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Justification: How people can be made right with God

Three times in today’s Bible reading Jesus talks about people who misunderstand justification. Justification has to do with the question of, “What does it take for a person to be right with God?” It was the central question of the Reformation. As I said in my sermon series on the Five Solas of the Reformation, the Bible alone tells us that people are made right with God by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone and God alone is glorified in justification. (Note the five solas, the five alones)

In today’s reading from Luke 18:9-14, the Pharisee misunderstood justification in thinking that he could be justified by his righteous behavior. Looking at his behavior, he glorified himself. But the tax collector was justified by grace alone, because of his faith … alone.

In our reading from Luke 18:18-30, the Rich Young Ruler also looked at his behavior, thinking that he would be justified on those grounds. Jesus said that he needed to sell everything he had to give it to the poor and then to follow Him. The young man went away sad because he had a lot. Actually, a lot had him! He wasn’t willing to deny himself, take up his cross daily to follow Jesus. (Luke 9:23) Again, he didn’t understand that justification came through grace alone through faith alone.

In the final instance, the Blind Man wanted to recover his sight. (Luke 18:35-43) When Jesus asked him what he wanted, he responded, “I want to see.” He thought he wanted to see in the physical realm, but Jesus gave him spiritual sight in addition to physical sight. Jesus highlighted that he was saved because of his faith alone. As a result, the man glorified God alone.

The Bible alone tells us about justification. You cannot hear the truth of how people can be right with God anywhere else but the Bible. Not your own thoughts. Not other “holy books”. Not other religions. Only in the Bible will you hear that you can’t earn justification. And that glorifies God alone!

Application

Have you put your faith in Jesus Christ alone for your hope of being right with God? Nothing else but faith in Jesus will give you a right standing with God. It isn’t Jesus plus anything. You can only be justified by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone. It’s a very unfair exchange. We bring sin and Jesus brings holiness. God makes us righteous because of what Jesus did, if we will only put our faith in Jesus.

Because the Bible alone reveals that people can only be justified by grace (unearned favor) alone, through faith (not behavior) alone in Jesus Christ (no other religious leader) alone God alone receives the glor.

That was the heart cry of the Reformation.
And that’s the gospel truth!

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Knocking on a door

Our Bible reading for today includes a parallel passage from Matthew 7:22-23. In that sad story, Jesus reminds us once again, that not everyone will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, including many who think they have “eternal security”.

In the preaching of cheap grace, preachers often invite their hearers to “ask Jesus into their hearts” or “pray the sinner’s prayer” and/or be baptized and they can be assured they are saved. Yet, only God knows who is and who is not saved!

Our church will be wrapping up a sermon series on the book of Acts in a few weeks. So far, in the first two-thirds of the book, no one has been urged to “invite Jesus into your heart” and no preacher has told anyone to “pray a sinners prayer”. Despite what a preacher or a revivalist told you, those concepts — not just the words — are foreign to the teachings of the New Testament. So what does the teaching of the New Testament say about salvation? That’s a great question!

From Peter’s first sermon (Acts 2) through the conversion of the Samaritans (Acts 8) through the conversion of the Gentiles (Acts 16) through the conversion of John the Baptizer’s disciples (Acts 19), the appeal is always, without exception, “Repent!” And yet, that word — and that concept for that matter — is rarely heard today.

What does it mean to repent? It means to change your mind, to change your way of thinking, to turn from your way to God’s way. Yes, repentance can be expressed in a prayer, but prayer is not necessary for salvation any more than baptism is necessary for salvation (and it isn’t). Unless you repent, you will perish. (Luke 13:5)

The main takeaway from the preaching in Acts to the teaching in Jesus’ ministry and in the epistles, a call to salvation is a call to die. (Luke 9:23) Not everyone will be saved; only those who place their faith in Jesus Christ will be saved. And not everyone who thinks they are saved is saved.

Jesus emphasizes that the Homeowner (God the Father) decides who gets in through the narrow door and that once He closes the door, it’s too late. There are no second chances. As we’ve seen before, salvation isn’t about doing good things and not going bad things. Salvation is about knowing and being known. (Luke 13:25 CSB, John 17:3) It’s about having a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Salvation is about knowing and being known.
It’s about having a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Application

You may think that you’re saved. On what basis? If God were to ask you why you should be allowed into heaven, how would you respond? If your answer begins with, “Because I…”, you need to go back and revisit the message of the Gospel. Salvation is all about what Jesus did, not you. If you’re saved because of something you’ve done or not done that balances out to be good enough, let me remind you that, all you brought to the equation was the sin that made Jesus’ sacrifice necessary.

Spend a few minutes today looking at your salvation. What evidence do you have that you are indeed saved? What fruit demonstrates that your faith is rooted in a relationship with Jesus Christ? The people in Matthew 7:22-23 and Luke 13:25, 27 thought they would be rewarded for their behavior. They were wrong. What about you?

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Your heart is darker than you think! (Jeremiah 17:9)

Dr. Luke records Jesus’ Beatitudes from His “Sermon on the Plain” in today’s Bible reading. It’s very similar to Matthew’s version from Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount”.

Dr. Luke juxtaposes the blessings in verses 20-22 against the judgmental attitude of the Pharisees in verses 1-11, and then his instructions on judging in verses 24-26 and 37-45.

The key verse in the “don’t judge” part of the passage (Luke 6:37-42) is at the end of verse 45:

“A good person produces good out of the good stored up in his heart. An evil person produces evil out of the evil stored up in his heart, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.” Luke 6:45 (CSB)

The Pharisees’ words only revealed their hypocritical, judgmental hearts. And Jesus warned that when we judge, our judgment will return to back to us … in abundance. (Luke 6:37-38)

Application

Moralism looks good. That’s when you’re doing all the right things and not doing any of the wrong things. It looks really good … on the outside. But the Pharisees’ problem was not their behavior — which was exemplary. Their problem was on the inside: their wicked hearts. And their hearts couldn’t be fixed by their behavior because behavior follows the heart, not the other way around.

Remember, the Christian walk isn’t about behavior change. It’s about a relationship with Jesus Christ. Don’t focus primarily on your behavior. Instead, look at your heart. Ask God to reveal your heart when you’re inclined to judge. Hint: Your heart is darker than you think! (Jeremiah 17:9) Deal with your heart and your behavior will follow.

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trophies

In today’s Bible reading in Philippians 3, Paul rattles off his Curriculum Vitae (resume):

“circumcised the eighth day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee; regarding zeal, persecuting the church; regarding the righteousness that is in the law, blameless.” (Philippians 3:5–6, CSB)

Paul says, “You may think you’re religious, you can’t top me!” And then he adds,

But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them as dung, so that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7–8, CSB)

In comparison with all of the awards, all the trophies, and all the diplomas Paul had earned and treasured in his “BC Days” as a very devout Jew, he says all of those admirable things weren’t worth a crap.

Yes, I just said that. I said it because Paul said it. And he meant it.

Elsewhere, Paul emphasized his Christ-centric message:

“When I came to you, brothers and sisters, announcing the mystery of God to you, I did not come with brilliance of speech or wisdom. I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not be based on human wisdom but on God’s power.” (1 Corinthians 2:1–5, CSB)

Paul could have come to the Corinthians with eloquent messages. He could have impressed them with all of his learning. Instead, he focused on Jesus. As a result, God showed up in demonstrable power from the Holy Spirit.

Application

We used to joke about how much we had learned in the cemetery, I mean the seminary. But as they say, there is an element of truth in humor. I can tell you from personal experience, reading (and amassing) a lot of theology books, learning Biblical languages, sitting in classrooms under world-class theologians, and writing a lot of papers doesn’t necessarily result in a closer walk with Jesus. In fact, sometimes these things can get in the way of a closer walk with Jesus.

Being a long-time believer and being a long-time church-goer doesn’t necessarily result in a closer walk with Jesus. In fact, sometimes these things get in the way of a closer walk with Jesus.

The only thing that will result in a closer walk with Jesus is spending time with Jesus. Spending time in prayer. Spending time reading His Word. Spending time studying His Word. Spending time memorizing His Word. Why?

Because we’re talking about a relationship. And the only way to grow closer in a relationship is to spend time together.

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In today’s Bible reading from Romans 10, Paul points out that the Jewish people were attempting to establish their own righteousness. He says, they may be very zealous, but they haven’t submitted to God’s righteousness. What does that mean?

I have heard people say that it doesn’t matter what you believe so long as you’re sincere. That statement is borne out of the belief that all religions are basically the same, that all religious expressions are equally valid. It sounds as good as a “Coexist” bumper sticker; you’ve probably seen them with each letter of the word a symbol from a different religion, the “C” is a Muslim Crescent and the “t” is a cross.

The problem with this belief is that Jesus made some very exclusive claims that are at odds with every religious expression out there. If Jesus is correct in His exclusive statements, then all religions are not equally valid. And if all religious expressions are not equally valid, then our response to Jesus’ statements on salvation affect our eternal destiny which begins on this side of eternity.

So what were some of Jesus’ exclusive statements? I’ll just call your attention to just one: John 14:6 “Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (CSB)

That statement cannot coexist with statements made by any and all other religious leaders. Jesus was not just another “good moral teacher” among many; CS Lewis was correct when he said that Jesus didn’t give us an option to consider him just a good moral teacher.

Application

Getting back to Paul’s statement… Paul says it doesn’t matter how sincere you may be, if you aren’t submitting your idea of righteousness — regardless of how sincere you may be — to God’s righteousness, you’re sincerely wrong. And that wrong belief will cost you blessings with God now and blessings in your destiny in the eternal future.

So how do you submit to God’s righteousness? First of all, you have to reject your own attempts to establish your own righteousness. Next, Paul answers the question in Romans 10:9-10:

If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation. (CSB)

The message of the Gospel is simple, but it isn’t easy. It is as simple as believing that Jesus was raised from the dead (something that no other religious leader predicted, much less fulfilled) and verbally expressing that belief. And if you truly believe that Jesus rose from the dead and really believe Jesus is Lord, then your other beliefs, attitudes, and behavior will be affected over time.

Note: Lordship is necessary for salvation. It means that Jesus is your ruler, your master, your boss, while at the same time, He is the lover of your soul. Yes, being a disciple of Jesus is about obedience (Matthew 28:19-20). But being a disciple is borne out of a relationship. This is the knowledge that Paul is talking about in Romans 10:2-3.

“This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God,
and the one you have sent—Jesus Christ.” John 17:3 (CSB)

Don’t miss out on the message of the Gospel;
come to know God through Jesus today!

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