9/19/21 “Justifying Grace” Rom. 10:8-10, 5:18-21
John Calvin said that justification is “the main hinge on which religion turns…for unless you first grasp what your relationship is with God, and the nature of his judgment concerning you, you have neither a foundation on which to establish your salvation nor one on which to build reverence toward God.” You see, God is in constant pursuit of us as we heard last week in Prevenient Grace.
A little boy came to the Washington Monument and noticed a guard standing by it. The little boy looked up at the guard and said, “I want to buy it.” The guard stooped down and asked, “How much money do you have?” The boy reached into his pocket and pulled out a quarter. The guard said, “That’s not enough.” The boy replied, “I thought you would say that.” So, he pulled out nine cents more. The guard looked at him and smiled saying, “You need to understand three things. First, 34 cents is not enough. In fact, $34 million dollars is not enough to buy the Washington Monument. Second, the Washington Monument is not for sale. And third, if you are an American citizen, the Washington Monument already belongs to you.” You and I need to understand three things as well pertaining to forgiveness. First, we cannot earn it, second, it is not for sale. Third, if we accept Christ, we already have it.
I have to say I cannot remember a time when God hasn’t been in my life. I had a angel of a grandmother who gave me my first Bible when I was three. She planted the seed at an early age, but my life would take varied routes off the beaten path before I would one day say “yes” to God. I was always involved in one form church activity or another as a youngster. As a teen I traveled to Chicago to McCormick Place for a Billy Graham Youth Crusade with a youth group and gave my life to Christ at age 16. But still, I would make bad choices along the way which turned out to be, as I discovered later in life, learning experiences. I spent 17 years in the thoroughbred horse business rubbing elbows with the elite and listening to heart breaking stories from the bums on the backstretch. All the while, God was shaping me, molding me, preparing me for a metamorphis. God wanted a personal relationship with me. He pursued me from Upstate New York, across the Bluegrass State of Kentucky, to the breeding farms in Northern Illinois and around every oval racetrack in between. I saw God in the magnificence of his four-legged creation and in the humanity of the alcoholic rub boys. I was nagged, I was pursued, I was kept awake at night, until finally God got my attention with a 2×4. God wanted a relationship. My response was, “What do you want? You want me to do what?” Again, I eventually said yes. Maybe it was my innate curiosity to know what God was up to next. I know my journey was changed umpteen times and each time I grew closer. Nowadays, I still say, “You want me to do what?” Only now I know there is nothing to be alarmed of. All things are possible with God and when he has a job for you to do God will provide a way for it to be accomplished. All He asks is for a “yes” from us. Who would have thought my journey would take me from horses to seminary and from seminary to a career working for God’s kingdom? I don’t wonder about what God asks these days, I just invest myself in the adventure. I know the plan is going to change again one day as I grow weary and find things more difficult to do.
My story reminds me of Rom. 12:1. Paul urges his listeners “to present their bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God…and to not be conformed to this world.” In a church service, the offering plate came to a little girl at the end of the row. She took the plate, put it down on the floor, and stood in it. When the usher asked her what she was doing, she said, “In Sunday School I learned that I was supposed to give myself to God.” That little girl had the right idea.
Its my job today to help you understand “Justifying Grace.” The most important thing is to understand how we enter a relationship with God. Through this series of grace sermons, I pray you will discover a better understanding of why God sacrificed the one He loved most for you. You see, He could not imagine eternity without you. That’s how great His love is for you. He wants you to live in the light of His love, share it with the ones you love and learn how to love the unloved. It is all made possible by God’s Justifying Grace.
Justifying grace is not something we work our way into. In a sense it is a double acceptance. We accept the relationship that is offered to us when we understand that God accepts us just the way we are. God accepts our unacceptability. It’s a turning around, an awakened awareness, and the love and companionship of God that is offered. In Paul’s letter to the Romans he writes: “if you confess with your lips and in your heart, that is the word of faith that we proclaim; because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.” (10:8-10)
An old Native American, after living many years in sin, was led to Christ by a missionary. Afterwards friends asked him to explain the change in his life. Reaching down, he picked up a little worm and placed it on a pile of leaves. Then, touching a match to the leaves, he watched them smolder and burst into flames. As the flames worked their way up to the center where the worm lay, the old chief suddenly plunged his hand into the center of the burning pile of leaves and snatched out the worm. Holding the worm gently in his hand, he gave his testimony to the grace of God: Me…that worm!”
I want to define a couple terms for you. Justification: Webster defines it this way: the state or condition necessary for salvation, of being blameless or absolved of the guilt of sin. Did you know that justification and its relatives in the Greek and Hebrew text appear in our bible about 750 times? Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus saying “by grace you have been save through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift from God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” (2:8-9).
Salvation: Webster defines it this way: deliverance from sin and the penalties of sin—redemption.
Salvation is a two-fold experience. First, it is the experience of God’s grace as mercy that forgives our sins. Secondly, it is the experience of God’s grace as the power by which we are transformed. Justification is simply the acceptance with which God received us unto himself as righteous people. It consists in the knowledge of our sinful natures and in our saying “yes” to Jesus Christ. But you may be thinking why would God want me, a sinner, to have a relationship with Him? He loves you. Down through the ages he has called unfaithful people back to a genuine relationship with Him. He created you, loves you, and finds you amazing! That my friends is grace!
Campbell Morgan was once approached by a soldier who said he would give anything to believe that God would forgive his sins, “but I cannot believe He will forgive me if I just turn to him. It is too “cheap.” Dr. Morgan said to him: “You were working in the mine today. How did you get out of the pit?” He answered, “The way I usually do; I got into a cage and was pulled to the top.” How much did you pay to come out of the pit? “I didn’t pay anything.” Weren’t you afraid to trust yourself to that cage? Was it not too cheap? The man replied, “Oh No! It was cheap for me, but it cost the company a lot of money to sink that shaft.” The man saw the light, that it was the infinite price paid by the Son of God for our salvation, which comes to us by faith and not anything we can do.
Let me tell you about a few historical characters. God used Ezekiel (12:1-6) we are told, “God repeatedly warns the prophet that the people are rebellious and will deliberately refuse to understand.” The motif of this passage is simply that there are people who are looking but not seeing. Seven times Ezekiel is told to speak to the people “in their sight” so they will, hopefully, get the point. We are still a people who have eyes in our heads but cannot see what is right in front of us.
(Jonah 1:1-2) “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah…” God called Jonah to deliver the words of judgment to Nineveh in person. But Jonah was afraid and decided to use his own poor judgment to buy an expensive ticket on a ship heading in the opposite direction. Jonah found out there is no escaping, even in the belly of a fish.
Hosea (1:1-3) “Now the word of the Lord came to Hosea…” Here God wants to make a point that He wants a relationship in the center of families. Hosea came to see the connection between faithfulness and morality. Hosea was commanded to take a wife who would become a prostitute as an example of God’s relationship to Israel. Hosea was to manifest God’s patience and love.
The New Testament text of Luke 4:16-22 describes how Jesus himself began his ministry by calling people into a relationship with God as he rolled back the scrolls in the synagogue. He said, “I have come to bring good news to the poor…to release the captives…bring sight to the blind and to set the oppressed free.” The work of the prophets of old was being fulfilled, yet still there was unbelief.
God often asked the prophets to do difficult things. Hosea’s choice of a prostitute was exactly like God’s choice of Abraham. Abraham was just another sinner like the rest of the people of the world. He did not deserve to be chosen. But, encountering God, He invariably changes who we are and our agendas. God uses all kinds of experiences to bring us closer to Himself.
There are brief moments in our lives, especially when we are young, when we feel no need for God who forgives our sins and redeems our lives from destruction. Our work enables us to live in freedom in our secular cities, we convince ourselves by rationalizing that we create our own goodness. But these moments are very brief. Health breaks down; hopes become unfulfilled; the limit of our will power becomes painfully clear. Until finally we become aware that the achievements in which we have invested so much of our lives were possibly not worth the price. Sooner or later, we discover that life is an uphill battle, which in the end every person loses. The final human predicament is the irony that our finest achievements have human flaws for which, we alone, are responsible.
There is no gospel for the “righteous.” In the New Testament the basic cleavage between human beings is not between the rich and the poor, powerful and oppressed, male and female, free and enslaved, but between those who believe they were righteous and those who knew they were sinners. You see the gospel is for the poor in a biblical sense—that is, for those who know they cannot save themselves, who know their only defense is God. As Jesus, who ate with sinners, put it, “those who are well have no need of doctor, but those who are sick do. Go and learn what this means,” he said, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have come to call not the righteous but sinner.” (Mt. 9:12-13). There are two important truths in these words. 1st, Jesus could help only those who knew they were sinners. 2nd, only those who knew they were sinners, were those who received mercy, and can show mercy.
Now what about Grace? First of all, the English translation comes from the Greek word meaning, “That which brings delight, joy, happiness, or good fortune.” 2nd, the word can be translated from the Old Testament Hebrew word meaning “favor.” Promises abound in the OT that flow from God’s grace. The New Testament understanding is likewise and tells of divine power given to people that move them to do wonderful deeds. Historically, humankind was condemned as sinners. But as the Apostle Paul put it, “through the free gift’ of grace (Rom. 3:24), in Christ Jesus, the kingdom of heaven is gained.”
I want to give you sense of what faith meant to Calvin, in his context, if we consider its opposite—fear. Calvin lived in an age of fear. Partly a result of the views of human salvation that were preached to the people and the church practices intended to get Christians into heaven. Salvation was not easily gained. It involved a lifetime of struggle against the lingering effects of original sin and making amends for the daily sins most people found hard to avoid. One was always a pilgrim in this world and never quite sure whether one had done enough to merit the reward of heaven. Should a person die with sins unatoned, he could expect a far less comfortable destination, or very long suffering in purgatory.
Calvin’s outlook was based on the rejection of that religion. Faith strives against the fear we feel when we look at who we are and measure ourselves against who we ought to be but cannot be. We are justified, or saved, by this faith. Calvin and Luther were of the same mindset here. Luther was appalled by the church for keeping the people poor due to indulgences for everything. There was a price to pay for everything.
Merlin Carothers, author of the book Prison to Praise, had firsthand experience of what it is like to be declared righteous. During WWll, he joined the army. Anxious to get some action, Carothers went AWOL but was caught and sentenced to five years in prison. Instead of sending him to prison, the judge told him he could serve his term by staying in the army for five years. The judge told him that if he left the army before the five years ended, he would have to spend the rest of his term in prison. Carothers was released from the army before the five-year term had passed, so he returned to the prosecutor’s office to find out where he would be spending the remainder of his sentence. To his surprise and delight, Carothers was told he had received a full pardon from President Truman. The prosecutor explained: “That means your record is completely clear. Just as if you had never gotten involved with the law.” Now that’s justification!
Calvin argued that the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith and union with Christ involves two consequences for believers—regeneration and justification. Calvin, agreeing with Luther, held that we are not justified by anything we do, by proving our spiritual or moral fitness. Instead, we are justified by God’s grace working through faith. It is faith that binds us to Christ. The righteousness that belongs to Jesus, then, is what justifies, or saves us.
Calvin in his Commentary on Romans explains being justified freely. “Since there remains nothing for men, as to themselves, but to perish, being smitten by the just judgement of God, they are to be justified freely through his mercy; for Christ comes to the aid of this misery, and communicates himself to believers, so that they may find in him alone all those things in which they are wanting. There is perhaps no passage in the whole of the scripture (Romans 3:24) which illustrates in a more striking manner the efficacy of his righteousness; for it shows that God’s mercy is the efficient cause, that Christ with his blood is the meritorious cause, that the formal or instrumental cause is faith in the word and that, moreover, the final cause is the glory of divine justice and goodness.” Dear Calvin. I believe his own justification was in the understanding of his own words! I love Calvin. His 22 volumns of every book of the Bible are a testimony to the man’s systematic thought. I recall my days in seminary sitting at a round table and listening to professors discuss Calvin. They were as windy as the topic of which they spoke! Nonetheless, Calvin’s contribution to the Reformed traditions understanding of the Bible is worth its weight in gold. Paul urges on all, without exception, the necessity to seek righteousness in Christ; as though he had said, “there is no other way of attaining righteousness; for some cannot be justified in this and others in that; but all must be justified by faith, because all are sinners, and therefore have nothing for which they can glory before God.”
Regeneration can be explained this way. God accepts us in spite of who we are. Through our faith God chooses to view us as good or righteous, even though we are not quite that. Calvin puts it this way. The Spirit “conforms us to the image of Christ” (Rom. 8:29). Luther says this: “The Law must be laid upon those that are to be justified, that they may be shut up in prison thereof, until the righteousness of faith comes—that, when they are cast down and humbled by the Law, they should fly to Christ. The Lord humbles them not in their destruction, but to their salvation.” This may have come to Luther when he locked himself away on purpose in the tower of an old castle for 16 years out of fear for his life. Not that he wasn’t busy. He transcribed the entire bible from Greek, Hebrew and Latin into German. The first copy would eventually roll of the newly invented Gutenburg press.
You see we do not come to trust a person through their work or achievements but in response to the impact of person’s life on our own. Faith is a human response elicited by God’s grace, whereby we receive forgiveness. Once we come to the realization that we cannot forgive ourselves and gain God’s favor, only God can do that by His grace and love when we come to the foot of the cross. We all need to be forgiven. We need to know that no matter how great our sins, God will erase them and remember them no more. It means turning our faults and failures, our sins and weaknesses over to Him. Eugene O’Neill said, “We are born broken. We live by mending. The Grace of God is the glue.”
At the moment we say “yes” the slate is whipped clean. We are forgiven by the blood of Christ shed for us. But, we have to make the connection for the relationship to begin. God wants to be part of every moment of our lives. He wants us to experience complete joy in the basking of his love for us. Do you think that saying “yes” is just a one time deal? Well, it’s a start! But in our daily walk and relationship with God, God asks us to be accountable, to be ready to change, and develop disciplines that will help us in our relationship. These changes may be subtle ones or they be big ones, but when we trust God to know what is best for us, then saying “yes” becomes a bit easier. Once we realize that we have a wealth of resources to help us grow, then we can become more confident in our journey of faith. First and most importantly, know that Jesus Christ is our example. Our lives are about becoming into His likeness. The Apostle Paul teaches us to put on the “mind and heart” of Christ. How do we do that? By practicing and honing our disciple skills. What are the skills you ask? Prayer, reading and studying God’s word, meditation, action (allowing God’s grace to change your will to His) by saying His will be done, not mine.
God moves us to the point of acceptance, healing, salvation and change through the loving acts of other Christians. This kind of love is called Agape. Agape is the Greek word for “love,” but the most obscure. This form of the word was used rarely by the Greeks, possibly because the full meaning had not been revealed to them until Christ. In the NT, the word agape, is used to designate the unmerited love God shows humankind in sending his Son as the suffering redeemer. We can understand it to mean selfless and self-giving love.
So, Justifying grace is the acceptance of God’s offer. This faith that Jesus asks his followers from the beginning of his ministry is that act of trust and self-abandonment by which we no longer rely on our own strength but commit ourselves to the power and guiding word of him in whom we believe.
Let me close with a word of Henry Edward Cardinal Manning who began his ministry in the Anglican Church but after his conversion to Rome, became Archbishop of Westminster, and a popular writer. During a period if great depression and a darkening of his faith, he went to a well-known bookstore for of copy of one of his own books, entitled Faith in God. As he waited for the book to be sent up from the storeroom, he heard a man’s voice call up saying, “Manning’s Faith in God is all gone. That was the lesson he needed hear.
John Oxenham wrote: Is your place a small place?
Tend it with care!—He set you there.
Is your place a large place?
Guard it with care!—He set you there.
Whate’er your place, it is not yours alone,
But His who set you there
Closing Prayer: Gracious God, our Heavenly Father, we come to you today in Jesus’ name. We have come with reverence and confidence. We have come with full assurance of faith. We know you are not only with us here, but with us out there in our everyday world. We need you and your mercy but most of all your grace. Our heartfelt prayer is that the suffering, violence and troubles of our world may know peace. There are so many places in the world were there is no freedom. Here by your grace, we live in peace. May we never take it for granted. Here in our church family and community we have many needs and concerns. Many are faced with illness and loss in need of your touch and grace. Lord for each of us, look inside and see there the hurts and feelings, the discouragements and frustrations and all the ways we need you. Anoint us with your love and grace and be pleased to hear our prayers. We give it all to you know that you work for good. Hear now the prayer Jesus taught us each to pray, Our Father….