Justified by faith

The following is part three of a sermon delivered on October 30, 2016—Reformation Sunday—at First Baptist Church of Mulberry, FL.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1)
My second point today is that we are justified by faith. We are justified by faith. On this point, Paul gives you the principle in Chapter 3 and illustrates it in Chapter 4, with the life of Abraham.

Faith and Works
So, what’s the principle? Take a look at verse 28, “for we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” So we know what justified means, but now Paul introduces two new ideas: faith and works. He says were justified by faith, and not by works. Why is that?

It’s not because works, by themselves, are unable to justify. Paul writes later in Romans 10 about Moses in the Old Testament. We will use Adam and Eve is an example here. Before the fall—that is, before they sinned—Adam and Eve lived in a friendly relationship with God. As long as they took care of the garden, took care of each other, and avoided the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden, then they maintain the relationship they already had with God. The problem is in Genesis 3 they ate the fruit. They disobeyed God. They broke the friendly relationship they had with God, and they received the curse.

In the Gospels Jesus says that the law is summarized by these two statements: “love the Lord your God with all your heart soul mind and strength; love your neighbor as yourself.” This encompasses obedience to God and love for neighbor. It describes the nature of God’s relationship with Adam and Eve; it describes the law God gave to Noah after the flood; it describes the law God gave to Moses at Sinai.

In the Luke 10, Jesus was approached by a lawyer who said, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The lawyer went on to say exactly what Jesus had been teaching: love the Lord your God with all your heart, love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus replied, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” Jesus was just referring back to the law which says in the book of Leviticus 18:5, “you shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.”

So there’s nothing wrong with doing the works of the law. The law tells us exactly what we ought to be doing. The problem is we can’t justify ourselves by doing the law, because we’ve already broken it. Adam and Eve were the only ones who had a friendly relationship with God unblemished by sin. Paul teaches us that after Adam and Eve, we inherited a sin nature, and environment inclined toward sin, a heart inclined toward sin. To quote one pastor, Dwight Pentecost, we have inherited a mind, heart, and will that have been darkened, deadened, and diminished. What that means is right to the core, our whole being is set against God. And once that is the case, you can’t mend it by just starting to do good again, even if you could do good perfectly. You’re still guilty. You still have that nature.

For example, if a man is guilty of murder and then one day decides to live on the straight and narrow from then on, he still guilty of murder and liable to the court for it. Because were sinners—by nature, and in fact—we are in the same circumstance. We have sinned, and were liable to God for it. And like our hypothetical murderer, it’s a good thing if we decide to do good from here on out. There’s no arguing with that. But our good works cannot get rid of our prior guilt. So to be justified, to walk out of the heavenly courtroom in God’s friendship, not only not guilty but in God’s friendship, you have to understand you are incapable of making that happen.

You can see that in Romans 3:24: “we are justified by his grace as a gift.” When Paul says in Romans 3:28 we are justified by faith, that is a shorthand for what Paul says in Ephesians 2:8 “for by grace you have been saved through faith.” Salvation by grace just means that God is doing all the work and we are simply receiving it. Do you see that?

I told you just a snippet of my testimony a moment ago. For a long time in my life I thought of faith is a particular kind of work. Okay? Where if I had enough faith, or a sincere faith, or strong faith, or you can supply the adjective. If I had a certain kind of faith, then I would be acceptable to God. But the point of our passage, as it relates to faith, is that faith is not a work at all—it’s simply seeing, wanting, and receiving a gift.

It’s like at Christmas or your birthday. If you get a present, you just have it. You rip off the paper and it’s yours. Basically the only way you can ruin it is by hating the gift and telling your aunt, “No, that’s a terrible sweater!” No. You receive the gift.

Another helpful way to think of faith, is sitting in a chair. The chair is making you and everyone else a promise—if you sit in the chair, it will hold you up. A person can say “I know it will hold me up” but if they never sit in it—if they are hesitant around the chair and they start to sit but back off, does that person really believe the chair will hold them? No. If you have faith in the chair, you’ll sit in it.

Faith illustrated in the life of Abraham
Paul illustrates this principle with the life of Abraham. What was God’s promise to Abraham? God said that he would bless him, multiply his family into a great nation, and bless the world through his family. Abraham followed God. In his experience God had never let him down. “Abraham believed God,” and the text says—“it was counted to him as righteousness.” Abraham's works proved that he did believe God.

Like all people in the Bible, and like you and me, Abraham was not perfect. But he believed God and that was proved by the fact that he was even willing to sacrifice Isaac, his promised heir, knowing, as it says in Hebrews, that God would bring him back from the dead if need be. Abraham believed God and that was counted to him as righteousness.

Some of you may be perplexed about this like I was. Maybe you think “but I have so many doubts” or “but I’m just not sure if I’m really saved.” Or “I don’t feel saved.” Or if someone asks you to gauge your certainty, you would only be able to indicate about 80%. Let me tell you now that the important question is not whether your faith is 100% perfect. The important question is do you trust that Jesus is King and he will keep his promise? That he will forgive your sin. Not just sin in general, but your sin.

Paul also uses David as an example. David was by no means a perfect man, but he trusted God, he turned from his sins and he was forgiven.

If you examine yourself and think I don’t have faith at all, or if you’re here and you’re not a Christian—maybe you’re visiting with friends – I’m glad you’re here because I want you to know this gift of God’s grace in justification is available to you too. Just look to Jesus today. Trust his promise. If you have questions, Pastor Greg or Pastor Kevin or I would love to talk to you about them after the service.

We have been justified by faith.

  1. Part One - Justification: We have peace with God
  2. Part Two - We are justified
  3. Part Three - Justified by faith
  4. Part Four - We have peace with God
  5. Part Five - Through Jesus Christ

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