Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1).
How can a person, burdened down with the guilt of his sin, obtain peace with God? According to Scripture there is only remedy: justification by faith in Christ. ‘Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Romans 5:1).
‘Justification’ is a legal term; it is the very opposite of ‘condemnation.’ The accused is condemned if the judge pronounces a ‘guilty’ verdict; he is justified if the judge declares him ‘not guilty’ and frees him from all punishment.
God, the Judge of the world, would certainly justify us if we were righteous. However the sad truth is that we are far from being righteous. We must plead guilty because we have acted contrary to his Law, and since we are sinners and unjust, God’s sentence must be our condemnation.
How then can a man be just before God? Some denomination teaches that God finally justifies a person when the sinner, by the sacraments, good works, penance and purgatory, becomes just and righteous.
Admittedly, God works in the life of his children, changing them to become more and more like his Son. Still, as long as they are on earth, Christians continue to sin (1 John 1:8). The teaching — God justifies the righteous — is bad news to every person on earth.
May God be praised for his unspeakable mercy: the Bible presents a different message! ‘To him who does not work but believes on him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness’ (Romans 4:4, 5).
God does not justify the believer because he is righteous –he is not! God justifies ‘the ungodly.’ Neither does God acquit him because of any credit gained by personal good works. God justifies ‘him who does not work’! This is the true gospel, comforting balm for the poor sinner’s soul!
How can God justify the believer, seeing that he is still a sinner? The answer to this vital question touches the core of the gospel. God is perfectly just when he justifies those who believe in his Son because Christ, the Lamb of God, accepted full responsibility for their sins. ‘The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all’ (Isaiah 53:6).
Sadly many people are too proud to accept God’s gracious pardon. They feel that they must also do something to merit forgiveness. Instead of trusting in him, they end up relying on themselves. The Lord Jesus once told a parable in the hearing of some ‘who trusted in themselves that they were righteous.’
‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank you, that I am not like other men — extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other’ (Luke 18:9-14).
The first man presented his own righteousness and good works to God; the second approached God empty-handed. The Pharisee considered himself righteous and came confidently forward; the publican was painfully aware of his poverty and shame. Both went up to the temple to pray — the self-righteous man asked for nothing; the publican pleaded for mercy. One was trusting in himself to be spiritually good, but in God’s eyes, he was not. The other depended solely upon God’s mercy and he went home justified.
Here we must make a choice between these two alternatives: complete trust in God or reliance on human effort. Some denomination pronounces a curse on all those who say that ‘justifying faith is nothing more than confidence in the divine mercy, which forgives sins because of Christ.’ I must admit that for my justification, I have nothing but ‘confidence in the divine mercy’ — just as the publican had.
Are you seeking to be accepted of God on account of your deeds, or are you leaning by faith upon the all-merciful God? Your answer marks the difference between your justification or condemnation.