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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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Jesus is tempted
Image Source: Sweet Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org

In today’s Bible reading, we get a glimpse of the secret to Jesus’ success in His ministry. It’s very easy to look at Jesus in His temptation and say, “Well, that was Jesus; He’s the Son of God! I can’t measure up!” Of course, we can’t measure up. But Jesus didn’t give in to temptation because of Who He was. He didn’t give in to temptation because of His secret. So what was Jesus’ secret?

Look at Luke 4:1. “Then Jesus left the Jordan, full of the Holy Spirit, and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.” (CSB)

Did you catch that? We often think that the Devil leads us into temptation. And a quick read through today’s reading could lead someone to believe that. But Matthew (Matthew 4:1) brings out that Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness for the very purpose of being tempted.

And look at Jesus’ secret after successfully resisting temptation. “Then Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread throughout the entire vicinity.” Luke 4:14 (CSB)

Jesus’ secret was that He was full of the Spirit and He was led by the Spirit. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:18 to keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit and he tells us in Romans 8:14 that God’s kids are led by the Spirit. Paul further tells us, “I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will certainly not carry out the desire of the flesh.” Galatians 5:16 (CSB)

Application

Jesus’ secret to not giving in to temptation is the same secret available to you: Be filled with and walk by the Holy Spirit. What does that look like? It looks like submitting to His leading. I mentioned a few days ago that the results of being filled with the Spirit and letting God’s Word abide in us are the same. So my takeaway is that being filled with the Spirit is reading God’s Word, studying God’s Word, and memorizing God’s Word. It’s letting God’s Word operate in and through us.

Are you purposefully reading, studying, and memorizing God’s Word on a regular basis? I’m not talking about reading and studying God’s Word on Sunday. You eat more than one day a week, right? Shouldn’t you eat God’s Word just as regularly as you eat food? (Matthew 4:4, Acts 17:11, Joshua 1:8, Proverbs 22:17-18 )

If you don’t have a plan to read the Bible, join me! This year, I’m using the 5x5x5 Bible Reading Plan from the Navigators. You can download a copy here. This plan goes through the entire New Testament over the course of a year (Can you believe we’re halfway through already?!). It only takes about five minutes a day, five days a week. The Bible App will even read out loud the day’s Bible reading for you while you brush your teeth or drive to work. “I don’t have enough time” won’t cut it for an excuse!

Please download the plan or the Bible App (or both) and read through the New Testament (in a translation you can easily understand) with me through the rest of the year. I promise that if you will do this, your life will change!

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free gift

Paul paints a pretty grim picture of fallen mankind in today’s Bible reading. We saw him paint the same picture a few weeks ago in the beginning few chapters of Romans.

He says we were dead. He says we were alienated from God. He says we lived according to our fleshly desires (that’s all we had!). He says we lived according to our enemy’s rules. We were by nature children of wrath. I can’t think of anything he could have missed. There is nothing positive that Paul says about us in our lost, fallen condition. Nothing. And then two of my favorite words….

But God.

While all of these bad things were true of us, God steps in and makes all things new. He makes all things good. He makes all things right so that we might be justified — to have a right standing before Him, not just on judgment day, but today. Jesus served as the final, ultimate, once-for-all atoning sacrifice that made all things right between a holy God and a fallen humanity.

In Romans 5:8, Paul puts it this way. “God shows His love for us us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us.”

God made us alive. He raised us up and sat us next to Jesus in the heavenly places so that at some point in the future, he can display the immeasurable riches of His grace through kindness. (Ephesians 2:5-7)

And then in just two verses, Paul drives home the fact that all of this is a miraculous work of God. The only thing we brought to the bargaining table is the sin that made Jesus’ sacrifice necessary.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8–9 (ESV)

  • Grace is unmerited favor. He gave it because He wanted to.
  • We have been saved. This is a passive mood in Greek. It happened to us. We didn’t do it to/for ourselves; it happened from outside of us.
  • We have been saved. This is the perfect tense in Greek. Salvation is a done deal. There is nothing left for us to do to complete it.
  • Salvation is through faith and it (the process of salvation) is not of our own doing.
  • Salvation is the gift of God. It’s something given, not earned.
  • Salvation is not of works. Again, we didn’t earn it by doing anything for it. Otherwise, by definition it wouldn’t be grace, it would be “wages“.

SEVEN TIMES IN TWO VERSES!

No one can boast of salvation. Why? Because we were passive in the process when it happened to us from outside of us, not of our own doing, but rather was a gift that we didn’t work for.

Paul highlights the fact that this was a miraculous work of God because He wanted to do it (He wasn’t obligated to do it)!

Application

As they say, “If that doesn’t light your fire, your wood is wet!” How else could anyone respond to such a great salvation that God has given to His kids, but respond in joy and praise!

Spend some time doing that today!

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In today’s Bible reading, Paul addresses an issue that is commonly misunderstood in Christian circles. He discusses this issue elsewhere, but I’m limiting my discussion to the words he uses here.

One of the issues we must deal with as believers is the tension between liberty and love, or freedom and maturity. Believers are not under the Law, but under Grace. But this doesn’t mean that we can do anything we want to whenever we want to. The tension comes when we consider the fact that other believers are not at the same level of maturity as us. Therefore, we need to extend grace to them, and they need to extend grace to us.

In Paul’s day, the hot-button issue was eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. After being slaughtered, the sacrificed animal could be brought home and cooked up for dinner. For some, eating a sacrificed animal was tantamount to sacrificing it yourself! For others, it’s just another meal to be enjoyed. Paul says that “the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Romans 14:17 (CSB)

For Paul and his context, it was eating sacrificed meat. For our context, it may be going to a party where people may be drinking and dancing. Paul is not saying that believers can’t drink or dance. Rather he says that if drinking or dancing causes another believer to drink to excess or otherwise stumble into some other sin, it’s better to not exercise our freedom at that time in the presence of that other believer.

Does this mean that we’re hypocrites practicing “situational ethics”? No, it means that we recognize that we’re not at the same point in our walk with Christ. Some of us aren’t (yet?) capable of doing some things that others are free to do.

Let me throw this out…. the party I mentioned above where people are drinking and dancing … what if the party is a wedding reception at a local country club? Does that change the situation? Does that change whether a believer should attend? What if the believer has been sharing her faith with the mother of the groom? This could open doors to share her faith with other family members. But should the faith-sharing believer not go to the wedding reception simply because a church member (who has no connection with the wedding party and thus, isn’t invited to the wedding) might be “offended”?

Paul’s use of two words may help us to understand how to handle the situation. He says believers should not put a stumbling block or a pitfall before another believer. (Romans 14:13) Both words can be translated as “stumbling block”. But the use of both words seems to indicate there’s a difference between the two. The second word can mean, not only something that someone trips over, but also a snare or a pit.

What Paul is trying to say is that believers should watch how they live so that other believers won’t stumble into, be ensnared by, or otherwise fall into sin. In other words, don’t set up someone to sin.

Scripture consistently condemns drunkenness, however, it never condemns consuming alcohol. Actually, Paul encourages Timothy to drink wine for “medicinal purposes”. (1Timothy 5:23) Drinking alcohol with a meal was commonplace until about one hundred years ago, even in the homes of the church leaders in current “teetotaling” denominations. The “Prince of Preachers”, Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon enjoyed his beer and cigars back in the 1800s. And I remember the painting of Southwestern Baptist Seminary’s first President that hangs in the Rotunda on campus. If you look at his left hand, it’s oddly placed in his pocket. Actually, the pocket was painted over Dr. Carroll’s cigar.

If you knew that a new believer had been delivered from years of alcoholism, you wouldn’t serve wine to him at dinner at your house. In fact, if you’re living according to the Law of Love that Paul has been discussing, you yourself wouldn’t drink wine at that time either. Even in your own home. Is it ok to drink in your own home? Sure, so long as you don’t drink to drunkenness and you don’t cause another believer to stumble into sin. In other words, you’re free. But don’t set a trap for someone else. Elsewhere, Paul says, you’re free, but don’t use your freedom as a license to sin. (Galatians 5:13)

Application

I have already provided several examples of how to apply living with the Laws of Liberty and Love. The bottom line is that you don’t need to look over your shoulder, afraid your pastor or deacon might see you take a sip of beer. Your pastor and deacon should be more mature than that.

Instead, you should live with a mind to avoid setting up someone to fail when tempted. Build them up. Set them up to succeed. (Romans 14:19 CSB)

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BSA Citizenship in the World Merit Badge

Taxes. Laws. Government Officials. Law Enforcement Officials. What do these have in common? Like them or not, they’re all part of Citizenship in the United States of America.

Believers are citizens of two kingdoms. In today’s Bible reading, Paul asserts that a believer living with a Kingdom of God mindset will be a good citizen of the world in which he/she lives.

Paul says, “Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God.” Romans 13:1 (CSB)

Yes, obeying the inconvenient traffic laws, honoring and praying for government officials from the “other” political party, even paying your income taxes. All of these will mark a child of God who lives with a Kingdom of God mindset. Why? Because it’s an expression of Christlikeness. (Romans 13:14)

I remember walking into an IRS audit (my only one). I had heard horror stories. I knew I had been honest in reporting my income and deductions. And yet, I was still nervous. There was a red flag, but not a violation. After reviewing my paperwork, the IRS agent told me that I was “in compliance”. When I asked what that meant, she replied, “It’s all good.” I asked her how often says that to people under audit. She replied, “Let’s just say that we earn our money.” Ouch!

Application

Being a good citizen in the Kingdom of God doesn’t mean that I’m not involved as a citizen of the USA. In fact, my Kingdom of God citizenship informs my US Citizenship. It affects how I vote. It affects how I pray. It affects how I interact with the police officer when he pulls me over. It affects how I respond to the Red Light Camera citation in my mailbox.

Look, I’m not perfect. I struggle with laws (eg, Red Light Cameras) I don’t like. And when called to account, I paid the fine. I didn’t want to. I feel they’re unconstitutional (you can’t face your “accuser” in court). But as a citizen of the Kingdom of God, I had to suck it up and write the check for the fine.

There are speed zones I don’t agree with. There are politicians I don’t agree with. But being a good citizen in the Kingdom of God will influence my citizenship in the United States of America.

And if you’re a believer, you’re a citizen of two kingdoms. As a child of God, you’re called to be a good citizen of both. Doing so is a reflection of Christlikeness.

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