, or getting good grades, conservative or liberal, single or married. Your identity doesn't come from hiding your weaknesses or pretending to be something you’re not. Your identity is that you are a blood-bought, adopted child of God! No one can take that away from you, no matter what they do to your physical body.
- With Christ in you, you have a new heart… God’s heart… in you by the Holy Spirit. So you no longer are slaves to that old dead heart that’s DNA loved to sin. Oh, our sinful nature is still there and you will be tempted by it all the time until you die and get a new body, but with Christ in you, you don’t have to sin. The same power that Jesus lived with is in you, so you can say no to the pressures of what you know is not honoring to God, and you have the ability to say YES to every righteous thing God has called you to (Tripp, 334).
What Should I Do?
When you fall short again this afternoon, or tomorrow morning, or Thursday at 2:30pm, confess your sin, commit yourself to repentance, and then stand up and celebrate that what you just did has already been covered by the blood of Jesus, and cannot erase the legal status of “not-guilty” that has been given to you based on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus!”
Comfort of Comforts
Romans 8 goes on after verse 30 to say that the Doctrine of Justification should be one of the greatest comforts a believer can have! What are we to say about these things, that those he predestined he called, those he called he justified, those he justified he also glorified – what are we to say about that?
Paul says, here’s what I have to say about that: If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He did not even spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. How will he not also with him grant us everything? 33 Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies.
Who is going to accuse you of sinning too much, when God has already called you righteous?
34 Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is the one who died, but even more, has been raised; he also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us.
Who is going to condemn you and say you’ve done something so bad that God can’t forgive you? Jesus not only died for sin, he is alive right now, and he’s sitting next to God the Father PRAYING FOR ME! Who can separate us from that kind of love?!?!?!
35 … Can affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? If I am experiencing pain, or sorrow, or being mocked or roughed up because I follow Jesus; If I am experiencing physical lack of food, or lack of clothes, lack of physical safety…even if I am murdered for my faith, it does not mean that God has abandoned me. Quite the contrary.
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Christ Died for Sinners
I’ll close with this: The great reformer Martin Luther said that when the devil shows up in your thoughts and tells you that you are a sinner and therefore unlovable or unsavable, we can reply, “it is because I am a sinner that I will be saved.” The devil may reply, “no, you are condemned.” You will reply, “No, for I fly to Christ, who has given himself for my sins. Therefore, Satan, you will not prevail against me when you try to terrify me by telling me how great my sins are and try to reduce me to heaviness, distrust, despair, hatred, contempt and blasphemy. On the contrary, when you say I am a sinner, you give me armor and weapons against YOU, so that I can cut your throat with your own sword and tread you under my feet, BECAUSE CHRIST DIED FOR SINNERS. My sin is on his shoulders, not mine. So when you say I am a sinner, you do not terrify me but you comfort me immeasurably” (Ortlund, 98).
Gregg Allison, Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011)
Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994)
Paul David Tripp, Do You Believe? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021)
Ray Ortlund, The Death of Porn; Men of Integrity Building A World of Nobility (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021)