Do you ever find yourself feeling you’re outside the ‘in-crowd’? Or that no-one ‘likes’ your posts on social media? Or frustrated that someone chopped you off their Christmas card list this year?
Or perhaps in relation to God you feel like a let-down? Never sure you’ve done the right thing, always wanting the reassurance of others? Do regrets about moments in your life, perhaps from years ago, regularly weigh you down, as if your sin is a burden which can never be lifted?
Wonderfully, God has declared the good news of the gospel for us. It’s like a multi-faceted diamond, with new joys and insights as we observe it from different angles.
And the gospel angle which shines light into all the situations listed above is the teaching often known as Justification by Faith.
Perhaps you remember what Paul says to the Romans that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace” – Romans 3:23.
The image here is falling short; not achieving the right standard. We can imagine the law court, where God rightly sits as Judge and sees us as the sinful rebels who we are, not living to glorify God our Maker and trust His words but to go our own way, as our ancestors Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. He would be right to declare us guilty as charged.
And yet, God chooses another verdict for those who trust in Jesus Christ as their Saviour. We are ‘justified freely by His grace’. Instead of condemning us, He pardons us. He declares us “not guilty”. God the Judge chooses to declare that we have not fallen short, that instead we have met His standard. This is astonishing grace! It’s not that we have done the right thing; rather that God chooses to pass the verdict on us that He will always view us as having done the right thing.
And to drum home that this awesome gift of justification is not earned, or repaid but simply received by faith, Paul reminds us that “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
In banking terms, Abraham, like us, was in the red. He was indebted to God. Yet it was as if God chose to credit Abraham’s account to the tune of millions. He credited righteousness, or ‘justified-ness’, through Abraham’s belief that He would. Abraham was justified by faith. So for us too, as Paul says in Romans 4:5: “to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.”
How, we might ask, can God do this? The answer is, as so often in our faith, because of Jesus. Jesus, the perfectly righteous one, took our guilty verdict in our place as He died on the cross. Yet, now resurrected, He remains perfectly righteous. And, as in the picture Jesus himself shares in John 15, God sees Jesus as the vine and Christians as the branches. Just as nutrients flow up a vine and out to where fruit grows, Jesus shares His righteousness, His perfect ‘justified-ness’ with us, so that God sees us as righteous alongside His perfect Son.
That’s a verdict worth holding onto! I’ve found that whenever I feel guilty of sin or feel that I need to impress others or need some reassurance that I’m liked, I need to stop looking at myself or others and look up to Jesus, the object of my faith. Through Him, you and I hear these words from the God of the universe: “You are justified, you are right with me, you are a child of God.” May that verdict always be enough!