Justification by Faith Alone
SABBATH SCHOOL INSIGHT #4
“Justification by Faith Alone"
July 22, 2017
Paul’s letter to the Galatians is a carefully written uncompromising, passionate, persuasive polemic by which he approaches the anti-gospel problem in the churches of Galatia. He comes to the problem from three directions: the gospel of grace defended (chapters 1–2), the gospel of grace explained (chapters 3–4), and the gospel of grace applied (chapters 5–6). In point of fact, the letter begins and ends with grace (see 1:3; 6:18).
Our lesson for this week is the gospel of grace expressed as justification by faith in Christ alone. Justification lies at the heart of the gospel. The gospel is the good news about Christ. He is the gospel. Wherever Christ is, there is justification. Christ is our justification. It cannot be separated from Him.
Again: justification is not a formula. It is a Person – the Person Christ Jesus. He has been given to all men. Because of this justification has been given to everyone. The fact that men live is an evidence that justification has been given to them, for “justification of life” has been given to all men. This justification that is in Christ is to be believed. It is to be experienced by faith in Jesus.
Our union, by faith alone, with Christ alone, is the reason we experience justification. Union with Christ and justification by faith must be understood in relation to each other. It is by our faith response to His initiative that we become united to Him and the result is a justified life.
There are two aspects of justification. One is experiential; the other is independent of our experience. The experiential aspect of justification is the direct participation of a person in the righteousness of Christ when and as s/he believes in Christ alone for salvation. The other aspect of justification is independent and outside the experiential standpoint. This aspect is what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross and by His faith.
Justification is God’s declaration of righteousness and innocence: “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (Romans 8:33-34). It is the devil who condemns and brings charges against us. We need to remember always that he has been cast down – from heaven (Revelation 12:10). We need to remember also that God repudiates and throws out the devil’s charges against us as observed above in Romans 8:33-34. The devil’s charges are legal. We are guilty; we know it and he knows it. BUT Christ “gave Himself for our sins” (Galatians 1:4). He took our guilt and our condemnation. “Messiah” was “cut off, but not for Himself” (Daniel 9:26). He was “cut off” for you and for me. He suffered the death penalty that was ours. “By dying in man's stead, Christ exhausted the penalty and provided a pardon” (1SM 340). Pardon was provided when Christ exhausted the penalty that was against us. This occurred when He died on the cross.
And so, as stated in Sunday’s lesson title: “The Question of “Justification” (Gal. 2:15, 16), the author correctly states that “justification … is a legal term. It deals with the verdict a judge pronounces when a person is declared innocent of the charges brought against him or her. It is the opposite of condemnation.” (Emphasis his).
Both justice and mercy are terms used in earthly court systems today. One who is guilty pleads for mercy and it is granted. He is pardoned and is no longer condemned. In this setting, mercy as well as justice are legal terms pronounced by a judge. Likewise, justification is a legal term and is used today in court cases of earth. But more importantly it is a forensic term used in God’s pronouncement of justification. This is because of Christ’s death. Notice this thought regarding justice and mercy:
“His [Christ's] object was to reconcile the prerogatives of justice and mercy, and let each stand separate in its dignity, yet united. His mercy was not weakness, but a terrible power to punish sin because it is sin; yet a power to draw to it the love of humanity. Through Christ Justice is enabled to forgive without sacrificing one jot of its exalted holiness.” (General Conference Bulletin, Fourth Quarter, 1899, vol. 3, p. 102).
Justification is because of God’s justice as well as His mercy and was accomplished by His judicial declaration – by and through the Word, Christ Jesus. Christ’s death was and is God’s legal justification. Justification was/is “by the blood” of Christ (Roman 5:9). It is inseparable from His death.
God’s justification is also accomplished, in practical experience, by His treatment of those who believe in Christ alone for salvation. In this He treats us as though we had never sinned.
“If you give yourself to [Christ], and accept Him as your Saviour, then, sinful as your life may have been, for His sake you are accounted righteous. Christ's character stands in place of your character, and you are accepted before God just as if you had not sinned” (Steps to Christ 62).
“We are not to serve God as if we were not human, but we are to serve him as those who have been redeemed by the Son of God and through the righteousness of Christ we shall stand before God pardoned, and as though we had never sinned” (Signs of the Times, April 10, 1893; This is found also in Selected Messages Book 3, p. 140).
“In Christ we are as if we had suffered the penalty we have incurred. In Christ I am as if I had obeyed, and rendered perfect obedience to the law, which we cannot perfectly obey without Christ imparts to us His merits and His righteousness. O, the plan of salvation is a wonderful matter, and we have enough to think of, and talk of, and to be thankful for every day of our lives.” (Pacific Union Recorder, September 4, 1913).
In closing let’s consider the memory verse for this week’s lesson (Galatians 2:20) along with verse 16. The first part of Galatians 2:20 is known in the original language as an envelope construction. It looks like this:
I was crucified together with
nevertheless I live
yet not I
but living in me
The life now lived by all men, especially the believer, is the result of Christ’s faith as the second half of verse 20 states: “and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
The reason Paul wrote this part of the letter is because Peter had turned from “the truth of the gospel” both in practice and in doctrine (verse 14). Paul’s rebuke of Peter is unleashed from this verse to the end of the chapter.
Verse 16 is the heart of the gospel – “justification by the faith of Christ.” Peter knew this. But he had been shamed into denying the gospel. Because of his denial Paul rebuked him saying:
“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (verse 16). This verse is constructed as a figure of speech known as a chiasm. It looks like the following:
A. A man is not justified by the works of the law
B. But by the faith of Jesus Christ
C. Even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ
B. And not by the works of the law
A. For by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified
The centerpiece of the chiasm is the most important part – we believe in Jesus alone so that we may be justified by His faith. Here the gospel of grace is defended mightily. And now, you and I have the privilege to be among the last believers on earth just before the second coming of Christ who will be known as those who are justified by “the faith of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12). “Believest thou?”