Invocavit, The First Sunday in Lent March 1, 1998
149, 157, 377, 394
Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law. These are the Words.
In the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
About 480-some years ago in imperial Germany, two little words started a revolution. The revolution has come to be known in the history books as the Lutheran Reformation. The chief revolutionary was a former monk named Martin Luther. And the two words which started it all were “SOLA FIDE,” which translated from the Latin means, “BY FAITH ALONE.” Luther said that it was by faith alone that a person was saved, and that good works had nothing to do with it. Well, that’s not what the Roman Catholic Church said. So when he made his stand on sola fide, Luther also made himself the enemy of this powerful institution, and in those days that was a very dangerous thing to do! However, he took heart from the knowledge that sola fide was not a new doctrine of his own devising, but a teaching founded solidly on the truth of the Bible.
Our text for this morning proves that he was right. If you search among the various peoples and religions of the world, you’ll hear many different schemes for gaining eternal life. In point of fact, however, there is only one; and the Apostle Paul tells us what it is in our text. Join me in considering the theme:
In the section previous to our text, Paul makes an interesting statement. He says that we Christians have a distinct advantage over unbelievers. Can you guess what that is? It’s not that we’re not sinners—we’re sinful just like them. It’s not that we’re somehow more worthy of salvation than other people. No, our advantage, Paul says, is this: that God has “justified us freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”—2:24.
You have been saved! You’ve been separated from the ungodly. You are now part of God’s own family. On the Day of Judgment, you’re going to be entering heaven just as all the unbelievers are sent screaming into hell! In view of all this, you might be tempted to become rather proud of your privileged status. You might be tempted to boast—to puff out your chest and brag a little about your salvation. But Paul reminds us that when it comes to salvation, bragging is out! In our text he asks, Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith He’s right, too, isn’t he?—If your salvation was based on the principle of works, then you’d have the right to brag. But it isn’t. FAITH STANDS ALONE. Salvation is based on the principle of faith. It must be—because only faith gets a ‘not guilty’ verdict from God.
Most of us have been in a courtroom at one time or another in our lives, if only to pay a parking ticket, or to serve as a juror or a witness. Well, to understand the next passage in our text, I want you to imagine yourself in a courtroom. Because Paul uses a word—“justify”—that can really only be understood in a courtroom setting. He says, Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. The Greek word for “justify” is a forensic (or courtroom) term. It’s the opposite of “condemn”. A person is justified when the verdict pronounced upon him is “not guilty.”
I think everybody wants to be justified, don’t they? We all want to be pronounced “not guilty” by God. In your day-to-day life, when you’ve done something you know is wrong, you crave a way out, a way you can be justified in spite of what you’ve done. And especially on the Last Day—that’s the Day when all of us would certainly like to be declared “not guilty” before the judgment throne of almighty God! The question is, how can we get that ‘not guilty’ verdict we need? By what means can we be justified?
Well, it’s very tempting to think you can do it with good works. People naturally like to think they can earn God’s favor by doing things that are “good”—being honest, helping their neighbors, refraining from gross sins. Even if they can’t do the whole job (they reason), at least they can contribute a little toward an eventual ‘not guilty’ verdict. This is a favorite ploy of the devil. He tries to get a person’s trust off of Jesus Christ—off Christ’s merits and worthiness—and get the person to trust his own good works instead. It’s a deadly deception! Good works have nothing to do with your justification. The Bible says plainly, “By the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” Gal 2:16.
When it comes to justification, faith stands alone! Only FAITH will get you a ‘not guilty’ verdict from God. Paul says, Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Now, if you’re like me you look into your past and see a long record of sins and transgressions. But that’s not what the Lord sees! Your faith connects you to Jesus, so when the Lord looks at you, what He sees is not your sin, but rather the perfect sinlessness of His Son. When you place all your trust in Jesus, His righteousness becomes your righteousness. It doesn’t matter what sins lie in your past—God sees your faith in Christ, and that’s that. Down comes the Judge’s gavel, and the courtroom rings with the Lord’s verdict: “NOT GUILTY! This one’s guilt has been covered by the blood of My Son. This one may go free!”
Sola fide. Justified by faith alone—what a wonderful thing! What a relief to know that your salvation depends completely on Jesus and not at all on your own good works. And once a person learns about this wonderful plan of salvation through faith, who would ever want to go back to relying on good works?! Actually, a lot of people would. After they’ve been Christians for a while, they develop a little pride in their own upstanding lifestyle. They begin to think that their own good works have at least a little something to do with their salvation. You long-time Christians: watch out! Don’t fall for that trap of Satan’s! The Christians in Galatia were falling for it, so Paul issued them this dire warning: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” Gal 5:1. Only faith in Christ can get you that all-important verdict of “not guilty” from God. So whatever you do, don’t get caught up in that useless treadmill of trying to earn it by good works!
Paul has just said that a person is justified by faith; good works don’t enter into it. Very well. But perhaps you have another worry. Exactly which person is Paul referring to? Martin Luther once put it this way: it’s easy to believe that the Apostle Peter was justified by faith—or the Apostle Paul or the martyr Stephen. But what about me? Well, in the next two verses Paul spells out exactly who he’s referring to. He says, Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. There’s only one God, and that God only uses one means to justify people: faith in Jesus Christ. And here’s another reason why FAITH STANDS ALONE, because it works on everybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Jew, a non-Jew, a Russian, American, German, Norwegian or Chinese. Faith works no matter who you are!
Of course in Paul’s day the big social distinction was between Jews and non-Jews (or Gentiles). The Jews were very proud of their heritage. After all, they were the descendants of Abraham. They were God’s chosen people. They zealously maintained an outward keeping of God’s Law, and an outward show of good works. As far as they were concerned, this was the way of salvation, and it only covered them. They thought that no one but a Jew could possibly be justified in God’s sight!
They were wrong, of course. Both about the plan, and about who it covered. God’s plan was to save people not through works, and not through works and faith, but sola fide: through faith in Jesus Christ alone! And the best news of all was about who all was included in this way of salvation. Because according to Paul, it didn’t matter if you were a Jew or a Gentile or what you were. You could still be justified. Faith works no matter who you are!
Did you ever see those mail-order insurance commercials? “If you’re a veteran, you cannot be turned down!” Well, God’s offer of salvation through faith is kind of similar, only the conditions are even easier to meet: If you are a sinner in need of forgiveness, you cannot be turned down! I think we all meet those conditions. Our God is truly an equal opportunity Savior: “For,” Paul says, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Gal 3:28. You—yes you!—can bring your sins to the cross of Christ right now and receive a full pardon for every one of them. For you see, faith works regardless of your background. The Jewish (supposed) plan of salvation works only if you keep the Torah. The Catholic plan works only if you’ve done a lot of good deeds in your life (and sometimes not even then!). But the real plan—the faith-plan—works no matter who you are, no matter what your background, no matter what you’ve done! Regardless of who you are, Jesus’ blood covers you. Through faith in Him, you can stand justified in God’s sight right now, today. Yes, we may safely say that, as a way of salvation, FAITH STANDS ALONE!
Finally, faith stands alone for another reason, as well. Because only faith truly upholds and fulfills God’s Law.
Now remember, some of the Christians Paul was writing to in Rome were of Jewish background. And the Jews had, for centuries, placed all their confidence in the Law of Moses (the Torah). So when Paul started talking about being justified by faith, without the deeds of the Law, he was skating on thin ice. Nobody with a drop of Jewish blood in his veins was going to sit still and listen to somebody who said the Torah didn’t matter anymore! But Paul told them: that’s not at all what we’re saying! Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.
We Christians are the ones who truly confirm and establish the Law of God, says Paul. We’re not like the Jews, who make half-hearted, hypocritical stabs at keeping the Law. In 1997 Paul might have added: we’re not like the liberal Reformed churches, who scale down God’s Law until it fits man’s limited capacity to keep it. “Only do your best,” they say, “and God will be satisfied with you.” Nonsense! We confirm and establish God’s Law—the Law in which He demands, “You shall be perfect, for I the Lord your God am perfect.” And we’re not afraid to do so, because justification by faith alone is the only plan of salvation that provides for the perfect keeping of the Law.
True, we haven’t kept it. You and I have broken the Law time and again. But Jesus did keep it. He told his disciples, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” Mt 5:17. Christ kept the Law for you. And then, by means of your faith, His perfect keeping of the Law was transferred to you. In this way, you see, faith doesn’t make void the Law, but rather establishes it. Faith doesn’t overthrow the Law, but rather fulfills it! Only faith truly upholds and fulfills God’s Law.
I’ve got a photograph at home that I like. I took it out the window of the plane one time when I was flying into Seattle. It’s a picture of Mt. Rainier, rising majestically out of an endless blanket of clouds. Now there are many mountains in the Cascade range, but only one was tall enough to pierce the clouds that day. Mt. Rainier stood alone. Likewise, mankind has devised a whole range of different ways to try and justify himself in God’s sight. But none of them works. None of them can raise man above the clouds of his sin, and lift him up to heaven. The only way that works is the way God Himself has given us…justification by faith. Faith stands alone. My prayer for you is that you will continue to put all your trust in Christ, and none in yourself; for then you can be absolutely certain of hearing that final verdict on Judgment Day, “Not guilty; come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world!” AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.