Summary: This sermon looks at the definition of justification.
Last week we resumed our study in “Romans: The Good News of God.” However, I did not finish my sermon, and so I plan to finish it today.
The issue that the Apostle Paul is dealing with in his letter to the Roman Church is how God saves sinners.
The most important question that anyone can ever answer is: How can a person come into a right relationship with God?
God is a holy God. He created Adam and Eve without sin. Adam and Eve enjoyed a wonderful relationship with God in the Garden of Eden. But Adam and Eve fell into sin when they disobeyed God’s command and ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17). And they also broke their relationship with God.
Adam’s sin was passed on to all his posterity. From Adam onwards every person who has ever lived—with the exception of Jesus Christ—is out of fellowship with God because of his or her sin. Moreover, God is angry with each person because of sin.
But, thankfully, God has acted. God has provided a way for sinners to be saved. The Apostle Paul explained how God himself has provided his own righteousness for sinners. Let’s read Romans 3:21-26, keeping in mind that today’s text is Romans 3:24-26:
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 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. 26 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. (Romans 3:24-26)
Last week I mentioned that Romans 3:21-26 deals with the subject of justification. I also said that New Testament scholar Leon Morris says that these verses may be “possibly the most important single paragraph ever written.”
And because these verses deal with the most important subject of justification, I feel constrained to continue teaching about it this week. I completely agree with my favorite Bible commentator, John R. W. Stott, who said, “Nobody has understood Christianity who does not understand . . . the word ‘justification.’”
So, we shall spend another week on justification.
Pastors who are committed to teaching the Bible understand the importance of teaching on the subject of justification. We teach it many times and in different ways in order to help God’s people understand justification.
But sometimes God’s people are slow to learn, and pastors feel a little like the great German Reformer, Martin Luther (who rediscovered the doctrine of justification in the 16th century and was the human instrument responsible for the Reformation) who said to his congregation after years of teaching about justification, “I have preached justification by faith so often, and I feel sometimes that you are so slow to receive it that I could almost take the Bible and bang it about your heads”!
You may recall that last week I presented an extended illustration describing justification. The word justification comes from the law courts, and it “is a legal term indicating the process of declaring a person righteous.”
I love the way theologian J. I. Packer describes what happens in justification. He says, “Justification is the truly dramatic transition from the status of a condemned criminal awaiting a terrible sentence to that of an heir awaiting a fabulous inheritance.”
Question 33 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is justification?” And the answer given is, “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.”
Today, let us look more closely at the definition of justification. I am using the outline that was originally given by John R. W. Stott in his treatment of justification in The Cross of Christ.
I. The Source of Our Justification Is the Grace of God (3:24)
First, the source of our justification is the grace of God.
How then is anyone then saved? If we are all sinners (and we are), and if we are all under God’s righteous wrath (and we are), and if we are all under condemnation (and we are), and if there is nothing that we can do to save ourselves (and we cannot), how then can anyone be saved?