What Does Justification BY FAITH Actually Mean? Must We EARN Favor with God by DOING Good Works and BEING Good People?! #77
Happy Tuesday, friends! Another short podcast today, due to an incredibly long pastoral letter written tonight. This should help make up for our very long episode yesterday! Today’s Bible passages are Exodus 28, Proverbs 4, John 7 and Galatians 3 – which is our focus passage. Our big question is focused in on one of the deepest and most beautiful – and central! -truths of Christianity: That salvation and justification (being made righteous in the eyes of God) is NOT by our actions, works, or internal goodness, but by BELIEVING in Jesus – the one who does the action and has the internal goodness. Let’s read Galatians 3, and then come back and discuss Justification by faith.
Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by the Spirit, are you now finishing by the flesh? 4 Did you experience so much for nothing—if in fact it was for nothing? 5 So then, does God give you the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law? Or is it by believing what you heard— 6 just like Abraham who believed God,and it was credited to him for righteousness?Galatians 3:2-6
We see and hear Paul’s heart VERY clearly in Galatians, because he is wearing it on his sleeve, and he is PLEADING with the Galatians NOT to abandon the core of Christianity – saved by grace, through faith – in favor of the core of RELIGION: salvation by works and earning God’s favor. He reminds the Galatians that the presence of the Holy Spirit was NOT given to them because they completely followed the law, but because of their BELIEF! He reminds them that growing in the Christian life is also not by striving works, but by a work of the Spirit through grace and faith. The illustration he uses so that they will understand what he is telling them is the illustration of Abraham. God didn’t choose Abraham and save Abraham because Abraham was special – God chose Abraham in grace, and saved him because ABRAHAM BELIEVED God’s promise! Let’s turn to our friend pastor David Platt to help us understand that God CHOSE Abraham by grace (not Abraham’s merit):
First, for Abraham to believe God means that he was transformed by the sovereign grace of God. I want you to think about this with me. This whole story started at the end of Genesis 11 and beginning of Genesis 12. Abraham was from Ur of the Chaldeans. This is a pagan people in a pagan place. We have no indication whatsoever in Genesis 11 or 12 or anywhere else that there was something in Abraham that caused God to say, “I need to make him the father of my people.” The initiative is completely with God. You see it in Genesis 12:1–3. Five times God says, “I will do this.” You see no emphasis on what Abraham is doing in this picture. It’s all based on the gracious initiative of God. God is saying, “I’m going to bless him.” It is God calling out Abraham. Why Abraham? We know Job was living around this time. I’m sure there were other people that, maybe, even were better people. Why did God choose Abraham?David Platt, “Believing God,” in David Platt Sermon Archive (Birmingham, AL: David Platt, 2010), 2392–2393.
What we’re seeing here is that it’s nothing more than the sovereign grace of God at work. He called out Abraham. He chose Abraham by His grace, and that’s the story we’re going to see in the rest of Abraham’s life. Let’s admit it: this father of faith in the Bible is not always the most stellar character. This is a guy who’s willing to lie on a couple of different occasions in order to try to protect his life. This is a guy who almost gives his wife away to the king of Egypt. This is a guy who struggles with his faith numerous different times, but the picture is that this is intentional. God is showing us that the picture of His covenant is not going to be based on what is found in man and what man can produce on his own. It’s going to be found in the grace of God, and the picture is that Abraham’s entire life, his faith itself, is evidence of God’s grace in his life. He was transformed by the sovereign grace of God.
Next, let’s consider what it means that Abraham was JUSTIFIED by FAITH. It is important to realize that WE are also justified by faith – that’s why I think it is super important for us to understand what Paul is saying here. We’ll go back to our friend David Platt to help us understand what faith involves:
Paul builds this whole picture of Abraham being justified by faith, Abraham having righteousness credited to him because he believed God, because he believed the promises of God, because he had faith. But then what’s so cool is you get to the end in verse 22. It’s talking about faith and Abraham. He says, “This is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness.’ ” But listen to this. “The words ‘it was credited to him’ were not written for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead” (Rom. 4:23–24). The whole picture is believe, have faith, and that’s why you get to this triumphant pronouncement in chapter 5:1 that says, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”David Platt, “The Sufficiency of Christ and the Necessity of Faith,” in David Platt Sermon Archive (Birmingham, AL: David Platt, 2008), 1496–1497.
The picture is faith dominates this. Now we’ve got to be clear on what faith means here because…people have all kinds of ideas, even in the Church, about what faith is and there’s a faith that leads to salvation and there’s a faith that doesn’t lead to salvation.
So what is the Biblical faith, saving faith that is being talked about here, a faith that leads to salvation? I want to show you two facets of it in Romans. Faith involves first, turning. What happens in chapter 4 and 5, he develops this picture we are justified by faith alone. Then you get to 6:1 and listen to what he says. He builds this case of being justified by faith and then he says, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rom. 6:1–4). When you place your faith in Christ, when you trust in Him, that means you turn from sin. You don’t live in sin any longer.
So faith is a turning first from our sin. You see this even clearer down in verse 11–14 in chapter 6. He says, “… count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Faith next involves trusting. Turning from sin, turning to Him, and He becomes our life, Jesus. We turn from sin and ourselves and we turn to Jesus. This is what it means to have faith in Jesus. He becomes our life. Look at 8:10–11. Listen to how he talks about this transformation that happens and look at the picture of trusting in Jesus Christ. Romans 8:10–11, “… If Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” When you see the character of God and the sinfulness of man and the sufficiency of Christ, and you turn from your sin and you trust in the sufficiency of Christ, then He becomes your life.
Paul develops this in depth. Keep going to the right, Romans 10:9, a familiar verse to many of us. Look at Romans 10:9. This is faith that leads to salvation. Romans 10:9, “… 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. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all,” third time we’ve seen the word “Lord” in these few short verses, “and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord,’ ” fourth time, “ ‘will be saved’ ” (Rom. 10:9–13).
So faith involves a turning and it involves a trusting in Jesus, a trusting in Jesus first of all as Lord, trusting in Jesus as Lord. If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord, the dominant title for Jesus in the book of Acts and the book of Romans is Lord, is Lord.