Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 45. How Faith Justifies
Rom 3:25,26 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”
The thing about the Bible, and especially the New Testament, is that it uses words that we rarely encounter anywhere else in life and so we have to spend some time defining those words and seeing how they are used. We’ve been doing that for a number of weeks with the word ‘faith’. The two verses above are laden with words that need defining and once we see what some of them mean, we will see how they are related to faith. The first is a phrase, “a sacrifice of atonement” When you atone for something you make up for it. In the Old Testament, in the Law of Moses, the Israelites offered offerings, animal sacrifices as a way of acknowledging their sin and their repentance. As they offered it, they placed their hand on the head of the animal being sacrificed as a way of showing they identified with it and that it would be taking their punishment. As they saw it die in front of them, the severity of sin and a life having to be given for it, made it very real.
The Living Bible says of verse 25, “ For God sent Christ Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to end all God’s anger against us.” That sums it up. The Bible says that Jesus was ‘the Lamb of God’ who was sacrificed in his death on the Cross, to be the one who stood in our place and took our sin. This is at the very heart of our belief system, the very reason why we can be saved. Did Jesus die for every single person on the planet? Yes, but they have to appropriate it for themselves. It has no effect until we, individually take it as the means of our personal salvation – and that is an act of faith.
Now in those verses above, Twice Paul says God did this to demonstrate his justice. Now ‘justice’ is all about putting things right. If a wrong has been committed, it needs putting right. Children say, “It’s not fair” appealing to (in their minds at least) a universal agreement that there is right and wrong, good and bad, fairness and unfairness. If a brother, say, has done wrong against them they look to the parent to punish the other. If a toy has been taken, they expect it to be given back. Justice brings a balance and harmony whereby onlookers afterwards say, ‘yes, that is fair.’
So the first time Paul says it, he says, “He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.” In other words, people before Christ appeared to ‘get away with it’ and so Christ’s death dealt with all those sins committed before him where people had said sorry but there was no punishment given. Justice would say, ‘that was unfair, those Old Testament people getting away with it. Someone ought to have taken their punishment. But then he adds a second instance: “he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” (Rom 3:25,26) Whenever was ‘the present time’ it should be seen that God was not letting sinners get away with it. Someone should be punished for all this wrongdoing that goes on. The only one ‘big enough’ was the Son of God. That, whether we understand it or not, is what the Bible declares and requires every ‘believer’ to accept to be a Christian. It is the only reason why God can forgive you and me. To believe this and to live according to this is faith.
But there is a word we haven’t yet considered and it is one that has very practical outworkings – ‘justify’. When we ‘justify our actions’ we try to explain why they were the right ones. When we justify a course of action we seek to show why it was the right one. At the end of the last world war, the Western authorities, the ‘Allies’, justified why it was right to drop two nuclear bombs on Japan to bring an end to a war that might have just dragged on and one. That argument ‘made it right’ to drop them killing so many. So when Paul says, “the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus,” he means, “Jesus, the one who puts right in God’s eyes all of those who have faith in Jesus.”
We’ve considered it before but let’s just remind ourselves, “those who have faith in Jesus,” simply means those who trust that Jesus is God’s answer to the problem of their sins, their guilt and their punishment. Now there is another side to this coin that we’ll consider in the next meditation but for the moment let’s consider how we may rest in this knowledge that we have observed so far in this particular study.
Writing to Timothy, Paul refers to “holding on to faith and a good conscience.” (1 Tim 1:19) and later on when speaking about deacons he says “They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience.” (1 Tim 3:9) Similarly the writer to the Hebrews said, “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess.” (Heb 10:22,23). Now the idea that is being conveyed through all these verses is that as we hold on to the truths that we have been considering, we hold to them by faith and when we “hold unswervingly” to them they will ensure we maintain a clear conscience before God.
Now I say all this because so often Christians lack assurance and that lack means they worry about their relationship with God, worry about whether they are truly accepted by God and worry about the sins they have committed and worry about that Sin thing that still lurks in the background. You will lack assurance if you do not hold firmly to those verses and the truths we have been considering here. You ARE forgiven and your guilt HAS been fully dealt with because of Jesus’ work on the Cross. Every single sin you ever committed or are likely to commit is covered by his death on the Cross. The Judge has made the final declaration over you when you turned to Christ and put your trust in him – not guilty! Your guilt has been removed. This justification thing is about completely clearing you of all guilt, NOT because somehow you have made up for your past wrongs but simply because the Son of God has been punished for them and as far as justice is concerned, they have been adequately dealt with in the eyes of the law.
If we hadn’t decided to start considering faith by working through Hebrews 11, then this perhaps should have been the starting point of everything to do with faith – how faith in what Jesus has done on the Cross is applied to your life and that opens up the way for you to live a life of faith. And that is a good place to stop and pick up again tomorrow.