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
II. The Need of Justification – “All have sinned”
This is not a point we will belabor, not because it doesn’t need belaboring, but because we have dealt with it in detail already: “all have sinned”. We have all failed to live up to the glory of God, the glory in which we were all made (in God’s image), the glory of His eternal presence, the glory of His righteous eternal standard. Bishop Handley Moule put it eloquently when he wrote, “the harlot, the liar, the murderer, are short of (God’s glory), but so are you. Perhaps they stand at the bottom of a mine, and you on the crest of an Alp, but you are as little able to touch the stars as they.” Condemned, you deserve nothing but judgment for your many transgressions, and yet the judge rings down the gavel and declares “innocent” despite the fact that you’re dead-to-rights guilty.
III. The Nature of Justification – “Gift”
Cement this into your minds as well: justification is a gift (Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8). Innocence is a gift, and thus the title of today’s message. The significance of this is that a gift is something which is not, indeed cannot be, earned or merited. My parents are like a lot of folks; they want to give Christmas gifts that will be appreciated, that are truly needed, instead of just guessing what we’d like or could use for Christmas, and so they ask us to make out lists for Christmas, helping them to know what would be good. And since Mom likes to finish her shopping early, we put these lists together in October. But never once has this conversation gone on: “Granddaddy, here’s what I’ve earned this Christmas; pay up”. It doesn’t happen, because that would undermine the very nature of the word “gift”; a gift, by its very nature, is freely given (and then returned the day after Christmas for something the right size). But the point is that when Scripture uses this terminology to describe our justification, it’s not throwaway language, but rather is stressing a critical concept: justification is not, indeed cannot be, earned, but rather is received as a gift.