God Alone Justifies

 
 
God alone makes people right (Romans 8:33; Luke 18:9-14).  Because it is God who justifies, we do not have to!  We do not need to defend ourselves, make ourselves look good, or fool ourselves into believing that we are what we want others to think of us.  Insisting that we are always okay and right only creates division, separates people into bad and good, fosters disharmony, and is an affront to God.  To pursue what is already provided by God’s grace is sin.
 
            I realize I am using strong language here about self-justification.  But consider its origins.  It goes all the way back to the original sin of Adam and Eve.  They were told by God that they could eat from any tree in the garden; but they were given strict instructions not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Have you ever wondered why God deemed it so important not to eat of that specific tree?  The knowledge of good and evil actually seems like it might be useful, even necessary.  So, why completely avoid that tree?  When Adam and Eve ate from it their eyes were opened to a different perspective, a new reality that changed the way humanity deals with one another.  From that point forward people began drawing lines down the middle and placing themselves on the good side while vilifying those on the other side, the bad side.
 
            Adam and Even started justifying their actions, their attitudes, and their behavior on the day they fell by drawing lines between good and evil.  Adam drew a line between him and Eve.  Eve gave him the fruit; she is on the other side.  Eve drew a line between her and the serpent.  Adam drew a line between himself and God!  Ever since our original ancestors started drawing lines and taking sides, it has never stopped.  We draw political lines and place ourselves on the good side while demonizing the other side.  We draw religious lines and place ourselves on the good side while distancing ourselves from our fellow humanity and calling them evil.  We draw lines between classes, races, gender, and ethnicities.  We are constantly drawing lines and taking sides.  Violence, war, and every other sin in the world come from the original sin of self-justification:  I am okay, you are not.
 
            In the movie, What About Bob? Bill Murray was asked by his therapist why he was divorced.  His answer:  “There are two kinds of people in the world; those who like Neil Diamond, and those who don’t; my wife loved him.”  Bob drew a line, placing himself on the good side of it while implying that his ex-wife was on the other side, the bad side.  Ever since the fall of humanity we keep drawing lines and justifying our attitudes and our actions.
 
            Self-justification always compares itself with others.  People who think that it is their job to always be right are constantly concerned about other people; they need to know what is going on with them.  They keep their ear to the ground because they must be vigilant to keep the lines drawn and distinguish themselves from those on the other side, the bad side.
 
            But when we are justified by God and he makes us right by his own grace, the curse upon humanity is reversed.  Everything changes and reverts to its original design.  Our souls are rebuilt and become robust and vigorous not through effort and work, but through relaxation and rest in Christ’s finished work.  There is now no fear because there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  There is no comparisons needed anymore because God is enough, Christ is sufficient.  There is no more worry about how we look to others; instead, there is contentment and satisfaction in the love of God in Christ.
 

 

Only God can justify!  Righteousness is a gift.  Until we know this, receive the gift, and live in it, we will continue in vain to make ourselves look good and be on the right side of everything while making others look bad.  It is not the job of church ministries to group people into who is in and who is out, who is bad and who is good; rather, church ministry is to proclaim the righteousness of Christ as the only means of making people right.  If there are no sides to take, then we are all in life together.  Until we get to that point, there is no progress.  But when we do, there is peace, love, and abundant joy that God would save such as sinner as I.

Jesus Is Enough

 
 
Jesus is our great high priest.  His priesthood, his intercessory ministry, is permanent.  He is the once-for-all sacrifice for sins.  Jesus lives forever.  He saves completely.  Jesus meets our need.  He has been made perfect forever (Hebrews 7:23-28).  Say any of those statements in the typical church and hardly an eyebrow would get raised – they almost seem ho-hum.  Our blank affect testifies that we have lost a great deal of the original force and extreme impact of Christianity.
 
In the first century, it was a radical idea to have one sacrifice to end all sacrifices.  Every ancient person understood that sacrifices were only temporary; you had to keep offering them over and over again.  Christianity, however, asked the world to have a new understanding of sacrifice.  No longer would there be any sacrifice – no grain sacrifice; no offerings of first-fruits; no animal sacrifices; no sacrifices, period.  There was no longer any need for them because Jesus is the once-for-all sacrifice to end all sacrifices.  This was such a crazy and ridiculous notion for so many people that they mocked Christians for it.  Both Jews and pagans could barely wrap their minds around such a liberal progressive idea.  It would be like saying to us today that there is no longer any need for money because somebody just became the underwriter for everything everybody does.
 
            Yet, we in the modern church sometimes go back to the old kind of sacrificial system, not by physically offering animal sacrifices, but treating Christ’s once-for-all finished work as if it were just too good to be true.  We reason that we need to do something to help save ourselves.  However, Jesus has not just saved us partially, but fully.  Our church attendance can subtly be looked upon as a sacrifice to appease God, as if he needed to be soothed into not becoming angry at us.  Our giving can become some non-bloody sacrifice that is meant to satisfy God’s furrowed brow against us.  Our service can degenerate into a sacrifice to assuage our guilty conscience.  In all these kinds of instances, it is going back to an old sacrificial system that is obsolete.
 
            The biblical and theological truth is that Jesus has thoroughly saved us from our sin, and, so, has cleansed us from all guilt, including a guilty conscience.  Jesus meets our need and has completely satisfied God’s wrath against sin.  Jesus is our mediator and intercedes for us as we come to God’s throne of grace.  That means we do not need to try and get God’s attention with performing spiritual cartwheels or some incredible sacrifice that will somehow obligate him to take notice.  The truth is that there is never a time in which we lack attention from God.
 
            Since we have been justified by faith in Jesus, we need not worry anymore about being good enough.  Since Jesus is perfect, his work is made complete in us.  This constant anxiety of feeling like we don’t measure-up does not come from God.  Jesus is sufficient and has taken our place so that we can live in the freedom and joy of a complete deliverance from sin, death, and hell.  There is no longer any necessary sacrifice to make!
 
            “Well,” you might say, “if everybody in the church believed that then nobody would ever do anything.”  No, it is just the opposite.  When we feel like we don’t measure up, we do less, not more.  A low level discouragement sets in and we do nothing because we intuitively know it will never be enough.  We do just enough to squeak by, never quite knowing if it is doing anything.  We consider giving up because Christianity doesn’t work for us.  But when we grasp the New Covenant of Christ’s sacrifice to end all sacrifices, and are overwhelmed by grace, then everything we do in the Christian life is a simple desire to say “thank you” with our life and our lips.  It is a joyous offering ourselves, body, soul, and spirit.  It is the grace, and not the wrath, of God that teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live upright and godly lives (Titus 2:11-12).
 

 

            On this upcoming Reformation Sunday we celebrate the glorious reality that we are justified by faith in Jesus Christ alone and not by our own accomplishments, pedigree, or effort.   Trusting in our heritage, relying on our family’s faith, or believing our hard work gives us a leg-up toward heaven will only end in despair.  But if we trust in Christ’s perfect sacrifice then a whole new world of mercy and grace opens before us.  Soli Deo Gloria!

Romans 3:21-31

            It would be an understatement to say that how we view the whole of Holy Scripture is important.  For Christians, the Bible is God’s Word to humanity.  Some believers approach the Bible as a law book and see the essence of Christianity as obedience to specific commands.  Yet, today’s epistle lesson affirms that we are justified by faith apart from works of the law.
 
            Therefore, I tend to see the Bible more as a beautiful story of grace in which God goes out of his way across the millennia to redeem his lost creatures from sin, death, and hell.  Our relationship to God will not stand up under the burden of a perpetually angry army sergeant-type God who is trying to drill truth and salvation into his stupid raw recruits.  Rather, we come to God as a loving heavenly Father who, along with the Son and the Spirit, went to the greatest lengths to make redemption possible.  God did for us what we could not do for ourselves.
 
            The only proper response to this grace is faith – not effort, not trying harder, not by self-flagellation or extreme guilty feelings.  None of us has anything to stand upon, except the grace of God in Christ.  The wrath of God against sin and evil has been satisfied through the death of Jesus.  We do not need to try and please God through working more and harder because we already possess his pleasure.
            Loving God, who sent Jesus as my substitute on the cross, give me the gift of faith so that I might always trust you for my salvation and for everything in my life every day.  Amen.

Justified

 
 
            I am a firm believer in making daily affirmations of truth based upon what God has done for us in Christ.  The Christian doctrine of justification means that God has justified us and made us right with him and all creation through the cross of Jesus.  This is not only a doctrine to believe, but a reality to be lived into each and every day for the follower of Christ.
 
            Because I am a pastor, I occasionally get the person who comes into my office and does not like the way I do ministry, or is upset about Sunday’s sermon, or thinks I should be doing something I am not doing.  My initial gut reaction is to want to justify myself – to defend my ministry and my life.  Such encounters can easily leave me feeling insecure, like a vulnerable teenager trying to look cool in the middle of his awkwardness.  I even once had a person complain to me that on a particular Sunday my shoes were not shined well enough.  For a person like me who is borderline obsessive-compulsive, that was not an easy mental slough-off; I really wanted to beat myself up over the lack of shiny shoes!
 
            Yet, the truth of the Christian life is that I have no need to justify myself because God has already done it in Christ.  Here are some regular affirmations we can tell ourselves in order to let Christ’s righteousness sink deep down into our souls:
 
1         I thankfully accept who I am in my unchangeable physical appearance which God has uniquely designed for me so that Jesus can bring a special view to others through my life (Psalm 139:13-18; 2 Corinthians 10:12, 12:9-10).
 
2          I thankfully acknowledge that I am unconditionally loved and treasured by God who wanted a relationship with me and to whom I now belong forever (Romans 8:31-32, 38-39; John 6:44, 17:23).
 
3          I thankfully acknowledge that I am unconditionally accepted as a worthy person to God because of Jesus Christ in whom I trust for all things (Ephesians 1:16; Romans 4:6-8; Isaiah 61:10).
 
4          I thankfully acknowledge that I am a secure person because my heavenly Father cares about me and asks me to trust His leadership and goodness (Romans 8:28; Matthew 6:25-33; Proverbs 3:5-6; Psalm 37:3-7, 23).
 
5          I thankfully acknowledge that I am in a process of growth.  I have a sinful nature that is part of my personality but that is not who I am.  I consider myself dead to the sinful nature and alive and responsive to God instead.  I am not yet what I will be someday, but I am not what I used to be either.  I accept my struggles with sin as opportunities to depend more on God and on Christ’s justification for me (1 Peter 2:1-3; Romans 6:11; 2 Corinthians 10:13; Galatians 5:16).
 
6          I thankfully acknowledge that I am a competent person who is adequate to fulfill God’s will successfully each day.  My strength is supplied by God’s Holy Spirit who works through me to make an important and eternal impact on others with the love of God and the message of Christ (Philippians 2:13, 4:13; 1 Corinthians 10:13; 1 Peter 4:10-11; 2 Corinthians 5:20).
 
We all as Christians need to think the thought that we are secure in being loved by God, accepted and cared for by Him, and that we have important lives to live for Him.  Therefore, we are not threatened or devastated by the way some people treat us.  They do not determine our self-worth.  We might be pained when others let us down, but it is not the end of the world.  We can continue to act responsibly toward them as Christians without demanding that they understand us, accept us, or respect us.  It would be great if they did, but not devastating if they do not, since what really counts is God’s love and acceptance of us.
 
Many if not most people try to find acceptance and significance through parents, siblings, peers, church, achievements, appearance, work, etc.  Yet, none of those sources can satisfy or fulfill our basic personal needs.  This is why there are so many people who walk around feeling resentment, anxiety, guilt, a vague sense of emptiness and even despair.
 
 
 
But when a person trusts in Jesus Christ as the only true source of justification to satisfy all of the most basic of personal needs we have as people, that person can learn to regard herself in her new identity with Christ.  Her faith can be trained to believe in and focus on her new self-concept even in circumstances when she feels the pain of rejection.  She can rebound from disappointment.  She can forgive others and continue to minister and serve without dependence upon positive feedback from another.
 

 

To be justified by Christ means that we can live in the security of being a child of God without depending on others to do for us what God has already done through Jesus.  Learning to live in this way takes daily affirmations of faith and truth.  May we all tell ourselves the truth daily, and so glorify God and build up the church.