- Justifying Grace
- Romans 3:23-24; Ephesians 2:8-9
- Lyndol Loyd October 17, 2016
October 16, 2016
Moving In: Justifying Grace
Romans 3:23-24; Ephesians 2:8-9
Ephesians 2:8-10 (NASB) – 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
“Amazing Grace” is quite possibly the most beloved song of all time. It has been recorded by all kinds of artist and has been arranged in a whole variety of ways. Some of you will also know that the song was written by pastor John Newton.
But what you might not know is that before becoming a follower of Jesus Christ, John Newton, like all of us, had a past. You see, he was the former captain of a slave ship. This was such a painful part of his past that Newton found it very difficult to speak of.
However, when William Wilburforce, a member of his congregation, was working to stop the practice of slave trade in Great Britain, Newton was moved. Now old and going blind, Newton overcame what he referred to as his “20,000 ghosts” and made a written account of his slave ship experiences to help see the practice stopped once and for all.
That encounter was portrayed in the 2006 movie by the same title. Let’s take a look together (video clip).
Did you catch Newton’s words, “We are great sinners and Christ is a great Savior”? Understanding that truth about our human condition and about who Jesus is in relationship to us, is what enabled Newton to write what is perhaps the most beloved hymn of all time.
While Newton was inspired musically by his experience of grace one of his English contemporaries, a young pastor named John Wesley, who became the founder of the Methodist movement, was preaching about his biblical understanding of how God’s grace works.
For the past couple of weeks here at LakeRidge we have been working our way through what is known as the Wesleyan way of salvation or order of salvation. What I hope you are finding as we work our way through is that those same tenants of the faith still hold incredible relevance and application for how we live our lives today in 2016.
To help his listeners better understand the many facets of grace, Wesley often used the illustration of a house to help make his point, therefore the visual representation we have on our platform.
We’ve already talked about Prevenient Grace and the role it plays in helping us overcome the worst effects of depravity in our lives so that we can respond to God’s call. It is the grace of God which draws us to porch of the house.
Then we talked about Convicting Grace, how God pulls back the curtain, if you will, and helps us to see ourselves as we really are, helps us to see our need for transformation and then offers us transformation through the sacrifice of Christ. Hopefully, the outcome of Convicting Grace is repentance. Once we have repented of our sin we move toward placing our faith in Christ, trusting in him and him alone for our salvation. This is represented by standing on the porch and approaching the door.
When Wesley used to talk about grace he would reflect upon his own life. He spoke about what he called his “Aldersgate experience”, the strange warming of his heart.
He goes to a worship service one evening and he writes in his journal that he really didn’t want to go, but he went along with some friends anyway. Maybe some of you can relate? And when he heard the good news proclaimed from the New Testament book of Romans he believed that he finally trusted fully in God through Christ for his salvation.
That moment of trusting fully in God through Jesus, his Son, is represented by opening the door of the house. It is referred to as Justifying Grace, the moment we exercise faith in Christ.
Now that’s an interesting notion when you think about it. If it is just the doorway to salvation doesn’t that sound kind of strange? Salvation is the end goal right? Being set right with God? That’s the end of the process right?
Well, I must say that in my growing up I often heard the gospel presented in just such a way. Once you present faith in Christ that is the main task. That is where the task is complete.
At my friend’s church, that I would attend form time to time, that was what it was all about – getting someone down front to the altar so that they could kneel and pray a prayer asking God for salvation. They might sing all thirteen verses of “Just As I Am” before it happened, but that was the goal. That was what it is all about.
But for John Wesley that’s where things start getting interesting. Because what he says is that the real work of transformation has just begun. That’s why Wesley says justification is the doorway.
Now the time span between Convicting Grace, repentance and placing one’s faith in Christ, if you look at that on the calendar, can vary from one person to the next.
In some cases, that person is really ready and through Convicting Grace, it becomes crystal clear to them immediately. They feel sorrowful, they repent of their sins, they turn from their old sinful life and they exercise faith in Christ.
In other cases, it takes much longer than that. It is a long wrestling period where God continually reveals to us our nature, helps us to see how we really are, but it takes a long time for us to get to the point where we are able to repent and place faith in him.
The point of all of this is that there are going to be different responses, as many as there are different people to make responses.
Let’s look to scripture because it is so important that we understand the idea of justification in terms of scripture.
Romans 3:23-24 says, “23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24 Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.”
I’m justified by God’s grace as a gift. It is nothing that I have deserved because I’ve been a good person, moral person, spiritual person. It is only through Jesus that I’m made right. It is a gift and I have to freely choose to receive the gift of God’s grace.
Now here’s what I love about justifying grace. Jesus takes all of my sin and goes to the cross and dies. He gives me all of his righteousness in return, making it possible for me to one day stand before God when otherwise I wouldn’t have a chance. I’d be toast. What Jesus gives to us when he does this for us is a gift. It is the best gift that has ever been given.
Now let me tell you why Justifying Grace is so important. I think this is a place where many people struggle because of some bad theology, so it is vitally important that we identify what the truth of Justifying Grace is so that we can continually remind ourselves of it.
The opposite of Justifying Grace is something that has been called the theology of merit and demerit. This is how it works and it’s just plain, flat out wrong. It is this wacky idea that if I do good, God will love me more and if I do bad, God will love me less.
I would say this is something I used to believe when I was younger. I can remember thinking that I was a good person for the most part and that my good behavior, in general, outweighed my bad behavior so surely I would go to heaven one day.
Boy, did it burst my bubble when I heard someone rather bluntly state that being good doesn’t get you into heaven, that there was no way that I could ever be good enough. This left me with a real problem.
Some of us struggle with this kind of merit and demerit theology. It has snuck into our lives subtly and we didn’t even realize it was happening. Emotionally, this is how it plays itself out. You have a good day where you do good things and you feel really happy. You feel good. God loves me. You have a bad day. You disobey. You blow it. You feel depressed so God must love me less.
So the joy of our lives is connected to our performance, not Jesus. So we have joy when we think we are doing pretty good, which is really just pride, which scripture tells us is a sin and then you have despair when you’ve been really bad, which is still really a pride issue.
You see, what we’ve done in these scenarios is that we have declared that it is about us and not about Jesus.
Some of us really struggle with that. We struggle to believe the truth that God cannot love me anymore and God will not love me any less. No matter what I do.
Justifying Grace says that God already loves me so much that he’s already given me Jesus. Scripture reminds us in Romans 5:8 that “8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”
God can’t love me anymore than that and there is nothing I can do to cause God to love me any less. You see, God’s grace is based upon God’s love for us, not on our performance.
Some of you struggle with this right now. You feel like I’ve sinned and I’ve blown it. God doesn’t love me as much as he would if I was good person. That’s a lie.
Ephesians 2:8-9 helps us understand this powerful truth about God’s grace when it states, “8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”
We are made right with God by grace, through faith. Period. End of sentence.
Wesley would have said that the important thing for us to understand about Justifying Grace is that it isn’t merely a pretense or accounting of righteousness to people. In other words, it doesn’t mean that God just looks at us and pretends that we are righteous, or that he looks at us through the righteousness of Christ and merely attributes that to us.
Justifying Grace is even deeper than that. That’s why we think of Justifying Grace as being the doorway. It is because this is the place where the work of transformation begins.
Because God’s goal for us isn’t that we look like we are righteous. It isn’t that we are accounted for as righteous, even though Jesus makes this possible. It is that we become truly righteous people.
Author C.S. Lewis once commented that “If we want to end up in heaven, we can take no bit of hell with us.” Everything about us that is displeasing to God, he is determined to help us eradicate.
So justification is just the beginning, not the end, because there is still a lot of important work to be done. Now the beauty of this for Wesley was that it brings together affirming certain things about God and behaving in particular ways.
It does a very good job of uniting faith and works. We are saved by grace, through faith in Christ and called upon to set out on the process of working out our salvation.
If justification is just the beginning then exercising right belief is step one and then having that come forth in lives that please God, lives of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves, lives of self-sacrifice for those around us.
I want to take us back to John Newton for just a moment and his statement that “We are great sinners and Christ is a great Savior.” Because the more I think about that statement, the more I realize that it represents both sides of the door.
On the one side is the realization that I am a great sinner. On the other side of the door is the truth that Christ is a great Savior. When our lives become aligned with who Christ is, Jesus trumps our sin each and every time.
1 John 1:9 says, “9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”