Summary: A brief study of justification by faith in Christ the Lord and a review of some reasons why human effort can never justify an individual.

“We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 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.” [1]

Justification is the great theme of the Word of God. Theologians and preachers talk about justification a lot, but we seem to be almost ignorant of justification in this day. The concept of justification was central to initiation of the Reformation; today, justification continues to be the primary issue segregating professing Christians into two classes—those seeking to placate an angry god and those who rest secure in the God of mercy and grace.

Justification is the especial focus of two books of the New Testament—Romans and Galatians. Though the Apostle Paul will speak of justification elsewhere in the New Testament, it is in these two letters that this vital theme is developed most fully. Paul’s Letter to the Churches of Galatia was quite possibly his earliest missive to have been included in the canon of Scripture. Because of the early date for this letter, it is reasonable to assume that justification reflects a cardinal element in New Testament theology, rather than being a concept that developed only with the passage of time. Justification was central to the Faith from earliest days. Without the idea of justification by faith, there is no Christian Faith.

If the doctrine is essential to the Faith of Christ the Lord, why should there be controversy? The simple answer to that question is that mere mortals are involved in the conduct of the Faith, and mankind is composed of fallen, broken people. How the Faith is expressed, the various elements of the Faith that are emphasised and the relationship of justification to the full expression of the Faith are all dependent upon one’s view of justification.

Churches and denominations often become hidebound, guarding their histories more zealously than they guard the truths of the Word. Even when we disagree with some tenet of our denomination, we are prone to maintain a view that allows for acceptance by our fellow worshippers; and in the case of pastors and elders, we count acceptance by our peers as sufficient justification to keep quiet—we “go along to get along.” Because justification is so vital, and because it was being distorted, Paul was compelled to focus on the issue in this letter.

THE CENTRAL ISSUE—JUSTIFICATION — “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” God is holy; man is base. God is righteous; man is corrupt. God is perfect; man is fallen. A great gulf yawns between God and man, a gulf resulting from the fall of our first parents. We are born estranged from God; as we grow, we deliberately move ever farther from the Living God. If we are to have any hope of knowing the Living God, it will be because God Himself has spanned the gulf between us.

In the study of religion, the serious scholar will discover that there are actually only two concepts of how an individual can know God—either one can do something to compel God to receive the individual, or one looks to God for mercy, trusting that God will extend grace. There are not hundreds of religions in the world; there are, in the final analysis, but two religions.

One of the two religions in focus is multi-faceted; it is expressed with hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of exterior shells. Each of these religious expressions claim to be unique, differing from all other religions. However, upon even a cursory examination, it becomes evident that they all share one common, essential feature—all alike attempt to coerce God into accepting the devotee. All these religions share in common the idea that God can be compelled to accept individuals through human effort.

The other religion, regardless of where it may be found, regardless of what language is spoken in the practise of the religion or what outer garb may sheathe the practise, shares at the heart an identity that distinguishes it from the other multi-faceted religion. In contradistinction to the first religion mentioned, this second religion approaches God without attempting to present man’s merit. This religion confesses mankind’s inherent sinful nature, confessing the individual’s sinful condition even while casting oneself on the mercies of the Living God.

This simplifies our understanding religion—either we approach God while attempting to compel Him to accept us, or we approach Him seeking His mercy. Either we attempt to make ourselves righteous, or we seek God’s righteousness imputed to us. Either we are attempting to create a standard for righteousness, or we accept the perfect standard of righteousness revealed by the Living God. In short, we either make religion about us, or we place the Living God at the centre of our religious practise.

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