Summary: This is from my expository series through the book of Romans.
“The Gift of Innocence”
October 26, 2008
Said Martin Luther, “The doctrine of justification by faith alone is master, prince, lord, ruler, and judge over all kinds of doctrine.” In other words, get this one right, and most of the others will fall into place; get this one wrong, and the rest don’t much matter. If a church gets this one wrong, it’s a false church, an invalid expression of God’s design. There are other important doctrines besides the doctrine of justification, but none is more critical to us, and we need to know only have an intellectual grasp on it, but we also need to check the condition of our own hearts to make sure that what we’re talking about when we speak of being justified is true of each of us as well. With those things in mind, let’s read together Romans 3:23-24.
We’ve all watched courtroom scenes on TV, either true life stories or those invented for our entertainment. But have you ever imagined what it would be like to be the defendant, to stand accused of some terrible crime, to hear the airtight case woven by the prosecuting attorney, the desperate attempts by your overmatched defense attorney attempting to win an acquittal, knowing all the while that the evidence was incontrovertible, that you were guilty beyond a single doubt—and that everybody in the courtroom knew it. The trial is wrapping up; closing arguments are over; the judge is about to pronounce his verdict, and everyone knows what it will be: “guilty on all counts”; the conclusion is foregone. And you rise at his bidding, inwardly cringing as you await his words. “I find the defendant…not guilty!” Waves of shock ripple through the assembled crowd; you drop to the ground with astonished relief, wondering how it could be that you’ve been declared innocent, free from guilt. This is the picture of justification.
I. The Definition of Justification
“to declare, accept, and treat as “innocent”, and as “righteous” in the sight of God”
From now on, whenever you hear the word “justified” or “justification”, in a theological context, the association that I want your mind to run to is a courtroom scene. It is a declaration of utter and complete innocence in the eyes of the judge; its opposite is condemnation, the judge declaring “guilty”, ringing the gavel down, and preparing to pronounce sentence. But beyond this, justification gives to the guilty sinner a positive declaration of “righteous”; in other words, it is more than full forgiveness, though it includes that. One writer put it this way: “The voice that spells forgiveness will say ‘You may go; you have been let off the penalty which your sin deserves.’ But the verdict which means (justification) will say: ‘You may come; you are welcome to all my love and my presence.’” Justification is more than pardon. Pardon says, “you are guilty, but we’re not going to make you pay for the consequences of your crime.” Justification says, “no basis for punishment exists”. It’s not just that God is unwilling to send you to hell for the sins you’ve committed; it’s that He sees you as though you’ve not committed them, and thus that there is no basis for punishment at all. Now that’s pretty heady stuff, particularly when we remember