JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
October 27, 2019
16 Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. 17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
— Galatians 2:16-21, ESV
There are three important dates that every Christian should remember to commemorate.
The first is the first day of the week after the first full moon after the first equinox of the year, or, as Christians like to call it, Easter Sunday, or since Eastre was a pagan goddess, Resurrection Day may sound preferable. The second date is December 25, which is almost certainly not the day Christ was born; however, Jesus’ birth should certainly be celebrated and why not do it when all the stores have everything on sale. The third is October 31, which has become quite famous for celebrations that have nothing to do with Christianity, except perhaps giving candy to children, which Jesus could have done when He said, “Let the little children come to Me.”
This week we will once again experience that last date, October 31, which means a lot of things to a lot of people. God’s people ought to always remember what happened on this day way back in the good old year of 1517. That is when a little known German monk named Martin Luther sparked what became known as the Great Reformation. In a dark world where the gospel had been hidden behind clouds of superstition and tradition, Luther shined a light that enabled people to see essential doctrines like the authority of Scripture, the priesthood of the believer, and perhaps most importantly, justification by faith, for nothing else matters if you are not justified.
When Luther struck the match that lit the fire of the Great Reformation, he stood on the shoulders of Saint Augustine, who stood on the shoulders of the Apostle Paul. Paul addressed the subject of justification 36 times in his 13 epistles, 9 times in Galatians, 4 times in this text alone. Justification is a legal term, used outside the Bible in courts and contracts. Courts have to justify their decisions, offer proof or reasons that make those decisions valid and right. Contracts and agreements justify, make right and legal, the exchange of money or property and establish ownership. To be justified is to be bonafide, accepted, judged as right, even right with God.
When Ulysses Everett McGill faked his credentials, lost his job, and gained a prison sentence, even his own daughters had to tell him, “You ain’t bonafide.” It took a lot of work and a pardon from the governor to make the George Clooney character right in the sight of the law and his loving family. But what justified his freedom and return to his family, his work, or the governor’s pardon?
What does it take for a human being to be bonafide, right, accepted, and justified before God? The record of rebellion, sin, and dishonor is repeated on the rap sheet of every single person on the planet. How do we expunge the record and escape judgement and enter into the kingdom of God? Must we orchestrate our own circumstances and engage in enough charity to outweigh the load of sin we carry? Or, must we receive a pardon from the governor? Paul argues, inspiringly, that justification before God is not by works, but by faith, and faith alone.
Not By Works
The word of God could not be more emphatic. “A person is not justified by works … not by works … because by works … no one will be justified.” Paul did not stutter. Anyone who tries to work their way to Heaven will fall millions and millions of miles short.
This leaves uncovered all unconverted people, be they atheists or agnostics or adherents of false religions or cults. When these people stand before God they will try to justify themselves by telling God about all the good work they have done. God already knows, of course, and He is not impressed with what the prophet Isaiah calls our “filthy rags” (ref. Isaiah 64:6).
The actual culprits that Paul dealt with in Galatia were not that brazen. They had actually accepted the Christian gospel as truth, but insisted on adding good works to the good news of Jesus Christ. These so-called Judaizers preached a gospel of faith plus works, that in order to be saved or justified one had to believe Jesus is the Messiah and keep all the rules and regulations of Judaism contained in the Old Testament. Paul plainly protests that this poisons the gospel and puts justification out of reach.
Luther lambasted the same mindset in his 95 theses. The dark ages had produced a dark cloud of rituals and traditions which overshadowed the gospel and sold salvation by works. Luther wasn’t buying, neither was Paul, and neither should you. Any Christian church that declares certain Christian works are necessary in order to earn salvation is not Christian.
If the Pope tells you that the sacraments must be kept in order to be saved, he is lying. If the Church of Christ minister tells you that baptism is required for salvation, he is lying. If the Baptist preacher tells you to walk an aisle, pray a prayer, and make a decision for Jesus to save you, he is lying. Not one ounce of human energy (works) can be added to one sentence of the gospel without making the whole gospel null and void, “Because by works of the law no one will be justified.”
You must be justified, and you must be justified by faith, and by faith alone.
It is critical to understand justification, a declaration of righteousness with God. It is critical to understand that such justification cannot be based on any work you do for God, only the work God has done for you in Jesus Christ. Finally, it is critical to be justified by faith, and to understand exactly what faith is, where faith comes from, what faith does, and whether or not you have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Saving faith is a radical gift from God, never a mere human possibility,” wrote Southern Baptist theologian Timothy George in his book on Galatians. In other words, God did not send His Son into the world in the hope that some people somewhere would believe in Him. God sent His Son and God sends the faith needed to be saved by Him. Faith is a gift from God that is delivered by the Holy Spirit through the preaching and hearing of the gospel of Jesus Christ (ref. Ephesians 2:8-10; 2 Peter 1:1). So how do you know if God has given you the gift of justification by faith?
You know you have been justified by faith when you believe, and keep on believing. Faith is the gift, but believing is the act that corresponds with the gift. The verb is in the indicative, as are the ensuing verbs of dying and living, which means it keeps on keeping on. If faith were a mere human decision, then the human could decide not to believe anymore. Since faith is a gift from God, it is powerful and permanent and permeates every area of your life, and death.
You know you have been justified by faith when you die, and keep on dying. “I died to the law … I have been crucified with Christ,” wrote Paul. At one time, Paul would have concurred with his opponents that salvation is by works, bitter Pharisee that he was. Instead of trying any more to erase his sins with religion or works, Paul buried his sin upon the cross of Christ, trusting in the gospel and Jesus alone to take away the punishment, forever.
You know you have been justified by faith when you live, and keep on living, for and with the Lord Jesus Christ. “Christ lives in me …, I live by faith in the Son of God.” While we are saved by faith and not works, real faith keeps on living and working for the Lord. Faith alone is never alone. Though we do not have to be baptized to be saved, but if we are truly saved we are willing to be baptized a hundred times if the Scriptures were to say so. We worship Christ and we work in the body of Christ and we witness Christ to the world and we will never stop, until Christ calls us home, where we will live in Heaven forever, justified by faith.
Heaven is an extremely exclusive place. It is only for the justified. And, you can only be justified by faith, not works, not by faith plus works, but by faith alone.
So thank you, Martin. And more than that, thank you, Paul. And much, much more than that, thank you, Jesus. For He is the one who justifies, and justifies by faith.
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Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org