Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
31 October 2016 / Reformation Day
a sermon excerpt
What is justification?
The Westminster Confession has a thoughtful and beautiful explanation of justification. I encourage you to read through it as soon as possible. Chapter XI Of Justification
But the answer given in the Shorter Catechism (Q.33) will suffice for now:
Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.
I want to unpack that a bit and put it in words we can all understand.
My purpose today is to answer the question: How is a sinful man made right before a holy God? How can you and I get right with God?
The answer is found in Romans 3:21-26
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
I. The knowledge of justification: Sola Scriptura (3:21-22)
Romans 3:21-22 says, “The Law and the Prophets bear witness to the righteousness of God.”
The Law says, “Abraham believed the Lord, and the Lord counted it to him as righteousness.” (Gen 15:6)
The Prophets say, “the righteous will live by his faith.” (Hab 2:4)
So the scriptures teach that the righteousness of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
How do we what justification is?
The knowledge of justification comes by means of the word of God alone. As the Reformers put it, sola scriptura. So we don’t have to guess, or experiment, or form a committee, or try to figure it out. We simply need to hear the word of the Lord.
The scriptures alone are “the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him, and what man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man.” (WSC Q:2-3) That is why Paul appeals to them.
He wanted everyone to know that the gospel of justification by faith is not a new doctrine, but an old doctrine. As it is written in the Law and the Prophets, God has always justified sinners by grace through faith apart from works.
II. The source of justification: Sola Gratia (3:23-24)
Romans 3:23-24 says, “The righteousness of God through the faith(fulness) of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
In context of Romans Paul has just made the case that no one is righteous — no not one. Since everyone has sinned and still falls short of God’s glory and still fails to live up to God’s holy standard, How can any sinner get right with God? How can you and I get right with God?
The answer is not found in any one of us — not in our works, our desires, nor our efforts. The answer is found in God alone — in his grace and mercy towards us.
God justifies sinners by the free gift of his grace through the person and work of Jesus Christ on behalf of sinners. Why? Because he wants to do it.
When God justifies a sinner, he is simply declaring that sinner to be righteous, not because the sinner deserves it — not even because the sinner desired it — but because God delights to seek and save sinners.
Grace alone is the source of justification — the source of getting right with God.
III. The ground of justification: Solus Christus (3:24-25)
Romans 3:23-24 says, “The righteousness of God through the faith(fulness) of Jesus Christ for all who believe…through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood.”
This is where the rubber meets the road. The basis of our salvation is nothing other than the person and finished work of Christ alone.
The basis of our salvation is not our faith, nor our works; it is not our Reformed theology, nor our Presbyterian convictions; it is not our liturgy, nor our mission.
The ground and basis of our salvation — getting right with God — is the cross of Christ alone.
And this is God’s work, not ours.
God put Jesus forward as a propitiation by his blood. That means God offered Jesus as the atoning sacrifice for our sins, to do for us what we could never do for ourselves.
Jesus died the death we deserved to die, so that we might live the life that he deserved to live.
Jesus’ blood shed for us at the cross satisfies God’s holy Law and it shelters us from God’s wrath and it secures our place in his presence. Our redemption was accomplished by Christ alone; Jesus is the ground of our justification.
So how do we get God’s grace in Christ?
IV. The means of justification: Sola Fide (3:21-26)
Romans 3:23-24 says, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. [Sinners] are justified by his grace as a gift…to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness…so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
God works through means. And he has determined that sinners may get the grace they so desperately need in Christ, not by their works, desire, and effort, but by faith alone.
It must be received; it cannot be achieved.
In other words, we cannot work for it, earn it, or deserve it. It is a gift to be enjoyed by faith, not a wage to be earned by works.
Now, God has done everything necessary to redeem sinners from sin and death and wrath. God has done everything necessary to get sinners right with him by grace alone in Christ alone, and that includes giving them faith in Christ as a free gift, so that no one can boast in his own desire, effort, or choice, but only in the Lord.
To be clear, the point is not that any faith in anything will get sinners right with God. The point is that faith alone in Christ alone will get sinners right with God. Why? Because our faith is only as strong the one we trust in. It is only as good as the object of it.
A religious sinner who trusts in saints, or moral deeds, or a church, or anything other than Christ will not be declared righteous and cannot get right with God. The object of his faith is not able to save him.
A non-religious person who trusts in her own heart, or experiences, or social work, or anything other than Christ will not be declared righteous and cannot get right with God. The object of her faith is not able to save her.
Only sinners who trust in Christ alone by grace alone will be declared righteous and can get right with God. The object of their faith is mighty to save.
If you wish to get right right with God, all you ever need to do, the only thing you must do, is turn to Christ and trust him.
Faith alone, apart from works, is the only means of justification.
V. The goal of justification: Soli Deo Gloria (3:21, 25-26)
Romans 3:25-26 says, “Now the righteousness of God has been manifested…This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
We have seen that the knowledge of justification comes from scripture alone; the source of justification is God’s grace alone; the ground of justification is Christ alone; and the means of justification is faith alone.
What is the end-goal of justification?
Many people say the goal is the salvation of sinners. That is partially true. But I want you to know the whole truth. So add this to your understanding. The goal of justification is the glory of God.
The doctrine of justification reveals something true, beautiful, and good about the triune God.
It shows us that God is holy, but he is not hiding from us. He is not afraid of us, he wants to be known, even by sinners like us.
It shows us that God is patient with sinners; he does not wipe them out right away.
It shows us that God is merciful towards sinners; he does not always give them what they deserve.
It shows that God is gracious and faithful; he worked hard to save sinners and he sacrificed more than we can imagine to secure our salvation just as he promised.
The 5 Solas are not just Reformation doctrines; they are Romans doctrines.
The gospel of justification teaches us that God alone worked by grace alone in Christ alone to save sinners alone by faith alone. Why? For the praise of his glory alone.
*Note: The points on the source, ground, and means of justification are based on the work of John Stott as referenced in Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? by J.M. Boice (pp 134-137)