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Justifying Grace

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24 NIV)

The Biblical doctrine of justification by faith begins with God's very nature. God is Holy. And God is love.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above Him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:1-3 NIV)

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8 NIV)

In love, Holy God created all that exists, including humans. He created us in His own imageable to think and choose and love. He created us for a relationship of holy love.

Being Holy, God is just. He cannot just wink at sin and say, "It's okay, all is forgiven," and remain true to Himself and His holy nature. Being Love, God cannot just leave us in our sin and allow us to suffer its consequences without acting to save us from it and remain true to Himself and His loving nature.

So the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is this: God made a way for sinners to be redeemed through the perfect sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, on a Roman cross outside Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. Since the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and God is Just, a sacrifice had to be made for our sinfor all the sin of every one of us for all time. And since we are simply not capable of redeeming ourselves by our own good works, that sacrifice had to be made by Anothera Perfect One. Jesus, God's Son, made that sacrifice when He laid down His life for us, dying as our substitute. We are redeemed from sin and death by faith, not by our good works.

An old gospel song, sung by Henry and Hazel Slaughter, says this in the chorus:

I should have been crucified

I should have suffered and died

I should have hung on that cross in disgrace

But Jesus, God's Son, took my place

The Apostle Paul says it this way:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV)

The effect of this redemption is our justification before God, who is Holy, made possible by God Himself, who is Love. When we are justified by grace through faith, we are declared "not guilty" by the very Judge who is both Just, and the Justifier of sinners. When we are justified, we are made “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned.

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of His blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—He did it to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25-26 NIV)

John Wesley's understanding of justification by faith alone was that it is the work of grace in our lives. Prevenient (coming before) Grace acts before we are saved to bring us onto the porch of the house of true religion. Justifying Grace works in our lives the moment we trust Jesus to take us through the doorway into that house. Sanctifying Grace is the house itself, allowing us to live in a love relationship with the God who made us.

One of the greatest challenges for 21st century Americans is that we are the products of a culture of works. The Protestant work ethic is woven tightly into our culture and our hearts. Don't take charity. Earn your keep. Take care of number one. I Did It My Way (thank you Frank Sinatra for perfectly summarizing the independent, rebellious spirit of our culture).

What do proudly independent people do when we realize we are guilty of sin against a Holy God? We try harder. We work at religion. We keep a balance sheet in our minds of our good deeds, trying to make them outweigh our bad deeds so we earn our way into redemption. But our holy, loving God knows that way never works. We are incapable of rescuing ourselves. When you are lost at sea in the middle of an ocean, you don't need swimming lessons, you need a Navy or Coast Guard helicopter with a trained diver who jumps in the water with you, secures your life jacket, and sees that you are pulled from the water to safety. That's a pretty good picture of redemption by grace through faith.

So the most important question any person can ask or answer is a simple one: What will I do with Jesus?

Will I welcome Him or ignore Him. Will I follow Him or reject Him. Will I make Him my little religious good luck charm or make Him the Lord (master) of my life? Will I trust Him for salvation from sin and death and live to honor Him with the rest of my life?

The Holy God of Love leaves that choice to us. Love and trust cannot be coerced. If they are forced on us, they are no longer love and trust. We love, not because God makes us love Him, but because He loved us first.

But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 NIV)

I heard His call and responded by trusting Jesus when I was 15 years old, and I've never been sorry that I received His justifying grace and began to walk with Him by faith. It hasn't all been a bed of roses. Jesus does not promise that. But walking with Jesus has been an adventure of love and grace in the midst of life, including the challenges and storms. And Jesus has never failed me, nor will He ever.

If you do not know the Holy God of Love, I would urge you to seek Him. Find a church that is filled with loving Christ followers where the Bible is plainly taught. (If you live near Concord, North Carolina, I would invite you to join us at Grace Church, which worships at 10 am on Sundays in the auditorium at Concord High School.) When you are ready to trust Jesus, take the step of faith of entrusting your life to Him. He will forgive you. He already died in your place. He will love you and He will lead you in a real life that honors the Holy God of Love who created you. And heaven will be your inheritance when you pass from this life into eternity. Go ahead, trust Jesus. You'll never be sorry you did.


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