Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Gospel's Central Jewel - Justification by Faith Alone

Galatians 2:16 "nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified."

My wife has on her wedding band little tiny diamonds, with a main or central diamond sitting amidst those glittering gems. For nearly 20 years I have watched my wife to this day gaze at her ring. I'm always amazed by that, being that she knows very well what the ring looks like. When we had purchased the ring, we wanted a center diamond that refracted every ray of light. The high quality stone achieves that purpose and the result is always breathtaking. Even the dimmest source of light is captured by the diamond, and little rainbow-points can be seen emenating from its facets. 

Whenever we consider the Gospel or good news of Jesus Christ, it is the unique and only God-given, unchanging and saving message in the world. The Gospel not only declares how a person can be saved from God's wrath in saving faith, but also how that same person can be brought to God in reconciliation. More blessings flow from the reception of the Gospel by faith: adoption as a son or daughter; empowerment to live the Christian life by the indwelling Holy Spirit; baptism by the Spirit that results in uniting the believer to Jesus Himself; progress in holiness or sanctification and communion with the living God that leads to victory. All of these precious jewels of the Gospel are valuable in their own right. However, were it not for the central jewel of justification by faith, all the others would have no place.

Today's post is all about understanding why the doctrine of justification by faith alone is the Gospel's central jewel. 

Defining and further illustrating Justification by faith
The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 offers the following definition of justification by faith: "Justification is God's gracious and full acquittal upon principles of His righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. Justification brings the believer unto a relationship of peace and favor with God." When God pronounces a person "justified", that pronouncement is a legal pronouncement. To put it another way - the sinner upon reception of Christ's saving work by faith is deemed right with God and thus just. All that Christ is and has done is at the moment of saving faith credited to the sinner or what Bible calls "imputed". 

One of the best illustrations of justification I have ever heard comes from Dr. R.C Sproul: "Imagine that you see a young boy come into an ice cream parlor and order an ice cream cone from the waitress. He wants two scoops of ice cream on the cone, so the waitress scoops the two scoops onto the cone, hands it to the little boy, and tells him, “That will be two dollars.” Then you see the lip start to quiver on the face of the little boy, and he says to the woman, “My mommy only gave me a dollar.” He has a problem. He now owes two dollars for the ice cream cone, but he has only one dollar. As you watch this unfold, what do you do? You do the same thing that anyone would do in that situation. You say to the waitress, “Excuse me, ma’am. If it would be all right with you, I would be happy to make up the difference between what the little boy has and what he needs.” Is the waitress under any obligation to accept the dollar that you offer her? Yes, she is, because the debt is a pecuniary debt, and you are offering her legal tender, which means she must accept it in payment of the debt.

Let us change the story just a bit: you are standing in line at the ice cream counter and the young boy runs in, runs behind the counter, scoops up two scoops of ice cream onto a cone, and runs out the door with the waitress in pursuit, calling for the police, “Stop, thief!” The policeman on the corner sees what happens, grabs the urchin by the scruff of his neck, brings him back into the store, and says, “Is this the boy? Did he do something?”

“Yes, he just stole two scoops of ice cream, not to mention the cone.”

You say, “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Take it easy, Officer,” and you reach in your pocket and take out two dollars and hand the money to the waitress, saying, “Now the boy’s debt is paid. Can we just all go home and forget about this?”

The policeman says, “Ma’am, you do not have to accept that money. This boy has broken the law. He is guilty of petty larceny, at least. Would you like to press charges?”

The woman has every right under the law to press charges. She is under no obligation whatsoever to accept your vicarious payment of the little boy’s debt. If she is a merciful person she might accept it, but she is not bound by the offer.

When a moral transgression has taken place, the offended person is under no obligation to accept the payment of a substitute on behalf of the guilty. Christ laid down his life for his sheep on the cross. He offered himself in his perfect righteousness and took upon himself the sin of his people. If Jesus had stayed dead, we would have no justification, but when the Father raised the Son from the dead, he said to the world, “I accept this payment for the debtors who cannot pay.” The resurrection of Jesus is not simply for his vindication; it is for our justification, because it is God’s demonstration to his unjust people that he accepts the payment in full for the moral debt they have incurred."

As the above illustration inidicates, in justification by faith, all of the sinner's legal problems with God are remedied, thanks to the finished work of Jesus Christ. Due to the legal standing of the sinner being reversed from guilt to innocence, all of the other blessings of salvation (relational and moral changes) take immediate effect. Justification is immediate. This is what makes it so central to all of the other saving benefits. Undoubtedly we can tell by it's definition that justification by faith alone is the central jewel of the Gospel. However, there is one more thought to consider...

Defending Justification by faith alone reveals its central place in the Gospel
As the Apostle Paul was combatting opponents of the Gospel in his day, he had to deal with their insistence on salvation by works. As Paul points out in Galatians 2:16, to be deemed righteous by God cannot be obtained by adherence to the law of God. All the law of God can do is show my sin as sin and condemn me as a sinner (read Romans 7:7-13). The law of God refers the sinner to the cross and thus points beyond itself. Paul's opponents, the Judiazers, were perverting the heart of the Gospel by insisting on being made right with God by way of one's performance. Their treachery was such that prominent Christian leaders like Barnabas and even Peter were wavering. 

Whenever we look at Galatians 2:11-15, we discover what takes place when denial of justification by faith alone occurs. First, there is an inability to process one's guilt (2:11). Second, the person who insists on salvation or justification by works relies more on self-righteousness than Christ's righteousness (2:12). Thirdly, in claiming justification through performance, the adherent falls into hypocrisy, since they claim to be more righteous than they are (2:13-14). The final major problem, and one which demonstrates the genuineness of saving faith in the person's life, is whether or not they will depart from the Gospel (2:15). Peter was confronted by Paul, and thankfully it had not been too late. Peter's humility and unity with Paul in affirming justification by faith alone apart from works of the law (see Acts 15 and Peter's two letters) proves that he had true saving faith. 

The doctrine of justification by faith alone needs defended in every generation. Nearly 500 years ago, Martin Luther declared that justification by faith alone is the one doctrine by which the church stands or falls. If we teach that faith is necessary and yet not sufficient by itself for reception of Christ's saving work, we have departed from the Gospel. Justification by faith alone is the Gospel's central jewel. May we proclaim it, defend and live by it. 

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