“…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:23-24
God is a holy and just king who sits upon a throne ruling over creation and judging good and evil (Genesis 18:25; Psalm 50:6; 96:13; 2 Timothy 4:8). God deals with humanity through the rule of law to ensure justice and righteousness (these words are used of God some 227 times in the New Testament alone). This law of God is written both on our hearts (Romans 2:14-15) and in Scripture (Acts 7:53; Romans 2:12). His justice and righteousness distinguish God from false gods who are unjust, capricious, and therefore unloving and unpredictable. The great Old Testament word for law is torah, which is mentioned in reference to God some 203 times, in addition to 423 occurrences of various other words referring to God’s law scattered throughout the Old Testament. And God even speaks of our relationship to Him in the legal term of covenant.
However, everyone is an unjust, sinful lawbreaker—both in their external actions and internal motives (Luke 16:15)—who stands condemned before God (Psalm 51:4; Romans 3:8; 5:16, 18; James 2:10; 1 John 3:4). Our condition is so bad, the Bible teaches that we are sinful in our nature (Romans 8:4-5; Galatians 5:13, 16-24), totally depraved (Romans 1:26-29; 2 Timothy 3:8; 2 Peter 2:19), hostile to God (Romans 5:10; 8:7; Colossians 1:21), children of Satan (John 8:44), alienated from Christ (Ephesians 2:12-13, 19), and spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1-2).
The question then begs to be answered: How could God possibly justify us and make us just without Himself becoming unjust by overlooking sin (Exodus 23:7; Proverbs 17:15)? Since all unrighteous people deserve judgment and wrath in hell, God could have simply declared that no one would be saved; because all are unrighteous sinners, God would have remained perfectly just in damning everyone who ever lived. And though God does indeed condemn some people justly, in His loving mercy He has also chosen to save some people justly through Jesus Christ (Matthew 25:31-33, 46; Romans 5:18; 8:33-34).
The Bible teaches that unjust sinners can be declared just or righteous in God’s sight by being justified, or obtaining justification (Romans 2:13; 3:20). This legal term appears some 222 times in various forms throughout the New Testament. Justification refers to a double transaction whereby God takes away our sinful unrighteousness through Jesus’ substitutionary death in our place, and imputes to us the righteousness of Jesus Christ thereby giving us positive righteousness (Romans 3:21-22; 4:4-6; 5:12-21; 10:4; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:8-9; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18). Justification is so vital that Christianity split into Catholicism and Protestantism over this very issue. John Calvin regarded justification as “the principle of the whole doctrine of salvation and the foundation of all religion.” Martin Luther rightly declared that the doctrine of justification is the issue on which the church stands or falls and that any church denying justification by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone can no longer be called Christian.
The Reformers were faithful to Scripture, which clearly states that we are justified by grace alone (Titus 3:7; Romans 4:2-5; 5:10-21), through faith alone (Habakkuk 2:4; Acts 13:39; Romans 5:1), because of Jesus Christ alone (Isaiah 53:11; Romans 5:16; Galatians 2:16-17), who justifies us by His death (Romans 5:9) and resurrection (Romans 4:25). In some instances Paul even packs these great truths of justification by grace through faith in Christ alone into one compressed section of Scripture (Romans 3:23-28).
To obtain this great gift of justification by grace through faith we need simply to repent of our sin (1 John 1:9) and believe in Jesus Christ (Romans 10:10). Among the innumerable benefits God bestows on us because of His gift of justification are forgiveness of all sins (Acts 13:38-39), peace with God (Romans 5:1), escape from God’s wrath and condemnation (Romans 5:9, 18; 8:1, 33-34), freedom from God’s law (Galatians 3:11, 24), ongoing sanctification (1 Thessalonians 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:13), Spirit-empowered enablement to do good works (James 2:24), and a final glorification (Romans 8:30).
Finally, perhaps the entirety of this incredible doctrine is illustrated most simply by Jesus’ parable, “The Pharisee and the Tax Collector” (Luke 18:9-14).
We’re doing a topical series, which is really unusual for Mars Hill. We’re looking at Christ on the cross. We’re looking at Jesus and what he did for us through his death on the cross in our place for our sins. It is the great jewel of our faith, the death of Jesus is. Like every jewel, it has many sides. We’ve looked at various sides.
Today we’re looking at justification by faith – big words. You get big words at Mars Hill, and so I’m gonna need you to think with me today. This gets fairly complicated, so like Steve says in Blue’s Clues, I need you to sit in your thinking chair and think, think, think, okay? (Laughter) So that’s what I need you to do. I need you to sit there and to think with me about justification by faith – big words, massive theology. We’ll break it down and hopefully have a good time in so doing. So I’ll pray and we’ll get to work.
Father God, thanks for the people that have gotten up and come here to church today. I pray as we open your Word that we would learn that you are a just, righteous, holy, good God. And I pray, God, that we would see ourselves in light of your holiness and your goodness and your justice, and that we would acknowledge our own sin, failure, shortcomings, both in word and deed and motive. And God, I ask today as we study that we would come to a more profound appreciation for Jesus, his life, his death, his burial, his resurrection, that our faith would be in him, that our grace would be from him, and that our eternity would be with him. And so, Jesus, we ask this – we ask this, in your good name we pray. Amen.
So as we get into it today – justification by faith – big issue. This is the issue that split Christianity into two teams, Protestants and Catholics. Blood has been shed, wars have been waged, fights have been fought – this has been the biggest, most conflicted issue in the history of Christian faith. I’ll wrap it up in an hour. You’re welcome. (Laughter)
We’re gonna start with God, because everything starts with God. You gotta start with God. I want you today to see God as good and holy and just and righteous. I want you to see God seated on a throne as the perfect King he is. And I want you to see him as a judge looking down, looking at everyone’s life, looking at everyone’s heart, and being our judge. And that’s exactly what Scripture teaches in Psalm 50:6, that God himself is judge.
Now God deals with us through law, and today I’m gonna need you to see things from God’s perspective, okay? Because when we who are sinners think of this, we tend to think of this from our angle, and I want you to see it from the angle of the holy, righteous, good, glorious God who is our King. And he deals with us through law. Now, I know a lot of you say, “I don’t like law. I’m a punk rocker. I drove here on a moped. I hate law.” Well, your law is to hate law, so you’re a hypocrite, but that’s a whole other thing. And law is good. We just hate it when the laws aren’t equally applied because that’s injustice. But law is good because if we didn’t have rule of law, we would have rule of might or money, right? In some countries, if you go there today and you get raped or hurt you can’t get justice because the guy who beat you up is stronger and you lose – that’s it. Or the guy who stole from you or ripped you off is richer, and that’s it. You suffer. The poor suffer. The young suffer. The elderly suffer. The simple suffer. Those who don’t have power don’t get justice unless there’s law – unless there’s law.
And law theoretically is blind. It doesn’t show favoritism. And theoretically it gives justice to all. Now, we know that because the law is, in our world, implemented by sinners, that occasionally there is injustice. But in theory the law is the best, because without it all we’d get is tyranny.
Let me give you an example. The ancient Code of Hammurabi, which is one of the first moral, legal codes in the history of the world, it says that for the committing of a certain crime there are different kinds of punishment, meaning if you steal and you’re poor, you get the death sentence. And if you steal and you’re middle class, you’ve gotta give some money. And if you steal and you’re rich, nothing happens. Some of you would say, “That’s not just.” The same crime has different consequences depending upon your income, your socioeconomic status, your gender, your race – we would say, “That’s wrong.” That’s because we’re appealing to justice and we’re appealing to law.
God deals with us justly through law. He does that so we could depend on him. You could imagine if God were capricious, like a junior high kid – kept changing his mind, right? You just never knew what he was gonna think or say. You go to God one day, he says, “Today I’m the forgiving God. I love you.” The next day he says, “I’ve changed my mind.” You would say, “God you’re impossible to have a relationship with because you are completely inconsistent. You’re capricious. You always change. You say one thing, contradict yourself, do one thing, contradict yourself. How in the world can I love you, know you, trust you if you are not dependable?” And God says, “I am and I work with you through law, and I will also obey the laws that I give. I’m just. And in so doing you can depend on me. I’m not capricious, don’t change my mind. I don’t show favoritism. I’m the kind of God you need. I am the God you need.”
And when the Bible speaks of law in the Old Testament, it uses the word Torah. It appears more than 200 times in the Old Testament. Other words for law are many different words, but combined they appear more than 400 times in the Old Testament. Just in my basic research, I found more than 600 occasions where various words are used of “law” in regards to God’s law to us.
And what happens, then, is that God has this ability as judge to judge us by the law. And each of us has the law, and Romans 2 says we have it in two places. We have the internal witness of conscience, and we have the external witness of Scripture. And so the first witness, the internal witness of conscience, is that the law is literally written on our hearts. So we know that certain things are right, and certain things are wrong. Now, we can bust our conscious, we can break this moral compass and we can be sinners and rebels, but deep down each of us has this sense of right and wrong, that which is just, that which is unjust, and we get righteously indignant when injustice is made.
Give you an example. Some people say, “Well, there’s no such thing as truth or overarching morality. It depends on your culture, your language, your nation, your people. It’s perspectivism, post-modernism, relativism – all the big ‘isms.’” The truth is it doesn’t matter where you go, if you walk up to somebody and say, “Is it okay for a dad to rape his daughter?” they say, “No.” “Is it okay for someone to go out and just murder people that are innocent and didn’t do anything?” The answer is, “No, that’s not right.” “Well, why?” “Well, everybody just knows that’s wrong.” “Well, how come everybody knows it’s wrong?”
Well, because God made everybody. God made everybody in his image and likeness. God put a conscience in everybody. And out of that conscience we know that some things are right and some things are wrong – whether or not we’re even Christians. Some of you are non-Christians and you have this strong sense of right and wrong and morality that comes from the law of God written on your heart.
Also, we have the law of God written in Scripture. So we read the Bible – hundreds and hundreds of laws. God says, “Don’t do this.” That’s a law. “Do do this.” That’s a law. And so we have the law written in our heart and written in Scripture.
And then we come before God, who is our judge, like Psalm 50:6 says, and then God judges us. It is literally God takes the law in our heart, takes the law in Scripture, and then examines our life in light of his commands. And he’s asking questions like, “Where did you fail to do that which I told you to do, and where did you do exactly what I told you not to do?” Sins of omission, sins of commission – because sin is the breaking of God’s law. That’s what it says in 1 John 3:4. “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.” God gives his law, we break it – that is the definition of sin. We’re acting contrary to God’s will, God’s way, God’s Word – that’s the definition of sin.
The result, then, is we’re all sinners. We’re all unjust. We are all rebels. We are all lawbreakers. This is what the psalmist declares in Psalm 51:4. “Against you only” – speaking to God – “you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.” The psalmist knows this: when the Bible is open, and God the judge sits on his throne, and I come before him, and he starts reading the laws, I’ve broken them. I didn’t do what I was supposed to do – sins of omission. I did do what I wasn’t supposed to do – sins of commission. I’m unjust. God looks at me and says, “You’re guilty. You’re a lawbreaker. You have no justice. You are unjust.” And the psalmist says, “God, you are justified in doing that.” God is just, his Word is just. The just God judges us by his just Word, and rightly, justly declares us to be unjust. So we’re all sinners.
Now, some of you will say, “But I’m not totally bad. I’m a pretty good person. I’m somewhere between Mother Theresa and Ted Bundy. Doesn’t God grade on a scale? Isn’t this like community college where somebody’s always pulling the bell curve down, and we love them? And is long as you’re in the C-range, don’t you get to go – I mean, isn’t that good enough?” The answer is no, because see, we tend to see things in degrees. “Well, there’s really good people, really bad people, and then there’s moderate people of varying sorts and kinds in the middle.” God sees things as righteous and unrighteous, just and unjust, perfect and imperfect, holy and unholy. God sees it as all or nothing.
In the same way – in the same way if you took a glass of water and it was clean, and then you put one drop of pollution in, how much is defiled? All of it. The whole thing is corrupted. The whole thing is made filthy and dirty. James says in James 2:10 – Jesus’ brother declares, “If you break one aspect of God’s law, you’re guilty of breaking all of it” because it’s all or nothing. It’s all or nothing. You’re either clean or dirty, and if you’ve sinned, become unclean, you can’t say, “Well, I’m really clean except for that pollution that God into everything.” Say, “No, I’m dirty. I’m defiled. I’m sinful. I’m unjust. I’m unrighteous. I’m now crooked, not straight. I’m broken, not whole.” And that’s the condition we are in.
So you need to accept that. Accept that there’s not this curve. There is the righteousness of God and the unrighteousness of us. The perfection of God, the imperfection of us. That God is just and he judges us, and if we break any part of the law, we’re guilty. See, we can’t stand before a judge – let’s say you rape someone, killed someone, stole something. You went before the judge and the judge said, “Did you do it?” “Yes, but I’ve never jaywalked.” “Oh, well, then we can’t send you to jail because you didn’t break the whole law. You only broke one.” Well, it only takes one. It only takes the breaking of one law to be justly condemned and justly sentenced. That’s all it takes. James says, “You bust one law, you bust ‘em all.”
The result of this, too, though, is that God not only judges our life, he judges our heart. He not only looks at our actions, he looks at our motives. Here’s what he does. Luke 16:15 – Jesus says that we have a propensity to justify ourselves before others, but God looks at our motives in your heart and he judges our intentions. Some of you are going, “No!” Yes! (Laughter) See, some of you are here today to meet girls. God knows that! (Laughter) And so do the girls now – gotchya! (Laughter) See, this is – this is what happens. We work out of impure motives, too. It’s not just the action, it’s the motivation that counts.
Jesus says that man looks at the outward, God looks at the heart. How scared would you be if your whole life was, like, a monitor on top of your head, a teleprompter, and it just sort of printed out your motives? Wouldn’t that be bad? Right? I remember having this argument with a guy in college. He and I debated all the time. I wrote for the editorial page in college, and he was an atheist and I was a new Christian. And we were fighting over everything. He was a friend, and I remember one time telling him, “You are evil!” This was in the middle of the newsroom. (Laughter) And he didn’t appreciate that. It was shocking. And he said, “What do you mean? I’m a good person!” I said, “You are not a good person because you do good things with bad motives.” And he stood up – and he’s pretty tall, but I could get inside on him. (Laughter) So we were – you know, we were having this discussion and he said, “No, I’m a good person!” I said, “Name the last good thing you did.” He said, “Well, this weekend,” he said, “I helped this gal” – that we both knew – “I helped her move.” She had to move from, like, her dorm to an apartment or something. And he said, “I spent my whole Saturday just hauling furniture and helping her move. See, I’m a good person!”
I said, “Don’t lie to me. Don’t lie to me. Why did you do it? Tell me why you did it – honestly.” He said, “I was hoping she’d sleep with me.” “Well, there you go! You’re not Mother Theresa, you’re Hugh Hefner! Your motives are bad! You can’t say, ‘I did a good thing.’ You were carrying the bed thinking, ‘We’re gonna use this for sure.’ That’s a sin! That’s a sin of motive!”
Now imagine if God literally had a teleprompter of all of our motives. You’re talking to someone. “How are you doing today?” And then the teleprompter read, “I hate your guts and I wish you would die of a heart attack.” You know, you’d be like – this is how God sees us. He sees our deeds and our motives.
See, the result is that God declares that we are totally depraved. It says in Romans 1:28 that God gave us over to our depravity. And here’s what depravity means – we’re totally depraved. Some of you say, “I’m not totally depraved.” You are totally depraved, not utterly depraved. Utter depravity means you’re as bad as you could possibly be. You could do worse things more frequently. Okay, you could be utterly depraved, but no one is utterly depraved because we’re made in the image and likeness of God, we have a conscience, we have the rule of law. And because of that, it restrains some of our evil. But we are totally depraved in that all of who we are is stained and marred by sin. Your thinking – so your thinking’s all crooked. Your emotions – your emotional life is crooked. Your will, your desire to do things is crooked. Your physical body is crooked – it has evil, corrupt desires and is in the process of decay of death. That our mind, will, emotions, body – it’s all affected, all corrupted by sin.
The result is literally just like putting that impurity into a pure glass of water. It’s all made unclean. It’s like one virus getting into a network and affecting all the different terminals. Sin gets into us, gets into every part of us, corrupts and affects every aspect of us. We think, we feel, we reason, we act crooked out of our depravity.
Now, the result of this is that we are enemies of God, right? If you read Ephesians 2, it says we’re dead to God and alive to Satan. Here’s the result. You ever been so angry at someone you told them, “Look, you’re just dead to me. Turn your back and walk away.” That’s what we do to God in sin. “I’m dead to you, but I’m alive to Satan.” Ephesians 2:12 says as well that we’re separated from Jesus, and Romans 8:7 says that our mind is hostile to God. God says, “You’re not good.” “I am good!” God says, “You need me.” “I don’t need you. I have another religion I’ve found or invented, or another philosophy that I invented or found.” And the result is that we are at war with God. That’s the language of Scripture. That we don’t love God. We don’t listen to God. We don’t obey God. We don’t look like God. We don’t think like God. We don’t feel like God. We don’t act like God. And the question, then, is, “How in the world could a just God open the just law, look at us and say, ‘That’s not a problem’”?
See, God’s on the horns of a terrible dilemma here. Some of you who came in here today said, “How could a loving God send people to hell?” My question is, “How could a just God take anybody to heaven?” How in the world could God put up with this? How in the world could God allow us to be his friend? How in the world could God let us continue to breathe and not just sentence us to death?
And see, this is the dilemma of Scripture. Exodus 23:7 – God says, “Have nothing to do with false charges and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not – I will not acquit the guilty.” God said, “When you judges and rulers make decisions, remember you’re representing me. And if somebody’s guilty, don’t acquit them. And if somebody’s innocent, don’t sentence them to death. You need to judge justly. That’s how I judge.” Proverbs 17:15 – God says, “Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent – the Lord detests them both.” So how in the world can God acquit us who are guilty? How can he do that and still be just?
And let me say this, too. If God did that – if God looked at you and me and just said, “Oh, I understand. We all have a bad day. I understand. We all have a bad life.” You know? “Oh, I know you did bad things, and you hate me, and you’re a rebel and lawbreaker, and your words, your deeds, your motives – I know you’re all jacked up but you know what? That’s not a problem.” You and I wouldn’t love that God. We would have no respect for that God.
Okay, imagine – imagine if, in your own life, you were the offended party. Okay, in this equation, God is the offended party. I need you to see it through his eyes. Imagine somebody did something terrible to you. They raped you. They molested you. They ripped you off. They murdered your best friend. You went to court. You finally got your day for justice. And the law says that they are guilty if, in fact, they did do it. They stand up before the judge and the judge says, “How do you plead?” and they say, “Guilty. I did it all, plus some other stuff you don’t even know about.” And then the judge looked at them and said, “That’s not a problem. We all have bad days. No problem at all. No jail, no sentencing, no justice – feel free to go do it again. We all have bad days.”
You and I would be sitting in a courtroom saying, “This is a travesty of justice. We’re not even arguing over guilt. This person is fully condemned, they don’t even deny it, and you’ll do nothing? Where’s the justice?” See, when we’re the offended party we want justice, because we’re image-bearers of God. And when God is the one who is sinned against, God deserves justice. I mean, we’re all hypocrites if somebody rips us off, and we call the cops, and we’re not Christians. That’s what I’m saying. Christians could say, “When you break the law, that’s a problem. We call in and we want justice.” Somebody rips you off, feel free to call the cops. Somebody murders someone, feel free to press a charge. Somebody rapes you, molests you, feel free to fill out a report and bring it to court. Feel free to, because we believe in justice and we believe in the rule of law. And we believe that if it weren’t for sin, there would be perfect execution of justice under law.
So the real problem isn’t just or law, the real problem is sinners implementing justice in law, but in this world it’s the best we’ve got. But with God, who is perfect, he’s always right. His verdicts are always accurate. His judgment is always just. And imagine being God who is judge and the offended party. How in the world is God gonna let somebody like us off? That would be a travesty.
And see, we’ve had this in our world – now, some of you may disagree with the verdicts, but this is some of the most debated, contentious argument in our culture, right? Robert Blake – everybody thinks he murders his wife. He gets off. OJ Simpson – everybody knows he whacked his wife. They have a civil case later, says – well, the first one says, “He didn’t kill anybody, but this is gonna cost him a lot of money.” Well, then he killed somebody, right? Like, we accept that he did. Also, Michael Jackson’s trial – nobody looks at it and says, “No problem there.” We go, “What in the – if a percentage of what we hear is true, the guy has serious problems and something should be done. He shouldn’t be having kids over to his house for sleepovers anymore – in his bed, yeah?” I mean, this is the world we live in. And we get frustrated, we get angry when we see injustice. And we say, “Well, it doesn’t seem like the law applies equally to everybody. Seems like if you’re rich, or you get a good defense team, or you can manipulate the media, then you get injustice and there’s no equality.”
Well, here’s the good news, friends. There’s equality before God. There’s justice before God. God can’t be bought or sold. God sees all the facts and the motives of the heart, and he renders a verdict of “guilty” on us all as sinners. And then here’s what should happen: Guilty people in life should go to jail or prison. Guilty people in eternal life should go to hell – nice and clean, nice and simple, nice and just, makes perfect sense.
The question is how in the world can a just God declare unjust people to be just and take them to heaven, not hell? Yeah, you all know the answer because you’ve been here a while. His name is Jesus, right? You know where I go with this. But this is why we need to understand and cling to Jesus Christ. This is the great doctrine of justification. How can a just God justly judge sinners, and justly declare them to be unjust, and then turn around and declare them to be just? That’s the doctrine of justification. All of this happens at the cross where Jesus, who is God, becomes a man, lives without sin. He is completely just, and on the cross he takes my sin and he gives me his righteousness. And this wonderful exchange, as Luther calls it, transpires.
2 Corinthians 5:21 – this is last week’s sermon, so I won’t belabor it – “God made him, Jesus, who knew no son to become sin” – so my sin goes on Jesus on the cross – “to become sin so that in him, I might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus dies for my sin. He literally takes the death penalty, and he dies for me. And I don’t have any righteousness – he’s not forgiven all my unrighteousness, all my injustice – but I still am at zero. I don’t have any positive righteousness. And he gives me his righteousness. So now, not only am I forgiven, I am made righteous through Jesus Christ. This is the great biblical doctrine of justification. The way you and I get justified is through Jesus Christ.
Now, this leads to the most contentious point. Yes, God is loving, merciful, gracious, compassionate, and kind. He will save us through Jesus. But how exactly does this transpire? This is the great debate between Catholics and Protestants. How is someone justified before a just God? How can an unjust, injust person be declared just before and by a just God? Catholics and Protestants answer this question very differently.
I drove by a Catholic church on the way here today – didn’t stop, because I’m not Catholic. (Laughter) Now, some of you are gonna think, “Oh, Mark hates Catholics.” Actually, Mark doesn’t hate Catholic. I was raised Catholic. Our name until a few generations ago was O’Driscoll. We’re a bunch of Irish Catholics, that’s what we are. Now if you want to be real Catholic, be Irish Catholic. That’s varsity. (Laughter) Also, we were potato farmers in the Midwest, right? North Dakota, Minnesota, and what happens – boy, if you’re in the Midwest, blue-collar, Irish Catholic, you cannot be more Catholic than that. I went to a Boston Red Sox opening day game a few years ago. A bunch of Irish blue-collar guys – felt like a family reunion. That’s my background, right? Irish Catholic. Do I hate Catholics? I don’t hate Catholics. I was a Catholic ‘til I was 19 years of age. You say, “You don’t understand Catholicism.” I do. I went to Catholic school, had my knuckles rapped by the nun. (Laughter) I wore the uniform. I went to confession with a priest. I was an altar boy – I had a little white robe and I would ring the bell and serve the elements. Those are you who are ex-Catholics or confused Catholics who are here because you think we’re Catholic because I make you feel bad and we do communion every week, you know what I’m talking about! (Laughter)
I was very Catholic, right? Very Catholic. I’d pray every night. I was told the saints have extra righteousness. If you pray to them, they’ll give you some – true story. So every night, “Hail Mary, mother of God” – pray to Mary. “Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst sinners, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” I haven’t said that prayer in 16 years, but I still know it because I said it every day as a Catholic boy. I also know the number for Pizza Pipeline at WSU because I used it all the time in college. I haven’t used that in 16 years either, but I remember because it was so drilled in deep. And I was told, you know, “It’s not just Jesus, it’s Mary. She’s – like the last pope said, co-mediatrix, co-redemptress, she’s between you and God.” Here’s what my Catholic grandma said: “Jesus is a good boy, does whatever his mama tells him. If you want to get something done, ask Mary.” That’s what I was told, so I prayed to Mary growing up. I prayed to the saints. I did the sign of the cross with the holy water – don’t give me this “You don’t understand” look. I fully get Catholic.
Do I think all Catholics are going to hell? I don’t. I think some Catholics love Jesus, he died for their sins. We disagree with them on some things. I’m not anti-Catholic, don’t hate Catholics, but there are important differences. Half my family – my immediate and extended family – is still Catholic, and some of them are Christians that love Jesus, some of them aren’t. I was a Catholic, but I wasn’t a Christian. I didn’t love Jesus. I had a wrong view of justification. I didn’t understand how I could be declared just before God because as a Catholic boy – and this is – again, blood has been shed over this. The doctrine I’m gonna teach you today, justification by faith, a Catholic council said that anyone who teaches that is a heretic, anathema, going to hell – which would be me, right? So this has been a brutal war on both sides.
Here’s how Catholics teach that you can be justified in the sight of God, okay? We’ll go back to the days of Martin Luther; this is when it all kicked off. The Catholic church would say, “First you’re saved by baptism.” So you get – but the Bible says you’re not saved by the will of a father. But your father decides to baptize you. See, the Catholic church says you’re saved at baptism because then you’re brought into the church, and you’re saved through the church, not just Jesus. And I know this is true, because the first funeral I had to officiate as a brand-new, young, 20-something pastor – I had a relative die, and my aunt begged me – who’s really Catholic, wears the St. Christopher medals, everything else – she asked me to speak at his funeral and to do it with a Catholic priest.
So I show up, Catholic priest brings in my dead relative – my uncle – brings him up front and says, “Welcome. Thank you for coming. We know that he’s in heaven today because he was baptized in the holy Catholic church. And now his nephew Mark would like to speak.” I was like, “Oh no.” (Laughter) My first funeral, right? It’s like, “This is not good.” And I’m like, “Ahhh! He’s got a really nice robe. I’m in a suit. He looks more holy than me – but he’s wrong!”
You know, I – from baptism you’re justified, and then throughout your life you’ll commit sins, so what you’ll do – you’ll go to the priest because the mediator between you and God is the priest, not Jesus. The Bible says there’s one mediator between man and God, the Man Christ Jesus. So you got the priest and you go to confession and you name all your sins. And I did this as a Catholic boy – “Oh, my God, I’m heartily sorry for having offended thee. It has been so many days since my last confession.” I tell the priest some of what I did – not the real big stuff. And I’d confess some of them and then he would say, “You are forgiven,” and he would pronounce forgiveness – not that God would forgive me, the priest would forgive me. And then he would give me penance, and he would say, “Okay, you gotta go say so many Our Fathers, so many Hail Marys. Here’s your rosary beads, go get on your knees and say all these prayers over and over and over. Then go walk an old lady across the street, do some good works, and then God will wash it all clean and that’ll take care of it.” So you do penance throughout life.
And if you commit a really bad sin, you lose your salvation, go to hell. If you commit a pretty bad sin, you go to purgatory. Purgatory is this place the Bible doesn’t talk about, but it’s this place that’s kind of like going to the airport and missing your flight. (Laughter) You can’t go anywhere. You can’t get out. There’s nothing to do. And it’s just sort of this terrible place that you wait ‘til you get picked up to go to somewhere you really want to be. So purgatory’s like being stuck at the airport during a snowstorm – you’re just sort of there. And you’re there as long as it takes to pay God back for all the evil deeds that you did.
But they came up with another doctrine saying in purgatory, when you’re paying God back, there’s one way to get you out called indulgences. If you have a living relative who has some extra cash, they can make a tax-deductible contribution to the church and they can buy you out of purgatory. So Aunt Sally doesn’t need to suffer anymore. She can get a one-way ticket to the Kingdom. So then by giving a certain amount of money, you pay indulgences and buy your relatives out of purgatory.
This was a money-making bonanza. This – they built St. Peter’s Basilica. The reason we are still trying to raise the money for our new building is I didn’t come up with something like this. (Laughter) This was a money-making opportunity, and it worked, man. “Aunt Sally’s in hell.” “Well, how much does that cost?” You know, like, “$29.95.” “Gotchya.” You know? (Laughter) And the result of this – and some of you think I’m stretching it. I’m actually not, but I’m having fun. And the truth of it is you never had any assurance, because if you sinned bad tomorrow, didn’t get to do penance, didn’t get to go to the priest, you may lose your salvation. You may go to hell. People lived under terror.
People lived scared until a guy came along named Martin Luther. He was a Catholic monk of the Augustinian order, and he’s reading his Bible saying, “It doesn’t seem like you’re justified by baptism, penance, confession, extra grace from the saints, purgatory, and indulgences. It seems like you’re saved by Jesus.” He starts reading his Bible, and all of a sudden the Protestant reformation comes, and Catholics and Protestants split over this issue of justification by faith.
I was a Catholic boy, read my Bible, changed my mind to agree with Luther. My grandma flew out – she was really worried about me. My really Catholic grandma, who was in an order of lay nuns – her husband died and she became a de facto nun. I mean, we’re real Catholic. And she met with me and she said, “Marky” – this is when I was about ready to get married. Doesn’t matter how old you are, your grandma calls you Marky. “Marky, what happened?” She was really distressed. “How come you’re not Catholic?” I said, “Well, Grammy, I was reading the Bible” – she says, “See, that’s what happens!” (Laughter) Yeah, that’s what happens – Luther did it and you did it, too! And she’s – she’s – she’s still ticked at Luther. Like, she died and went to heaven. If she found Luther, like, he’s getting a swat with a wooden spoon. She is still really unhappy with Luther.
And I say, “Well, Grammy, I think I’m saved by Jesus, not me.” She said, “So you’re not Catholic?” I said, “No, I don’t think so. I love Jesus. I don’t know what that makes me.” She says, “Are you a Lutheran?” (Laughter) Like, if I were to have said, “I’m a Satanist who eats children,” she’d have been like, “As long as you’re not a Lutheran Satanist that eats children,” all right? I said, “No, I don’t think I’m a Lutheran, Grammy. I don’t know what I am. I’m – I love Jesus and I’m reading my Bible. That’s all I got.” And my grandma was so worried about this issue. But as I read the Bible, it was like, “You know what? I’m saved by Jesus, not by Mark or the church. I’m saved by Jesus.”
And this is the protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone, through grace alone, because of Jesus Christ alone. This is what we believe at Mars Hill. John Calvin, the great Protestant teacher, says that this is the principal of the whole doctrine of salvation and the foundation of all religion. Martin Luther says that justification is the issue on which the church stands or falls, meaning if we don’t have justification by faith, we’re not Christians. We have another religions and another Gospel. Okay, this is not to bang on all the Catholics, but if you’re here today I need you to understand the difference. And again, I do believe that there are Catholics who love Jesus and he died for their sin. I do believe that. I do believe that. But this issue is so important because if somebody walks up to you and says, “What is my problem?” you say, “Sin is our problem.” “Well, how do I deal with sin?” Don’t say, “Baptism, penance, go to the priest, pray to Mary, extra prayers from the saints, and go to purgatory.” Say, “Jesus.” How you answer that question really matters, really matters.
So I’m gonna teach you the doctrine of justification by faith alone, through grace alone, because of Jesus Christ alone. And I’ll show you that it’s biblical – this is what happens when you read your Bible. And I’ve gotta move, like, super quick. I’ve only got, like, 20 minutes left. I just finished my first page of my dang notes. I need a shot clock like the Sonics, you know, I – (Laughter) so I gotta move quick and I’m gonna read quick. But I’m gonna give you massive Scripture – massive Scripture, and then you can go home and look them up for yourselves.
The first point – are we justified by grace alone? Because – is it a gift that God gives us, justification, or is it that we make ourselves into good people, we do good works, we obey God’s laws, and we save ourselves? Or does Jesus save us as a gift? First thing, justified by grace alone – Titus 3:7: “Having been justified” – there’s our word – “by his grace.” So how do I get justified? God’s just, the Bible’s just, I’m unjust. I want God to declare me just. How is that gonna happen? Grace, a gift. God does something wonderful for you. It’s like ten criminals all commit the same crime, walk into a court. “How do you plead?” “We all plead guilty.” Nine get the death sentence, one the judge says, “Grace for you. Grace for you.” That’s grace. I didn’t earn, merit, deserve this kind of love and forgiveness. This is unusual.
Romans 5:16-17: “Again, the gift” – okay, justification is a gift – “the gift of God is not like the result of one man’s sin.” That’s Adam. “The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation.” You either have condemnation or justification; that’s it. “But the gift” – again, gift – “followed many trespasses and brought” – there’s our word again – “justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” He uses the word “justification.” Three times he says, “Gift, gift, gift.” He says, “Grace.” He’s trying to tell us, “You’re justified by grace, by grace.”
Second point – through faith alone, faith in Jesus. Not faith in your church, not faith in your religion, not faith in your morality, not faith in your resume, not faith in your spirituality, not faith in your parents, not faith in your baptism, not faith in your communion, not faith in your membership at Mars Hill Church – faith alone in Jesus. All the other things may be good, but your faith has to be in Jesus alone. You’re saved by faith alone. Acts 13:39: “Through him” – that is, Jesus – “everyone who believes is justified.” You say, “I would like to be justified.” “Well, it’s grace.” “Well, okay, how do I get grace?” “Believe Jesus. Believe in Jesus. Believe on Jesus. Have your trust, your faith, your hope, your certainty rest in Jesus, not yourself.”
Again, Romans 4:3-5. What does Scripture say? This is how Paul answers the question, okay? The big debate between Protestants and Catholics is this: Where is the Bible in authority, okay? Is it here, and standing over the Bible is the church, and the church has authority over the Bible? Or is the church under the Bible, and that the Bible is here in authority over us? That’s the big debate. And some people say, “Well, the church historians and theologians and councils and the history of the church” – Paul asked the great question. “What does Scripture say?” That’s the issue, okay? At Mars Hill we’re a Bible-believing, Bible-loving, Bible-teaching, Bible-memorizing church. Paul’s question is the right question. “What does Scripture say?” Well, we get all these big debates – “Well, there’s a lot of opinions and perspectives.” Okay, great. Read your Bible and ask that question. “What does Scripture say?” Not just what tradition says, religion says, history says – what does Scripture say?
Paul asks that question – Romans 4:3-5. What does Scripture say? He goes back to Genesis 15:6. “‘Abraham believed God’” – believed. That’s faith. “‘And it was credited to him as righteousness.’” Is he righteous? No! The righteousness is given to him through faith alone. The righteousness of Christ. “Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts” – again, that’s faith. Trust, faith – synonyms. “Trusts God who justifies the wicked” – there’s our word justify – “his faith is credited as righteousness.” Here’s what he’s saying. “We’re wicked. We can’t make ourselves just. We can’t be religious, moral, purgatory, karma, reincarnation, giving time, money – we can’t make ourselves righteous. We’ve already been polluted. It’s too late. Even if we started today, we still have all of our past and we know in the future we would sin more. So we can’t be justified by ourselves.”
But Jesus lives in our place as a substitute, without sin. Dies in our place, without sin, as our substitute. On the cross, takes our unrighteousness, gives us his righteousness. And if we trust in him, we’re justified – by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, given to us as a gift of God’s grace. We don’t deserve, merit, earn it. It’s a wonderful thing that God has done.
We’re saved by grace alone, though faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. Not Jesus plus my good works, Jesus plus my morality, Jesus plus all the verses I memorize, Jesus plus the church I go to, Jesus plus my theological convictions – Jesus. Everything else is good, but you have to have faith in Jesus Christ alone for the salvation of sins – from sins.
Here’s what it says about Christ alone. Isaiah says in Isaiah 53:11, hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, “After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant” – that’s Jesus – “will justify many and he will bear their iniquities.” Jesus will come and die for the sins of sinners and justify them. Again, the object of our faith – Jesus. That’s what Paul says in Romans 5:1. “We have been justified through faith.” Well, faith in who? Faith in what? Faith in Jesus’ death on the cross in our place, paying our death penalty for our sins as our substitute. It’s a gift of grace received by faith, accessed solely in Jesus Christ. As well as Galatians 2:16: In Christ alone. “Man is not justified” – there’s our word – “by observing the law.” Not by being a moral person, or a good person, or a religious person, or a spiritual person.
Some of you came here today and you thought, “God loves good guys, hates bad guys. As long as my good deeds outweigh my bad deeds, then God will love me and accept me.” No, God says, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” and he sees perfect and imperfect, and you’re not a good person. We can’t stand before God with our own resume. We can’t do it. I want to rob you of all of these illusions and delusions. They’re evil and they’re awful, and they are the source and sum of all religion. And religion is the problem; Jesus is the answer.
Goes on – Galatians 2:16: “Man is not justified by observing the law” – being a good person, doing nice things – “but” – well, say, “How do I get justified?” “By faith.” “In who?” “In Jesus Christ,” he says. “So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because no one will be justified by observing the law.” That’s what he says. Nobody saves themselves. Nobody earns God’s verdict of just and justified. It’s a gift of grace, received by faith in Jesus Christ alone.
Say, “Well, how in the world could Jesus justify me? How could he do that?” Well, the Bible gives two reasons. One, he died, and two, he rose. Romans 5:9: “We now have been justified” – how? – “by his blood.” See, when Jesus died a bloody death on the cross, he did that to justify us, those of us who have faith in him or will have faith in him. See, Jesus died, shed his blood, suffered the death penalty for your sin and mine, literally. Jesus is our judge. We stand before him. He says, “You’re guilty. You’re unjust. The penalty is death.” And then he comes down and he says, “But I’ll go to the gallows. I’ll suffer and die in your place. You go live a new life.” I mean, you’re the victim and judge, and you’re going to not only forgive me, but suffer and die for me? Yeah, why would you do that? “I love you, and you can’t save yourself. Only I – only I can save you. Now, I need to be just and uphold the law, I also want to be loving, merciful, compassionate, and kind, so I must also suffer the verdict that I render.”
Boy, that’s a loving God, isn’t it? There’s no God like that – there’s no religion like this. Every other religion, God sits on his bench, and you and I come before him, and he says, “If you do these things, then maybe I’ll love you.” Not Jesus. He sheds his blood. All right, that’s what Peter says: “The righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God.” Through his death, Jesus has paid our penalty of sin, which is death. And then through his resurrection he assures our forgiveness, and our justification, and our new life.
Romans 4:25: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” – there’s the word. Jesus lived without sin, died, rose to justify, to justify an evil, corrupt, sinful man like me. You say, “Why?” because God is gracious and he gives grace. “How do I access this?” Trust Jesus – not yourself, not your religion, not your morality, not your spirituality, not your resume of any sort or kind. Trust Jesus.
Perhaps the most condensed section of Scripture that teaches justification by faith alone, through grace alone, because of Jesus Christ alone is Romans 3:22-26 – actually 28. We’ll read it all. I’ll read it to you. “This righteousness” – see, where does righteousness come from, people? Good people? Moral people? Spiritual people? No. “This righteousness from God comes through faith” – there’s our word – “faith in Jesus Christ” – to who? – “to all who believe.” Question: Do you believe in Jesus, Mars Hill? Is your hope in Jesus, your love in Jesus, your trust in Jesus? Walking in her today, if someone would’ve said, “Do you know that God actually loves and forgives you and you’ll inherit eternal life?” would you have said, “Yes, I am sure”? And they would say, “Why?” Would you have said, “Jesus. I trust Jesus. I love Jesus. I believe in Jesus. I belong to Jesus. Jesus died and rose. My salvation is secure. I have no doubt. I sleep well at night. When he said on the cross, ‘It’s finished,’ he was talking to me. He took care of it. I trust him”? Do you believe in Jesus?
See, salvation to all who believe – there is no one who has done such great evil, there is no one who is so far from God that Jesus won’t love and forgive you. And even though he calls you guilty, he will then call you righteous and just because he will justify you. See, some of us here are much worse than we look, and God has done miraculous things. And I promise you, those of you who are here and your conscience is burdened and heavy-laden, and your guilt and your condemnation is so severe because you do know a bit about the laws of God. And you do live a bit under them. And you do feel how far you fall short and how bad you really are. I have good news. There’s salvation for anyone who believes. See, it costs us nothing, but it cost Jesus everything.
“There is no difference” – see, we all get saved in the same way. We don’t need ten religions. We don’t need 50 perspectives and 20 philosophers. “There is no difference, all have sinned” – that’s the problem – “fall short of the glory of God” – that’s the result – “and are justified” – that’s the solution – “freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” It’s all right there. Justified through faith, by grace, in Christ Jesus alone. “God presented him” – verse 25 – “as a sacrifice as atonement.” The whole series I’m teaching is on the atonement. AT-ONE-MENT. See, sin has separated us from God – relational language – God wants to be one with us. This is the language of relationship – atonement. Sin has to be dealt with, but God also wants relationship. So God deals with the sin and then has relationship with us, because not only is God just, he’s loving. See, this is the beauty of our God. This doctrine is under attack perhaps like no other doctrine today. Whole churches and denominations have abandoned this doctrine of atonement. It’s the best part of our faith. Jesus loves us, and he’s taken care of us. Why in the world would we want to dismiss the best part? We need this. People say, “Well, it makes me feel bad that God judges me.” Well, you look at yourself, you feel bad. You look at Jesus, you feel better. That’s your hope.
Goes on: “He did this to demonstrate his justice.” God can’t be unjust. God can’t say, “Oh, you sinned? No problem.” He has to be just. Again, if you went before a judge and someone said, “I’m guilty,” and the judge said, “No problem,” you would cry out for justice. “He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance and his patience he left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did this to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” We’re unjust. God’s just. He’s the one who justifies us. He’s just. His law is just. His judgment is just. We’re unjust. He justifies us, declares us to be just because of Jesus.
“Where, then, is the boasting?” Walk around – Christians: “I’m a good person. I’m moral. I’m a great guy. God loves me. I’m better than everyone else.” No boasting. Again, ten criminals go in. All admit guilt. All get sentenced to death. Nine get taken to the electric chair. One walks out. CNN interviews him. “What happened?” Say, “The judge decided that he was gonna go to the electric chair for me right after he accepted my guilt.” You gonna boast? “Well, I’m a good person. Look what I did. I saved myself.” No, you boast in the judge. You say, “I can’t believe. I raped the judge’s wife. I shot his kids. Today I stood before him. I pleaded guilty, and he’s going to the chair. And he gave me the keys to his house and said, ‘I forgive you, but justice needs to be met so I’ll die for you, too.’” See, there’s no boasting at that point. There’s no holier-than-thou, arrogant, judgmental, finger-pointing Christianity. Some people go, “What, do you think you’re better than me?” No, I’m certain I’m not, but I’m loved.
“Where is the boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law?” because I’m a good person, nice person, moral person, religion person, spiritual person? “No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” It’s all right there. Friends, here’s what you don’t need: religion, morality, good works. You don’t need – you don’t need me to forgive your sins. You don’t need to all come and confess your sins to me. You don’t need to live without any assurance that your sins are actually forgiven. You don’t need to go to purgatory. You don’t need to borrow extra righteousness from the saints.
Here’s what you need: Jesus. He’s your mediator – he’ll forgive you, listen to you. He’s your judge. He’s your savior. He’s your righteousness – Jesus. It’s all Jesus, from beginning to end.
Now at this point, some people will accuse me of another big theological word called antinomianism. Antinomianism means “without law,” and they will say, “So you’re saying that nothing we can do can save us.” Right. “And nothing we can do can help, in addition to Jesus’ works, to save us.” Right. “And that once Jesus has declared us just, we cannot lose our salvation. It is forever secure.” Right. “And no matter what sin we commit, Jesus will forgive us.” Yes. Then they will say, “Well then what would keep us from continuing to sin?” Okay, and that’s an important question because the argument is always raised. “Well, unless we do a little something to earn it, and unless we can lose it, why in the world would we act like Christians?”
I’ll tell you why. Because you love Jesus. I’ll tell you what, friends, the only thing that ultimately will keep you habitually from sin is the love of Jesus, okay? Because there’s sin and Jesus – they’re not together. They’re apart. And if you love Jesus, you will not be running towards sin. You’ll be running toward him. The only hope for sin is not to say, “You might lose your salvation. You might die. You might go to hell. God may not love you. He may not forgive you. You never know.” That creates condemnation, guilt, and doubt, and the Bible says, “There is now no more condemnation for those who are in Christ.”
The question is, “Well, why would I live a Christian life?” Because Jesus loves you, because you love him. See, the whole heart of the Christian faith is not duty-bound works to a mean God. It’s the love of God has changed us, and we want to be like that loving God. That’s it!
I’ll give you an example. I was talking to my wife some time back and I asked her – weird question. I said, “If I ever commit adultery on you, go have sex with another woman, will you forgive me and take me back?” Her answer: “Yes.” Question is then, “Well, why don’t you run out and commit adultery?” Because I love her and I don’t want to destroy the relationship. Because she is a great joy and treasure and jewel and crown and delight and a gift of God. And her name is Grace, just in case I ever forget that. (Laughter) Right? It’s like, “Well, why don’t you go to a strip club?” Because I am in love with my wife. You know, and that’s the answer. “Why don’t you go sin?” I love Jesus. I don’t want – I look at the cross and I realize all that he had to go through for all that I’ve done, and I don’t want to do that anymore. I say, “Jesus, I can’t believe you died for all my sins. I need to kill my sins. You died for them. I need to put them to death.” That’s Paul’s argument.
See, this is just silly talk, because, see, the result is, if we participate in our own justification, we do get pretty arrogant. “I’m a good person. I’m a moral person. I memorized all the verses. I gave ten percent. I go to church. I’m a – I don’t drink, smoke, cuss, chew” – great, you self-righteous, arrogant jerk. You know, good for you. (Laughter) Stop boasting and start talking about Jesus. That’s the world needs. It needs less religious people, less self-righteous hypocrites. What it needs is more people who love Jesus and love people and don’t want to sin because Jesus died for sin, and they don’t want to be doing what offends Jesus. That’s all. This is our doctrine of justification by faith alone, through grace alone, because of Jesus Christ alone.
Now in this term of judgment – okay, I’m gonna go to judgment real quickly. I’ll move quick because I’m out of time. But when it comes to judgment there are still three judgments remaining, okay? One: I pray, happens today – right here in the room. Some of you are sitting here saying, “No one can judge me!” You tell this to your friends. “Don’t judge me! You can’t judge me! You’re no better than me! Don’t judge me!” Fine, fine, fine. Nobody judges you. Judge yourself. Judge yourself! Right? That’s what Paul says. 1 Corinthians 11:31: “If we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment.” See, God is a judge. He’s just. His laws are just. He knows your life, your heart, your words, your deeds, your motives. He sees you inside and out. You can’t fool him. You can’t stand before him and say, “Who are you to judge me?” He’d say, “God!” You’re in trouble, right? (Laughter) “Well, you don’t have all the facts!” “I’m omniscient. I have all the facts.” “Well, you think you’re better than me?” “As a matter of fact, I do.” (Laughter)
You can’t stand before God and think that you won’t be judged. You will be judged. So you say, “I don’t want to be judged like that,” then judge yourself. I don’t judge. I’m not judging you. I’m telling you the truth. Judge yourself. Today, if you’re a non-Christian or if you’re some person who thinks they’re a Christian because your faith was in your parents, your baptism, your church, my preaching – if your faith isn’t in Jesus you’re deceived. Today you judge yourself and say, “Where are my sins and where is my faith?” And then you realize you’re not a Christian, so you give Jesus your sin and he gives you his righteousness. And you who are unjust are declared just by faith in Jesus, through grace from Jesus, because of the life, death, burial, resurrection of Jesus alone.
What I’m saying is this: Be a Christian today. You walked in a non-Christian, you could walk out a Christian. Say, “Doesn’t it take more than that?” No, it takes Jesus. It takes you to give him sin and receive justification. That’s all it takes, and that happens right between you and Jesus right here today. Every week at Mars Hill people become Christians. It’s the best part of the job. Tell them about Jesus, they give him sin, they get new life. It is the best part of my job. Judge yourself today. Stop arguing with everyone about how good you are or how bad you are. Judge yourself. Give your life to Jesus. Be a Christian.
If not, John 5:22 – Jesus says that he is our judge, and that the father has entrusted to him all judgment. Jesus is coming back. We know not when. He will judge non-Christians, those who are not justified. Jesus is the judge. He will open the law. He will look at you. And he will say, “Guilty! Condemnation! Off to hell! The wage for sin is death: you will suffer.” Because that is justice and God will not be unjust. You want criminals to go to jail? Then sinners go to hell. That’s justice.
For those of you who are Christians, you’re saying, “Well, thank God I don’t need to undergo any judgment, because that’s the white throne judgment at the end of Revelation. It’s only for Satan, demons and non-Christians.” But, dear Christian, I have one for you, too. See, some of you are Christians who think, “Wow, I could just sin like crazy. I could do whatever I want. Jesus died for all my sins past, present, and future. There’s no future judgment for me. I can’t lose my salvation.” We do believe that; I’ll articulate that in a few weeks. But there is a judgment for us Christians.
Many of you did not know that. Many of you thought that you would just die, go to heaven, and no problem. 2 Corinthians 5:10, Paul writes to the Christians, “We all” – all means all, everybody – “all appear before the judgment” – uh-oh, there’s the word” – judgment seat” – he’s a judge on a seat – “of Christ” – that’s Jesus. “That each one may receive what is due him for the things he has done in the body, whether good or bad.” See, Christians will be judged, too – not for condemnation but by their works. See, if you are a Christian and you are just a lazy person who doesn’t really do much with your life, you will stand before Jesus to give an account for your life. And it won’t be heaven or hell, but it will be big or small rewards in heaven. And some of you will say, “Well, it’s no fair that the guy, you know, who gives his life to Jesus on his deathbed” – well, he goes to heaven and Jesus loves him. But that’s different than somebody who faithfully served Jesus for their whole life and they did all the things that God intended for them to do, at least by grace, as best they were able. They served him, and they loved him, and they walked with him, and they had new life in Christ. And you know what? Our life does matter, and at the end there will be a verdict rendered. We want to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Some say, “Well, isn’t this works?” Yes, it is works. “I thought you said we were not saved by works.” I said we’re not saved by works. I said we’re saved to works. Ephesians 2:8-10: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – it is a gift of God, not of yourselves, so that no one can boast – to do the good works that God prepared in advance for you to do.” Paul, in Ephesians 2:8-10 puts it altogether: By grace alone, through faith alone, because of Jesus alone you are justified, and then you do good works. To get me to heaven? No. No, because you love Jesus. Jesus is living through you. Jesus loves you. Jesus does something for you – justification. Jesus does something in you and through you – sanctification. That’s all.
That’s what James says. James 2:24 – he says, “We know that it is not just by faith alone that someone is justified, but also by the works of the law.” Some people say, “Well, what does that mean?” That means if you really are a Christian your life will change. That if you’re really justified, you go live a different life. Again – again, we are not saved by our works, we’re saved to our works. We don’t do good works to earn God’s love, we do good works because God already loves us. We don’t do works so that we would stand before God and boast, but we do good works so that when we do stand before God we can say, “God, thank you for the new life. I really enjoyed it. And the grace that you gave me to be more like Jesus – that, that was wonderful. Thank you for this life.”
See, some of us think we just sin that grace may abound. We just get to do whatever we want. We don’t as Christians. We now belong to Jesus. We’re now filled with the love of Jesus and the Spirit of God. And we live a life like Jesus, for Jesus, with Jesus. It’s about Jesus, not about our sin anymore – not about our sin anymore. See, then we can go do good works. We can help the poor, the widow, the orphan, the oppressed. We could go to where there’s injustice and bring justice. We can bring comfort and love and help to the sick, the afflicted, the needy, the poor, the guy who’s down on his luck and isn’t gonna get any justice. We love them and serve them and help them. This is what we do. Why, so that God will pleased? No, because God is already pleased with Jesus, God loves us, and now Jesus is living through us and we get to go do the things that Jesus does – love, grace, mercy, compassion, not arrogance, boasting.
What the world needs is more Christians who know they’re justified by faith to works. We get this all confused. We think we’re justified by works. We get all arrogant and boastful thinking, “I’m gonna save myself by being a good person.” That’s wrong. Some of us get the piece where we’re justified by faith and we don’t do jack squat. And that’s wrong, too, because Jesus doesn’t justify us so that we can do nothing. Jesus justifies us so that we can live a life with him, like him, for him, by him.
How are you doing, non-Christian? You gonna give your life to Jesus today? Or are you gonna hedge your bets and stand before God with your resume? Christian, are you gonna continue to sin that grace may abound? Or today will you repent of your sin and begin to do the good works that God prepared in advance for you to do, able to do them by the grace of God because you have been justified?
I’ll pray. You gotta sort that out between you and Jesus.
Father God, thanks for a chance to study. I pray we would take this enormous, sometimes complicated, heated theological debate and that we would apply it to our own lives. God, I’m reminded of the words in 1 John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, you are faithful and just.” You are a just God. You will forgive us our sins and purify us from all our unrighteousness.
Jesus, first thing, I ask that by the power of the Holy Spirit you would allow us all to acknowledge our sins and to confess them. I pray that the non-Christians would become Christians today. I pray, Lord Jesus, that those who are deceived and think they are Christians because they are religious, moral, or spiritual would give up on their hypocrisy and self-righteousness, and that their faith would be in you alone and not in themselves. I pray you would be just, that you would forgive us through Jesus for our sins, and we confess them to you today. And Jesus, I am also reminded of the words of Romans 10:9-10, that if we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For God, it is with our heart that we believe and are justified, and it is with our mouth that we confess and are saved.
God, I pray today that we would believe in Jesus Christ alone, that we would receive justification by grace alone, through faith alone, by Jesus Christ alone, and that as we go into our time of communion we would acknowledge his blood shed for our sin. And as we go into our time of singing, that we would acknowledge him with our mouth, that we would sing his praises, Lord God, that we would sing of his victory, and his glory, and his goodness. And I pray, Lord God, that as justified people, we would leave here to do good works – not to make you love us, but because you do. Not to save ourselves, but because we have been saved. Not because we have to, but because we get to – because Jesus loves us and we love him. Amen.