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Theology

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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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Lost and Found

Have you ever lost something that you treasure? Maybe it was a family heirloom. Maybe it was a gold coin that you put in a “safe place” so you wouldn’t lose it, but you lost it because you forgot where the “safe place” was. If you’ve been around church for very long, you’ve heard the three parables that Jesus uses in today’s Bible reading from Luke 15: The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and the Lost Son.

I think we have named these parables incorrectly. The parables aren’t about what was lost, but rather the seeker who doesn’t stop seeking until what was lost has been found. With each story, Jesus says that there’s a party once what was lost was found. It’s a cause for celebration! Whether it’s a celebration in the neighborhood, in Heaven, or around the backyard barbecue pit, everyone celebrates with the person who found what was lost. Perhaps these parables should be named The Searching Shepherd, The Searching Woman, and the Searching Father.

Leaving ninety-nine sheep may seem pretty foolish. Think about it. What if while you’re looking for the one lost sheep, several of the other sheep wander off? Then you have to look for all the other lost sheep. You’re only down 1% of your original flock. Why not just count your losses? Why risk running into the bear that’s enjoying its fresh lamb chops? You still have ninety-nine sheep that need to be tended to. Yes, it seems pretty foolish to leave the ninety-nine. Unless you’re the one lost sheep. Once you find the sheep, you have to share the joy; it’s uncontainable and it doesn’t seem like the joy is complete until you share it!

You lose one of your ten silver coins. Where did you leave it? Maybe your other pocket? No, it’s not there. Maybe in a mug in the cupboard? No, it’s not there either. Where could it be? You’ve lost 10% of your coins. Ten percent of your savings. You’ve got to find it! So you turn on the lights and open the blinds. You make an excuse to rearrange the furniture so you can vacuum up the dust bunnies and look for that lost coin. And when you find it, you want to share your joy with your friends and family! You have to share the joy; it’s uncontainable and it doesn’t seem like the joy is complete until you share it!

One of your sons runs away from home, taking a third of your assets with him. (The older son gets a “double-portion” when you die, so the second son gets a third) You’ve just lost half of your offspring. This hurts a lot worse than losing one percent of your sheep. This hurts a lot worse than losing ten percent of your assets. You still have your older son who works alongside you. He never complains about the hard work he does out in the hot field.

Then one day, as you scan the horizon — just as you’ve done every day since your younger son left — you see something moving toward you. Is it a deer? Maybe a bear? As whatever it is comes closer you squint a little more to try to figure out what that is. And then… Could it be? No, it can’t be! Surely your mind is playing tricks on you. No, it’s HIM! It’s your long-lost son! You’ve searched the horizon every single long day since he left, longing for his shadow to grace your property again. You drop everything and run toward him. It’s been years since the last time you ran. So you huff and puff, gasping for breath as you get closer. He looks a little skinnier than when he left. His clothes are very worn and dirty. Wow, you’ve never seen him with a beard, and man, is his hair shaggy! And just before you get to him, it hits you. It’s so strong it takes your breath away. You’ve never smelled such stench ever before! Ever! Oh, it’s horrible! He must not have bathed in months! In addition to the nose-hair-curling BO, he smells like … pigs! DISGUSTING! There’s nothing nastier than pigs! You raised him to be better than this!

But despite all of the disgust you feel, despite all of the disgust you smell, your heart melts as he falls at your feet. You throw your arms around him and give him the biggest bear hug ever! He’s home! He’s finally home! Your lost son has been found! He starts mumbling, asking something about coming back as a servant. What? How could you ever treat him as a servant? He’s your son! He’s always been your son. And he’ll always be your son! You shout to your servants! “We’re having a party! You, go grab the family ring! And you, go kill the best-of-show steer!”

One of your servants whispers something in your ear that rips away the celebratory mood. So you set out looking for your older son. You’re just as intent to find him as you were to find your younger son. As he angrily shares his heart you discover that he too was lost. He was right beside you all these years, but he was so far away. Your work is cut out for you. You have to build relationships with both sons to restore both of them back to their rightful place in your family.

Application

That’s your Father’s heart! Maybe you rebelled and sowed your wild oats. Or maybe you sulked your oats in bitterness as you watched other people experience God’s blessings. Regardless of how, just like all of us, you rebelled. But your Father has been waiting. Not passively waiting, but actively waiting. Actually, He pursued you in your rebellion. It may seem like you ran so far away. He may have seemed to be so far in the distance. But He never lost sight of you. And He’s ready to restore you to your rightful place as His son or daughter.

Repent. Come back.

And watch Him celebrate!

The Lord your God is among you, a warrior who saves.
He will rejoice over you with gladness.
He will be quiet in his love.
He will delight in you with singing.
Zephaniah 3:17 (CSB)

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Count the cost of following Jesus

Once again, Jesus teaches that His disciples must count the cost to be His disciple in today’s Bible reading. It seems to be a recurring theme. I’ve said it many times, if you see words or a concept repeated in the Bible, it’s probably pretty important and you need to take note of it.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, and even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26–27 (CSB)

Jesus begins this section with a figure of speech called hyperbole. Hyperbole is an exaggeration that’s not intended to be taken literally.[1] Jesus uses it to compare how much His disciples must be willing to give up to follow Him. A few chapters back, Jesus’ invitation to follow Him was met with, “Ok, but first I need to ….”

No, Jesus told us to put His Kingdom and His righteousness first. (Matthew 6:33; Luke 12:31)

First.

Remember when Jesus called Peter, James, and John after their monster fish catch. No, they didn’t catch a monster fish. They had a monstrous catch of fish. (See my devotional on Luke 5) Instead of taking two boatloads of fish to the market, they left the fish. They left the nets. They left the boats. Compared to the value of following Jesus, nothing was of any value. (Philippians 3:8)

When you think about it, based on the very definition of the word, it’s impossible to say, “No, Lord.” If He is truly Lord, you have to say, “Yes”. If you say, “No”, then He isn’t truly Lord. Everything that Jesus says about following Him emphatically states or implies that if someone wants to follow Him, He must be seen as “Lord“. There is no other option!

Application

Oftentimes, I have heard people say something like, “I accepted Jesus as my Savior when I was x years old. But I accepted Jesus as my Lord when I was y years old.” A few days ago, I referred to a comment one of my seminary professors made about knowing Jesus as Savior and then later knowing Jesus as Lord: You can come to Jesus as Savior and later come to know Him more as Lord, but you cannot come to Jesus as Savior and reject Him as Lord.

How about you? Do you know Jesus as your Lord? Or do you know Him merely as Savior so you can have “Fire Insurance” (so you can go to heaven when you die)?

Uhm… I’ve read through the Book a few times, and I’ve never seen anything about a concept of having “fire insurance”. You either come to Him on His terms, or you don’t come to Him at all.

[1] Source: Dictionary.Com

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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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In yesterday’s Bible reading, we looked at Jesus’ comments on counting the cost and that not everyone who wants to follow Him will.

In today’s Bible reading, Jesus says that God has hidden some things from some people and He has revealed some things to some people. (Luke 10:21-22)

Why would God hide things from some people? There is an element of God hiding things in order that we might seek them out. (Proverbs 25:2) But from yesterday’s reading, not all who want to follow Jesus really want to follow; they have divided loyalties. (Luke 9:59, 61)

Of course, we all have divided loyalties. The Seventy-two Disciples whom Jesus sends out in Luke 10:1ff return amazed at their authority over demons. They were looking at the fruits of their ministry instead of the root of their ministry, i.e., the One who gave them the authority. (Luke 10:19-20)

God occasionally gives us a glimpse of His glory. Yesterday, we read of Jesus’ Transfiguration. Peter made the understatement of the millennium, “It is good for us to be here.” (Luke 9:33) Dr. Luke adds that in Peter’s suggestion to make shrines for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, he didn’t know what he was actually suggesting. I’m glad Dr. Luke recorded the Transfiguration and Peter’s response. I can relate to Peter; I don’t always know what I’m saying!

Application

Have you ever been shocked by God’s activity? In praying for friends, family (and strangers), have you ever been amazed at God’s power to heal? Have you ever been amazed at God’s ability to orchestrate things so perfectly, that “miraculous” is the only word that aptly fits?

Recently, someone close to me has needed medical help. God has given her a job where she has contacts with some of the best doctors in the country. Rather than a multi-month wait, God orchestrated one of the best of the best doctors to see her in a matter of weeks. If God chooses to heal her through this doctor’s hands (as opposed to a miraculous way, which we would also welcome!), she will have surgery next month to repair a repetitive stress injury.

I’m glad that God has shown me a glimpse of His glory through this situation, to see His hand move as He plays the Master Conductor bringing everything into alignment in perfect timing. We will rejoice regardless of how God chooses to bring healing, but we must keep our eyes on the Healer rather than the healing. We must keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfected of our faith (Hebrews 12:2)

God cares for His kids more than we could think or ask (Ephesians 3:20). But more than the things He does for us, the most remarkable thing is that He adopted us in the first place. We sure didn’t deserve it! In fact we were rebels against His authority. We were strangers and enemies. But God, in His infinite wisdom — something that I cannot get my head wrapped around — saved me. I know that even a blind squirrel can occasionally find a nut, but there’s no way I could have found God unless He had revealed Himself. (John 6:44)

If you’re one of His, spend a few minutes today reveling in the remarkable, stunning reality that you were adopted, too! If you aren’t one of His, or if you aren’t sure if you’re one of His, please reach out to me today!

All that thrills my soul is Jesus 
He is more than life to me.
And the fairest of ten thousand
In my blessed Lord I see

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1 2 3 15

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