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01 November 2008

The Basics: Justification of Sinners

The Basics: Justification of Sinners

In our 11-part series looking at how the Alliance's Basis of Faith is Good News for our neighbours, John Piper discusses…

8. The justification of sinners soley by the grace of God through faith in Christ.

God has done the most deadly work to destroy hopelessness and futility and provincial cowardice. He gave up His Son to torture and death. A perfect life, a perfect death and the decisive work have been accomplished.

But there are millions who are numb to hope because of the God-belittling things they have done and how ugly they have become. They don't lift lofty arguments against God's truth; they shrug and feel irretrievably outside. They don't defy God consciously; they default to cake and television. Except for the periodic rush of sex and sport and cinema, life yawns. There is no passion for significance. For many, no passion at all.

There is a Christian version of this paralysis. The decision has been made to trust Christ. The shoot of hope and joy has sprung up. The long battle against sin has begun. But the defeats are many, and the plant begins to wither. One sees only clouds and gathering darkness. The problem is not perplexing doctrine or evolutionary assaults or threats of persecution. The problem is falling down too many times. Gradually, the fatal feeling creeps in: the fight is futile; it isn't worth it.

Along with this hopelessness and futility, especially in an age of terrorism, provincial cowardice captures many Christian minds. They fear that it may sound conceited to call every people group in the world to trust Christ or perish. It seems too global. Too sweeping. Too universal. To say it takes their breath away. And, worse, it brings down the wrath of the tolerant. What could be more arrogant than to think that the infinite variety of need in all the cultural groups of the world could be met by a single Saviour?

Clear answers

It is astonishing that the biblical Gospel of justification by faith alone answers these three human failures: the hopelessness of unbelievers, the feeling of futility from falling down and the fear of making global claims for Christ.

The biblical, historic, Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone can be summarised in the following four points:

  1. To be justified, or "declared to be in right standing with God", means that Christ has borne all my sin in His death on the cross, and that I am now clothed in the righteousness of Christ who lived a perfect life of obedience to God.
  2. Faith alone is the sole means of justification. In other words, it is faith only, and not our deeds in any way (whether the external manifestation or the internal God-glorifying motive behind them), that connects us savingly to Jesus Christ. 
  3. Faith is not the means of justification because it is a good work. Faith is the means of justification because faith receives God's gift to us of His own righteousness in Jesus Christ. Faith is not the same as Christian obedience. However, while it is faith alone that justifies, the faith that justifies is of such a nature that it will produce love for people and a life of genuine, though imperfect, holiness in this world.
  4. Therefore, this "clothing" of Christ's righteousness, which is ours in Christ as a gift when we first trust in Him, is different from our growth in holiness, which happens throughout the rest of our lives as the Holy Spirit works within us.

To the numb and listless sinner, feeling beyond all hope of godliness, the Bible says, "To the one who does not work but trusts Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness" (Romans 4.5). God justifies the "ungodly". This truth is meant to break the back of hopelessness.

The connection between the sinner and the Savior is trust, not improvement of behavior. That comes later. It's this order that gives hope. "For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law" (Romans 3.28).

The basis of this wild and wonderful hope (the ungodly being declared righteous) is "Christ for righteousness to everyone who believes" (Romans 10.4, literal translation). Through faith alone, God counts the ungodly as righteous because of Christ. "For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5.21). Let all who are paralysed by the weight of sin and the powerlessness to change turn here.

God justifies the 'ungodly'.
This truth is meant to break the back of hopelessness 

Gutsy guilt

To the fallen saint, who knows the darkness is self-inflicted and feels the futility of looking for hope from a frowning Judge, the Bible gives a shocking example of gutsy guilt. It pictures God's failed prophet beneath a righteous frown, bearing his chastisement with broken-hearted boldness. "Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against Him, until He pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light" (Micah 7.8-9).

This is courageous contrition. Gutsy guilt. The saint has fallen. The darkness of God's indignation is on him. He does not blow it off, but waits. And he throws in the face of his accuser the confidence that his indignant Judge will plead his cause and execute justice for (not against) him. This is the application of justification to the fallen saint. Broken-hearted, gutsy guilt.

For the squeamish fellow afraid of making global claims for Christ, the biblical teaching on justification by faith alone explodes his little world. It says: The deepest problem to be solved is the same for every human being, because every human is a descendant of Adam. And the problem to be solved is that "by one man's disobedience many were made sinners"; "one trespass led to condemnation for all men". The only solution to this universal condemnation is a "second Adam" who provides "the free gift of righteousness" to all who hear the Gospel and believe (Romans 5.17-19). Therefore Christ, the second Adam, the giver of righteousness, is the only global Saviour.

Embrace as your treasure the gift of justification. There is no part of your life where it is not immeasurably precious.

© by John Piper, Desiring God www.desiringgod.org
John Piper is pastor for preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

The Alliance's full Basis of Faith can be found at www.eauk.org/basisoffaith
This series is not a commentary on the Basis of Faith, neither is it an explanation of how the Basis is interpreted by the Alliance. Rather, it focuses on the relevance of the Basis to spreading the Good News.

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