Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Justified by Faith/Peace with God

justified by faith

by Dennis Pollock

As you read through the Bible, certain verses just seem to stand out above most of the others. Among Christians we collectively seem to recognize the power and value of some of these verses, and we hear them often in sermons, in Christian books, and in conversations we have with other believers. One verse that would certainly qualify in this regard is from John 14, where Jesus declares, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). I could not tell you how many times I’ve heard that in sermons, and used it myself in preaching, teaching, and writing.

Reading the Bible in my early days in Christ, I can still remember being struck by the power of the passage in the third chapter of Proverbs, which says:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths (Proverbs 3:5, 6).

Of course, I have heard this passage in sermons and quoted by others many times since, but even without ever hearing it before, when I ran across it that first time it struck me with force. And I could share numerous other verses which made a similar impact. In this study, I want to share with you one of those verses, which is found in the fifth chapter of Romans. This has always stood out to me as a representation of what it truly means to be saved, to know Christ, and to possess eternal life. Nearly all Christians will immediately recognize it:

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1).

One Experience

We often talk about individual differences, and how one size never fits all. And in many respects this is true. God works with us as individuals, and has different plans, different callings, and gives differing gifts to each of us, according to His own purpose and pleasure. But when it comes to the new birth, what happens to each of us — whether a strapping twenty-year-old biker or a feeble ninety-year-old granny — there is precisely one, and only one process and experience of entering the family of God. We all come through the same door — Jesus, we all experience the same new birth, and we all receive the same benefits. And this verse in Romans beautifully and perfectly describes the nature of that new birth.

The first thing we notice is the use of the word “justified.” Using the terms justified and justification has become uncool in these days of hyper-seeker-sensitivity. We are so afraid that the sinner will be turned off by our Christian terms, we do anything and everything to avoid them. This has always seemed exceedingly foolish and downright silly to me. There are specific terms associated with any sport, with any industry, and indeed with any and every field of knowledge. Anyone who determines to learn the game of golf, for example, will soon and inevitably learn what a birdie is, what par means, what a pitching wedge does, and why one will use a driver rather than a nine iron off the tee of a long par-five hole. It would be entirely unproductive and counterproductive to make it your quest to try to convince golf instructors never to use these terms with new golfers, for fear of turning them off. If you are going to play golf you are going to need to know these terms and concepts, and if you are going to follow Christ, or if you are interested in investigating what it means to follow Christ, you will need to know about justification.

Justification vs Condemnation

One way to understand justified is to analyze its opposite. The Biblical opposite of justification is condemnation. Jesus declared, “By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:37). Paul wrote: “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life” (Romans 5:18). So if the opposite of being justified is to be condemned, all we need to do to understand justification is to consider what it means to be condemned.

To be condemned simply means to be found and declared guilty. When a jury returns from its deliberations and the foreman announces: “We find the defendant to be guilty of…” they are condemning him or her. They are declaring that the evidence demonstrates conclusively that the defendant has committed a crime. There is nearly always a punishment associated with being condemned. In some cases, it is a fine, sometimes it involves a prison sentence, and in extreme cases the punishment is execution. These punishments will never come upon the “un-condemned;” they always fall on those who are condemned – those found guilty of crimes.

God declares that those outside of Jesus Christ are all condemned. Whether you are a hitman or the president of the Save-the Whales club, whether a brazen prostitute or a spinster who has never once touched a man, all people from every nation and of every race are condemned criminals in the sight of our holy God. If something isn’t done to remedy this condition you will live out your years in this state. You wake up in the morning condemned, you go through your busy day condemned, and you go to sleep at night condemned. This isn’t very pleasant to contemplate, but according to the God-inspired Scriptures it is the truth, and there is no getting around it or away from it.

By Faith

There is one provision, however, for this condition and the verse at the beginning of Romans 5 declares it: “Having been justified by faith…” This means that the person who has put their faith in Jesus is no longer condemned; he or she is justified. And since condemned means “found guilty,” to be justified means to be declared (by God) “not guilty.” In Christ, we are accepted by God, and therefore no longer susceptible to any punishment for our sins. This is essentially the jury coming back into the courtroom and declaring, “We find the defendant ‘not guilty.’” But this is no collection of flawed, easily biased men or women on a jury saying this. This is Almighty God, Creator of the entire universe, declaring our legal innocence in His sight.

How does this happen? Paul tells us that it is “by faith.” He does not say, “Having been justified by positive thinking,” or “having been justified by meditation,” or “having been justified by giving to charity,” or “having been justified by going to Africa and adopting an African orphan.” He writes, “Having been justified by faith…” Here, and throughout the New Testament, this theme is hammered home again and again:

  1. By grace are you saved through faith… (Ephesians 2:8)
  2. If you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins… (John 8:24)
  3. Whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life… (John 3:16)
  4. Having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise… (Ephesians 1:13)


Peace with God

peace with God

After telling us that we are justified by faith, Paul goes on to describe one of the great benefits of this justification: “We have peace with God…” Here Paul is declaring that outside of Jesus Christ there is no peace with God. There is, in fact, a state of conflict between the soul and its Creator, a condition the Bible calls enmity. In Romans Paul gives us a little more insight concerning this condition:

The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:7, 8).

The “carnal mind” here is the mind of men and women in its natural condition – un-regenerated, unsanctified, and unholy. This is the way men and women think throughout their lifetimes, if they have not received the indwelling Holy Spirit through a faith experience with Jesus Christ. At its root is selfishness: I, me, mine – and by all means “me” first. Some are more sophisticated in their selfishness, and may disguise it as ambition or a healthy work ethic. But ultimately it comes down to: “I want what I want, and woe to that person who gets in the way of me achieving it.” The Bible declares that this mind is in a state of conflict with God. One definition of enmity is: “the state or feeling of being actively opposed or hostile to someone or something.” It is one thing to be actively opposed to people. In some cases, this can be justified. During World War II Americans were actively opposed and hostile to Adolf Hitler, and rightly so. But to be actively opposed to God? Not so wise.

This enmity is not always a conscious thing. More often than not it resides under the surface. Most sinners don’t go through their days declaring how much they hate God and want nothing to do with Him, His ways, or His people. Yet by their actions and by their lives, by their stubborn refusal to live according to the commandments of His word, and especially by their unwillingness to come running to His Son Jesus, they are evidencing that hostility and enmity. They have neither the peace of God nor peace with God.

But for those in Christ it is a different story. Going back to our verse in Romans, we read: “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God…” The enmity is dissolved, the state of conflict with their holy Creator is gone. They have entered into a covenant with God and there is peace. There is no more war.

Through Jesus Christ

At the end of the verse Paul brings us back to Jesus: “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Here, Christianity veers wide of every other religion and religious philosophy found in the world. Our justification in the sight of God and our peace with God come not through a valiant attempt to be noble and good, nor do they come through some generic faith in God. These benefits come exclusively and entirely through Jesus Christ, and through a recognition of the power and value of His death on the cross for our sins and His resurrection from the dead.

In the world people stubbornly attempt every other possible means to bring about self-justification except Jesus Christ. Often people will choose some token good work or some favorite charity, and vainly attempt to consider themselves justified and fit for heaven because of this. They fail to see that our good works, which are indeed important to God, must come after the cross and not before it. Good works do not lead to salvation and justification; rather salvation and justification lead to good works! By all means give to charitable causes, by all means involve yourself in helping others, by all means support African orphans – but see to it that the very first “good work” you do is to believe on God’s Son Jesus Christ and receive the gift of eternal life and acceptance with God. Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent” (John 6:29).

The justification that comes on the heels of faith in Jesus Christ is an amazing and a powerful state, one that rests on us and will be with us all of our days. Although God, as a loving Father, may discipline us for our misbehavior, He will not disown us nor disqualify us for heaven simply because we are having a bad day, or have done something we knew at the time was not right. Christ’s justification qualifies us as rightful children in the family of God, and we are as accepted by God on our worst days as we are on our best. The very righteousness of Jesus Christ has been applied and imparted to us, and we can go through our lives without fear, without condemnation, and with the knowledge that we are at peace with God.

And that is the very, very best kind of peace!

 

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