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Talk 2 - Justification

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"Understanding Justification"


Heavenly Father,

today we come before you and consider this word justification. In your mercy we pray that you open our minds to the truth of your word, fill us with your Spirit, teach us your ways and lead us into righteousness. Amen.

a court room setting

Lawyers should never ask a grandma a question if they're not prepared for the answer. In one trial a prosecuting attorney called his first  witness, an elderly woman, to the stand. He approached her and asked, "Mrs. Jones, do you know me?"

She responded, "Why, yes, I do know you, Mr. Williams. I've known you since you were a young boy, and frankly, you've been a big disappointment to me. You lie, you cheat on your wife, and you manipulate people and talk about them behind their backs. You think you're a big shot when you haven't the brains to realize you never will amount to anything more than a two-bit paper pusher. Yes, I know you." The lawyer was stunned!

Not knowing what else to do, he pointed across the room and asked, "Mrs. Jones, do you know the defense attorney? "She again replied, "Why, yes, I do. I've known Mr. Bradley since he was a youngster, too. He's lazy, bigoted, and he has a drinking problem. He can't build a normal relationship with anyone and his law practice is one of the worst in the entire state. Not to mention he cheated on his wife and one of them was with your wife. Yes, I know him". The defense attorney almost died.

The judge asked both lawyers to approach the bench and in quiet voice said, "If either of you idiots asks her if she knows me, I'll send you to electric chair".

In the first century they had courts and judges and the Apostle Paul enters into this legal world so that we can understand the gospel in all its splendour and fullness. Today we are invited to understand the gospel from the perspective of the court room. The legal term "justify" is a word that come from the court room.

the meaning of justification

What does justification mean? Going back to our "sleepless nights" principle room last week (and if you weren't here last time you'll need to ask someone), I am happy to inform you that the Greek verb is δικαιόω and it carries the idea of "declaring righteous" – to declare that a man on trial is not liable to any penalty for breaking the law – but rather is entitled to all the privileges of those who keep the law. Justifying is the act of a judge setting a person free – the ideas of acquittal and legal immunity.

The Apostle Paul uses this idea more than any other writer – the verb "justify" occurs 29 times in Paul's writings. And simply because the idea of justification captures the gospel in all its fullness. Paul picks up a legal idea from the first century and uses it to describe how sinners who are guilty before a just God can amazingly come into a new relationship with God. Luther calls justification, "the article of a standing or a falling church". Our claim as Christians stands or falls on our understanding of justification – so it’s a concept we must get right!

the need for justification

            we are people who break the law (Mk 12:30; Rom 3:11-18, 7:7)

Now the Bible is quite clear about who breaks the laws that God has put in place. Those laws are summarized by the ten commandments but are laws which define the nature of loving relationships – our relationship with God and our relationships with one another. So in Mark 12:30 Jesus tells the teachers of the law which is the most important commandment, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these".

The law then is like a litmus test that indicate how sin has marred our capacity to love. The litmus paper turns from white to black when dipped into sin. The law has a diagnostic role: its brings sin to the surface and expose its corruption. Paul says this much in Rom 7:7, "Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law". Our unregenerate condition, our natural condition as sons of Adam – as daughters of Eve - is one of sin and the law exposes this spiritual sickness and begs that we do something to remedy the situation. "There is no-one righteous, not even one ... (there is no-one who lives rightly under the law) ... All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God". (Rom 3:11-18).

We are born as people with a natural disposition to break the law. We have an inbuilt propensity to sin, before we were saved we were guilty of making our own laws – constructing our own world without God and for this we deserved condemnation.

            God is our Judge (Acts 17:31; Rev 20:11-15)

Now Paul is speaking to the Athenians in Acts 17. And he says to them that God "will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead" (Acts 17:31). The Book of Revelation gives us vivid imagery of judgment in a court room scene. John  says in Rev 20:12, "And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books ... (verse 15) If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire".

God is our Judge who reveals his righteous inflexible anger against "all ungodliness and wickedness of men" (Rom 1:18). And he will judge the world for it belongs to Him, created with purpose, fully accountable to Him.

the ground of justification

            the justness of God (Rom 3:25-26)

It sounds almost contradictory, but this same God who pours out his anger upon men and women also justifies the ungodly. God the just Judge – God the one who acquits sinners. It's almost shocking that the just Judge frees sinners who deserve a custodial sentence. The gospel appears to violate God's sense of justice because it lets sinners totally off the hook.

This problem doesn't go unnoticed by Paul who says in Rom 3:25, "God presented Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice .... (verse 26) he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus". The gospel is how a just God can justify (or acquit) believing sinners. The gospel shows how a just God can release sinners from the penalty of sin and still remain a just God.

            justification explained ( Rom 5:18; Gal 3:10-14)

I seem to remember John Chapman telling this story. Imagine that your summoned to court for a serious speeding offense. And you turn up to court shaking at the knees, but when you walk into the court room you see the Judge is Uncle Bert. "No worries", you think to yourself. The court proceeds and the police prosecutor says his piece and you mount a dismal defense about listening to Shane Warne's farewell speech on the radio and you were so emotional you didn't see the speed sign. It's a weak defense, but hey, you're uncle is the Judge.

The time comes for the verdict. You stand with a wry smile on your face. Uncle Bert reads the charges and declares you "guilty" and a $5 000 fine. You are gob-smacked. You can't believe it – your Uncle has thrown the book at you.

At that moment, the Judge says to the court he'll be back in a minute. Fine with you! He does come back and he's holding an envelope in his hand and he gives it to you. You open the envelope and there's $5 000 in fresh notes. It's a sight too good to be true. The Judge has done what the law demanded, but he has gone one step further and paid the penalty on your behalf. It's a special moment.

The only way a just God can set sinners free is by taking the initiative and satisfying the DEMANDS of the law on behalf of the ACCUSED. A loving God sent the Lord Jesus Christ, "born under the law" (Gal 4:4) so that he might stand in his PEOPLE'S STEAD. Jesus became LIKE US, born UNDER the law and subject to the REQUIREMENTS of the law. And his life of RIGHTEOUSNESS climaxed in his dying the death of an UNRIGHTEOUS man. Jesus bore the CURSE OF THE LAW in our place. PAUL says in Gal 3:13, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, 'cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree'".

It is us who deserved the CURSE of the law. We deserve death but the just Judge is merciful. God pulls out something far more valuable than $5 000 in fresh bills – he pulls out the blood of his only Son. By his death, Jesus took upon himself the curse of the law which satisfies God's just anger at our sins. Look with me at Rom 5:18 – here's the SUMMARY – "Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men". Just as DEATH came through ADAM - LIFE comes through CHRIST. Through that "one act of righteousness" on the cross we receive from God the right to be treated NO LONGER AS SINNERS but as righteous people. We are not righteous in OURSELVES, but CHRIST OUR HEAD is righteous before God and we are ONE WITH HIM – united in him - sharing his STATUS and ACCEPTANCE. That "one act of righteousness" on the cross is sufficient to SATISFY the demands of God's anger – the PRICE is paid – the JUDGE acquits us – we are JUSTIFIED – treated "just as if we had never sinned" –  instead of DEATH, we have LIFE.

I haver a friend of mine, VINCE, and he's a very good SWIMMER. So good in fact that he used to be a LIFESAVER down at my local beach in Sydney – WARRIEWOOD BEACH on the northern beaches. Back in those it was Vince's turn to be oN THE BELT – which meant that if anyone was DROWNING, he'd be the one at the end of the line SWIMMING through the surf to retrieve the PERSON in trouble. On one particular day, Vince was on DUTY during a reasonably LARGE SEA with a strong rip moving OUTWARDS around the headland.

Not surprisingly, someone became ENSNARED IN THE RIP and was dragged swiftly out to sea. I don't know if you've ever been caught in a RIP before – but its quite a SCARY EXPERIENCE. No matter how HARD you swim, the SHORE seems to get further and further away and the TIREDER and tireder you become. By the time Vince got to this POOR LADY, she was absolutely EXHAUSTED and understandably beside herself with FEAR. In fact, she was in SUCH A STATE that when Vince turned up her couldn't grab hold of her. She was STRUGGLING so much that Vince needed to STUN HER so he could drag her back to the shore.

The JUST JUDGE loves us so much that he sent his RESCUER to free us from DROWNING in a sea of sin. We are UNABLE to rescue ourselves, passively being overtaken by the CORRUPTION of our own natures. But at the will of the FATHER, Jesus lived and then LAY DOWN HIS LIFE in order to rescue us from certain death. Jesus died in our place – his death our life. In LEGAL LANGUAGE, the death of Jesus SAVES from the curse of law and the JUDGE treats us NO LONGER as drowning sinners, rather we are adopted into his FAMILY – our JUDGE becomes our FATHER by adoption and we BLESSED beyond all measure.

the means of justification (Rom 3:22, 5:1)

HOW is righteousness received? WHAT is the means of justification? For NOT ALL are pardoned from the penalty of the law.

FAITH in Christ, says Paul, is the means whereby RIGHTEOUSNESS is received and JUSTIFICATION bestowed. SINNERS are justified “by” or “through” faith. As Paul says in Rom 3:22, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe”. Some people can be a LITTLE TRICKY here and say “I have lots of faith” and that SATISFIES and Judge – and they don't even mention JESUS. As if FAITH is the ground of justification! If this were true, then salvation is by WORKS – the amount of faith that I can muster up in my heart. Jim Packer says that “faith is the outstretched empty hand which receives righteousness by receiving Christ”. By faith we are united to Christ and even our faith is a gift from God. By faith in Jesus we are acquitted from the penalty of sin. When we stand before our Judge, empty handed and destitute, no way of avoiding death ... our lawyer pipes up and says, “I died for Mark Armstrong because I loved him – the demands of the law are satisfied -  he can be set free”. And the lawyer says, “I died for (Joy Wells) because I love her – the demands of the law are satisfied – she may be set free”.

conclusion (centrality of justification)

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