Study Eleven - Justification
New Testament - Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews

The world was filled with many religions having claims to have the secrets of life and death. Multiple philosophies offered alternative solutions for temporal and eternal issues. Onto that stage came a man named Jesus who made startling claims about himself as the unique One through whom people could be restored to a right relationship with God. As in the time when Christ first declared it and the early church confessed it, that message cuts across the grain of our present age of:
  • secularism ("The person and work of Jesus may be interesting, but it is irrelevant")
  • relativism ("There's no absolute truth about anything, certainly not religion. There is no right or wrong. It's whatever works for you.")
  • religious pluralism ("It makes no difference what a person's religion is. We're all going to the same place anyway.")
  • humanism ("Our only need in life is to self-actualize our potential, to be all that we can be.")
The Christian recognizes the Bible as an authoritative voice on all matters pertaining to life and death. That voice declares that

a right relationship with God is the essential need of every human being
that right relationship with God comes uniquely through Jesus the Christ.

The Scriptures Denote That a Holy and Righteous God Will Not Accept the Unrighteous Into His Eternal Presence - In our own musing, we may wish that God would . . . think that God should . . . and conjecture that God could, but the message of the Bible confronts us with the realization that God doesn't! Only righteous persons can dwell in the presence of a righteous God. This leaves each of us in a predicament, because the Bible also reveals that "None is righteous, no, not one;"

None Righteous?   Not One? - Two different meanings can be given to the term righteous or righteousness:

  1. In modern usage, righteousness is restricted to an ethical quality, conformity to the ethical norm, and the norm is relative, depending upon the standards of the community or group.
  2. In Biblical usage, the norm is the righteousness of God, not the standards of the community.
If any on earth wish to claim righteousness in the biblical usage of the term, they must be ready to prove to God that from birth to the present they are as pure, as perfect, and as sinless as God. No honest person would wish to make such a claim. Every person is caught in the net of Paul's inevitable conclusion:

" . . . None is righteous, no, not one;"   (Romans 3:10)

Every person who desires to dwell eternally in the presence of a holy and righteous God then encounters this central question of life and death:

" . . . how can a mortal be righteous before God?"   (Job 9:2)

God Acted in Christ to Make Us Right With God - What we cannot do for ourselves, God has done for us in Christ. We are "justified" - made right with God - not by our own efforts but by God's free grace which has come to us in Christ the Savior. The Scriptures proclaim in many ways the good news that things are "made right" between God and us:

  • not because we love God, but because in Christ, God first loved us (1 John 4:10)
  • not because we make ourselves worthy, but because through Christ, God gives us a worth that makes us "holy and blameless and irreproachable" before God. (Colossians 1:22, Romans 5:19b)
  • not because we try earnestly to be righteous, but because God accounts as righteous all who come to Christ in faith. (Phillippians 3:9, Romans 3:22, 4:5)
  • not because we earn the right to stand accepted before God, but because in Christ, God declares us acceptable as a gift of divine favor. (Romans 4:3, 6-8, 5:17; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 2:7-8)
  • not because we trust the merit of what we can do, but because we have faith in what God in Christ has done for us. (Galatians 3:6, 24; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Romans 3:26, 28, 10:2-4)

Fruitless Quests for Justification - The scriptures warn against the folly of seeking justification through means which cannot bring it about.

Human Wisdom - Some have listened to the message of salvation which was wrought through Christ; and they have called it irrational foolishness, rejected it as the theory of idiots. And then they have set themselves to the task of producing a better way. But God through the Scriptures warns mortals not to gamble with temporal or eternal life by putting it in the keeping of human wisdom alone.

Works of Laws and Morality - Those who try to measure their acceptability to God by their own achievements miss the one way to right relationship with God - God's grace. Their confidence in their own goodness and morality deafens their ears to Christ's message so gladly received by those:

  • who have met God face to face and dare not pretend any longer that all their affairs are in order.
  • who labor under no illusions that they have fulfilled their responsibilities to either God or to others.
  • who have laid aside claims to righteousness because of good works.
  • who hold no hopes of eternity on the basis of self-effort.

Idealism and Noble Intentions - Mortals may dream of climbing the highest mountain and may sincerely feel that there is nothing to keep them from doing precisely that. But often, as they venture forth, they discover that their dreams are higher than their reach. And when they stop to look where they have been, they may note with dismay that they have but scaled the crest of a tiny hill, while the great mountain waits to be conquered. It is so with those who have tried to keep God's law perfectly! They have failed to conquer the mountain. Are there other options? Better they place their faith in the merits of Christ's righteousness, so that through him, they might stand before God, irreproachable and blameless in his sight.

Any and All Self-Efforts - Whatever we may concoct as a way to merit righteousness in God's eyes . . . if it by-passes God's work through Christ's death and resurrection, it has by-passed the way to never-ending life with God.

The children of God are not justified by what they do for Him,
but they are justified by what God has done for them.

Lesson 11 and its symbolism:
  • Figure in white robe facing heaven's light - The Christian recognizes the Bible as an authoriatative voice on all matters pertaining to life and faith.

  • Figures standing on barren earth - The Scriptures declare that a holy and righteous God will not accept a "sinful and unrepentant people" into his eternal presence. Therefore, all of humankind is faced with the possiblity of eternal separation from God as "all have sinned" and "none is righteous".

  • Golden city - God, however, through the works of Christ, has acted to alter the situation of the sinner. In and through Christ's works, the repentant on God's earth are "justified" - made right with God.

  • Figures reaching for bubbles rising out of barren earth - The Scriptures warn against the folly of seeking justification through means which cannot bring it about.
    • Mortarboard and book - None are justified by human wisdom.
    • Law tablets and scales - None are justified by works of the law or morality.
    • Ivory tower - None are justified by idealism and noble intentions.
    • Microscope and vials - None are justified by self-efforts.
  • Bubbles reflect heaven's light - Human wisdom, works of the law, morality, idealism, noble intentions, and self-efforts are all commendable in their place, but each is powerless to bring about justification.

  • Pathway descending from mountaintop - The people of God are justified by what God has done for them through Christ.

  • Figure in white robe extends arms heavenward - Justification is appropriated through faith.