Romans 1:17 "For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”
Today's post aims to discuss, illustrate and demonstrate the life-practical applications of the Gospel's central doctrine of justification by faith alone.
Illustrating Justification by Faith - The Calvary Express Card
I can recall one-time being behind a person at a checkout line who was purchasing a large number of items. When the clerk brought up their total, the person began thumbing through their cards. They put part of the purchase on one card and then put the remainder of the purchase on another. The total amount was placed on the credit cards and thus, the register showed nothing was owed. Perhaps you have witnesses that too, or, perhaps you and I have been in that predicament. We all know that at the end of the month, we will get a bill listing our charges. Credit indicates that another party is paying what I owe, with the idea that I am the one being credited with the purchase, even though everyone knows that it is not "me" but ultimately someone else's money. There will be interest charges to pay on such funds - and thus that is how it works in the realm of human credit.
When it comes to Divine credit, we come to God with our sins, our life and our moral debts. All of our attempts to pay the bill are futile. We are maxed out. However, God alerts us to a line of credit paid in full by Jesus Christ and presents to us what we could call "The Calvary Express Card". If we will but surrender ourselves in trust to Him, God will credit our account and wipe the debt clean. He will "impute" or "credit" Jesus' perfect life of obedience and perfect death for the penalty of our sins to our account. Why? Because on the cross, our sinful disobedient lives and rightful deserving of judgment was credited to Jesus (see Romans 3:21-25; 2 Corinthians 5:21). This act of God at saving faith is what the Bible calls "justification by faith", and represents the core of the Gospel.
How the Old Testament teaches Justification by Faith
Romans 4:3 gives us a profound statement on how one man, Abraham, was deemed acceptable, pure and innocent in the sight of God: “For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” The Apostle Paul of course is getting into the heart of the Gospel by unfolding to us the doctrine of justification by faith. Contrary to what some may teach, the Old Testament does not teach one way of salvation and the New Testament another.
Paul’s whole point in explaining how the righteousness of God is brought down to the sinner at saving faith is to show how such truth was communicated in the Old Testament, beginning with the Book of Genesis. In Genesis 15:6, we read the same identical words: “Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Whenever we survey the Old and New Testaments, we find this central theme of the Gospel of “credited righteousness” or what is also called “Justification by faith”. (Psalm 32:1-2; Habakkuk 2:4)
Defining righteousness and its relationship to Jesus Christ and justification
What is righteousness? we can define it as: “a life and conduct that is perfectly pleasing before God.” Jesus is the only One who has fulfilled such a standard. As God - He is the basis of righteousness. As man, He fulfilled all that was required by God with respect to a human being having the capability of having a relationship with Him.
So then, how does Christ's righteousness become my own? For we know from scripture that self-righteousness or any attempt to gain salvation by our own efforts falls far short of the purity, innocence and perfection that God and Christ have. Romans 3:20 states – “because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” Galatians 3:11 echoes similarly – “Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.”
Notice how often we see the terms “justified” or “credited” or “reckoned”. These terms explain how the righteousness achieved by Jesus Christ in both His life, death and resurrection are transferred to the sinner’s account.
To use another illustration, think of what occurs when we write a check. Whenever a person writes a check and gives it to another as a gift, what happens is that the monetary amount written on that check is coming out of someone’s account. It was earned by labor or some other way. Whenever they give that check as a gift, the recipient must receive it in order to place it in their account. Once the person brings the check to the bank, the bank teller looks at the check and looks at the person who signed the check on the back and applies it to the recipient’s account. What has happened? the bank has regarded that money as the recipient’s own, even though the check clearly came from another person from the outside. This illustration serves to aid in understanding how the righteousness of God and Christ is applied to sinner’s life at salvation.
Why faith alone is necessary and sufficient to receive justification from God
Faith alone is both necessary and sufficient. Faith is the means by which the righteous merit of Christ’s life, death and resurrection is applied and received. The cross of Christ is the grounds and the choice and calling of God to that sinner is the beginning point of such salvation. The righteousness demanded by the law and yet unattainable is the same righteousness promised by the Gospel that is received by faith and credited to the sinner.
Such “credited” righteousness is sometimes described by term “imputed righteousness”, meaning that the work of another outside of myself is credited to me as if I had accomplished it. David in the Old Testament states in Psalm 32:1-2 “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose sin is covered!2 How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit!” Though Christ had not yet come into the world, nonetheless what He would achieve was of such great value that it not only reaches forward into time today but was also the same righteousness credited to Old Testament believers who looked to the promises of God by faith. 2 Corinthians 5:21 summarizes this “credited righteousness” or “imputed righteousness” (both meaning the same thing) – “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Practical ramifications of justification by faith
The whole point of today's post was to talk about the importance of justification by faith alone. Such a doctrinal truth has real-world implications:
1. My sense of confidence is grounded in justification by faith.
For starters, to realize that the grounds for pleasing God is founded in Jesus Christ and not myself enables me to lean on Jesus Christ. I look to Him as my righteousness (1 Cor 1:30)
2. All preaching and teaching of God's Word must find its anchoring point in justification.
The anchoring point for preaching and teaching in the church ought to be this doctrine of justification by faith alone. Two ditches tend to occur in the preaching and teaching of God's word: legalism and license. As a preacher, I can be tempted to either proclaim moralism or "try harder, do better theology". That first ditch is the "legalism" ditch. The second ditch can be "don't worry about getting bogged down in what you do, since God has already forgiven you", or license. Justification by faith alone avoids these two ditches by having us lean on Christ while being compelled to want to live for Him. Our practical righteousness or "sanctification" flows from justification, or "credited righteousness".
3. Assurance of salvation is found in justification.
The great Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon writes concerning our assurance of salvation relative to justification by faith in Jesus Christ: "Remember, therefore, it is not thy hold of Christ that saves thee - it is Christ; it is not thy joy in Christ that saves thee - it is Christ; it is not even faith in Christ, though that be the instrument - it is Christ's blood and merits; therefore, look not so much to thy hand with which thou art grasping Christ, as to Christ; look not to thy hope, but to Jesus, the source of thy hope; look not to thy faith, but to Jesus, the author and finisher of thy faith."