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Monday, April 12, 2010

Is it faith or works which makes us right with God?

Paul stood up in the Synagogue in Pisidian Antioch in Galatia and preached these words, “Therefore my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the Law of Moses.” Acts 13:38-39. The Jews to whom Paul preached rejected this message. For they had devoted their entire lives to teaching the law of Moses as the means by which Israel would be found righteous before God. In so doing, they had completely over-looked the glorious portrait of forgiveness immersed within those words handed down to them by God.

The word “justification” is a judicial term meaning a pardon from wrong-doing. In Christian doctrine, it more specifically refers to sinners being pardoned from sin and then declared righteous before God. “Justification by faith alone” therefore, means that we are pardoned from sin and found righteous solely on the basis of our faith in Jesus Christ alone. This doctrine is not one developed by Protestants. It is a doctrine developed by God. It is this doctrine upon which the Church as well as every individual will either stand or fall. It is a doctrine which assaults the very pride of man. And yet, God’s Word over and over confronts man’s insistence that he must earn his uprightness. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “But now righteousness from God, apart from 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.” Romans 3:21-24. And again in Galatians 2:16 Paul writes, “know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.” The message is quite clear that justification comes solely through faith in Christ alone.

What is the result of this faith in Christ? “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Romans 5:1-2.

What then is the purpose of God’s law if it does not result in our being found righteous? “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.” Galatians 3:24. How does it lead us to Christ? “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” Romans 3:20. We quickly discover that we cannot fully observe God’s laws. Even “grading on the curve” leaves us lacking.

Christ, however, commands us to be obedient. Here is where we discover another benefit and truth from faith in Christ. Once again we read in Romans chapter 8, “1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature,] God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. 5Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7the sinful mind] is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. 8Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. 9You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” Romans 8:1-11. As these verses indicate, along with our justification we are given sanctification through the Holy Spirit. This same Holy Spirit is God’s promise of ultimate glorification of those who trust in Christ alone for salvation. “13And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession—to the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:13.

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