I have a message today that is the gospel in essence, if ever I was able to understand it and to preach it. So may God bless it to you who listen on radio and are watching on television, and to the great throng in God’s sanctuary this holy hour. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas and this is the pastor bringing the sermon, one of the doctrinal messages on salvation, on soteriology. It is entitled The Declaration Of Justification, the doctrine of justification, how God makes us righteous. How is it that a lost sinner, such as we are, could stand in the presence of God “before whom the heavens themselves are not pure and who charges the angels with folly”? How can we stand in the presence of God and live? That is the doctrine of justification.
The reading of the Scripture is in the second chapter of Galatians beginning at verse 16. Galatians, chapter 2, verse 16:
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus, even we who have believed in 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.
But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves are also found sinners — still sinners though justified — is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid.
If I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.
For I through the Law am dead to the Law, that I might live unto God.
Then one of the most beautiful of all the verses in the Bible,
I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me, 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.
I do not frustrate the grace of God, for if righteousness come by the Law, then Christ is dead in vain.
The doctrine of justification.
It is an unusual thing that both in Hebrew and in Greek the root from which come the words “righteousness” and “justification” are the same. The words are the same. In Hebrew it’s tsedeq. Tsedeq, which means “to be righteous,” which means “to be declared righteous,” which means “justification.” In Genesis 15:6, quoted in Galatians 3:6, “Abraham believed God, and his faith was accounted for tsedaqah” — the substantive of tsedeq, “righteousness” – his faith was accounted for righteousness, for justification.
In Greek the word is dikaios, “just or righteous.” In Matthew 1:19, “Joseph, being a dikaios man — a just man.”
In 5:45, “He sendeth rain on the dikaios and the adikos — the just and the unjust.”
Acts 10:22, “Cornelius, a dikaios man — a righteous man, a just man.”
In the substantive — in the verbal form of dikaios— “just” — dikaioo means “to pronounce us righteous, to declare us righteous.” This publican who prayed in the synagogue went down to his house dikaioo — “justified, declared righteous.”
Romans 8:30, “When he whom God called, He dikaioo – He justified. And whom He dikaioed – He justified – He glorified.”
Another substantive part of the verb in Greek is dikaiosis, which means “acquittal, justification.” Romans 4:25, Jesus “was delivered for our offences, and He was raised again for our dikaiosis – our justification” – to declare us righteous.
And in 5:18 now, you look. The same word will be translated both ways, “As by the offence of one judgment came upon all men; so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justificationof life.” It’s the same word, “So by the righteousness – the dikaiosis – of one the free gift came upon all men unto dikaiosis” – translated “justification.” So the word “justification” means “to be declared righteous, to be just, to be righteous.”
Now, the doctrine of justification is this: in justification God declares us, on the basis of the atoning death of Christ, to whom we are joined by faith, God declares us to have paid the penalty of the law for our sin: death. Jesus, to whom we are joined by faith, died for us. And that penalty has been paid in Christ and we are forgiven, justified, declared righteous.
A second part of that: we who are declared righteous in the atoning death of Christ no longer are subject to the penalty of the law of death. The courts today would call that double jeopardy. We have been tried, we have been condemned, we have died in the atoning grace of our Lord.
And a third and last part of that faceted doctrine of justification: we who once were repelled by God are now received by Him in loving and gracious favor. We were once condemned. Now we are acquitted. We once were offensive to God in our sin. We are now acceptable in His sight and in His presence.
Now the apostle writes, “Not that we are no longer sinners, not that we are innocent, holy, pure, but God, for Christ’s sake, looks upon us as ideally pure, as ideally innocent, as ideally righteous.” Let me illustrate that. Here is an agronomist, an agriculturalist, a botanist, and we walk along by his side and we see a little thing sprouting out of the ground about an inch long, a little green shoot about that long. And the agriculturalist says, “Look, there is an oak.” Well, to me an oak is a great tree with spreading branches and majestic presence, a great oak. And that little shoot is not one inch long; he says, “Look, there is an oak.” He imputes, He reckons to that little shoot an ideal. It’s not a truth in fact; that’s no oak. But it’s an ideal truth. It is what can be. It is what is in it, the great majestic oak. He sees that. Of course it’s just about one inch long.
Now, the Bible presents that so beautifully all the way through. In Numbers 23, Balaam was hired by Balak to curse Israel. But when he stood up to curse Israel, God wouldn’t let him. And instead he placed in Balaam’s mouth the words, “God hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath He seen perverseness in Israel, the Lord his God is with him and the shout of a king is among them.”
Can you imagine that being said about Jacob, “God hasn’t beheld iniquity in Jacob”? Could you imagine this being said about Israel, “Neither hath He seen perverseness in Israel”? Why, the whole Bible is full of the iniquity and final destruction and dispersion of those people. But here it says God hasn’t seen it. That is the ideal God looks upon when He looks upon us.
Take again in the third chapter of the prophet Zechariah. The prophet sees Joshua the high priest standing before the Lord and he’s clothed with filthy garments, dirty garments. And at his right hand is Satan standing, looking at him, pointing at him, accusing him, “Look at his dirty, filthy garments, this high priest who stands before the most high God. Look at him.” And the Lord God cleanses, and washes, and places upon Joshua garments of beauty and glory, and puts a mitre on his head. God stands between His people and every accusing tongue. In God’s sight, he is holy and pure, ideally. That’s the doctrine of justification. Paul said it like this in Romans 8:33, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.”
Anselm was a great, tremendous Christian. If you ever study theology, you’ll come across Anselm. He was the Archbishop of Canterbury in about 1100 A. D., and he wrote a tract for the consolation of the dying who were alarmed on account of their sin. Now, I have copied out of that tract a part. He starts off with a question and answer. The minister stands by the side of the one who is dying. And he says to the one who is dying, “Dost thou believe that the Lord Jesus Christ died for thee?”
And the answer, “Yes. I believe it.”
Question, “Dost thou thank Him for His suffering and death?”
“I do thank Him.”
Question, “Dost thou believe that thou canst not be saved except by His death?”
Answer, “I believe it.”
Then Anselm addresses the dying man – the minister addresses the dying man, “Come then, while life remaineth in thee, in Christ alone place thy whole trust. In naught else place thy trust. To His death commit thyself wholly. With this alone covereth thyself wholly. And if the Lord God will judge thee and say – and the if the Lord thy God will to judge thee, then you say, `Lord, between Thy judgment and me I present the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. No otherwise can I contend with Thee.’ And if God shall say that thou art a sinner, say thou, `Lord, I interpose the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between my sins and Thee.’ If God say that thou hast deserved condemnation, say, `Lord, I set the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between my evil deserts and Thee, and His merits I offer for those which I ought to have and have not.’ If He say that He is wroth with thee, say, `Lord, I oppose the death of my Lord Jesus Christ between by wrath and me.’ And when thou hast completed all this, say again, `Lord, I set the death of our Lord Jesus Christ between me and Thee.’”
That is justification. Not that I am ever righteous or holy or pure or innocent, but God looks upon me ideally through Jesus Christ with whom I am identified by faith.
Now, the doctrine of justification is an unusual doctrine. It pertains to the acceptance on the part of God of the person, of the man himself, and not his works. This is the opposite of the world. The world says, in its supposedly marvelous wisdom, the world says that we are accepted because of our works, and that God has respect to our works, and then He has respect to us.
But the Bible is just the opposite. The Bible teaches us that God has respect to the man himself first, and then He has respect unto his works. I read in the beginning — In the fourth chapter of the Book of Genesis, when Abel came before the Lord in the fourth verse, “And God had respect unto Abel and to his offering, but unto Cain and to his offering He had not respect.” God had respect first unto Abel, to the man himself, and then He accepted Abel’s offering. Not the other way around. God had respect to his good works, to his sacrifice, to his good offering. Then He accepted Abel. Just the opposite. God accepted Abel. God accepted the man himself, had respect unto Abel himself, and then He had respect and acceptance to the offering that Abel brought.
The whole Bible is like that. In the beautiful Psalms, Psalms 23: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me lie down in green pastures, He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul, He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” First the man is accepted. He is restored, “He restoreth my soul.” That’s first, then the works that God we pray will bless. It is so in the tabernacle and in the temple. First is the altar, the sacrifice, the atonement for sins and then the door into the house of God, into the sanctuary of the Lord. First the man is atoned for. First he is accepted. Then he approaches God.
Now, I can illustrate that in our lives. When I was a youth, the most famous of all the underworld characters in America was named Al Capone. He was the head of dark, underground, organized crime in America. He was that for a generation and the government was never able to touch him. Finally they sent him to prison for income tax. That man, Al Capone, famous because of his vile iniquity. How? Why?
I was in Cicero, a suburb of Chicago, when Al Capone was in his heyday, in his glory. And I asked those people there in Cicero where he reigned as king, I asked those Chicagoans, “How is it that Al Capone reigns in part of the world and from this kingdom here has his tentacles out to the ends of organized crime in America?” And the answer was this, “If there is a poor widow in Cicero that needs coal in the wintertime, Al Capone brings a load of coal for that poor widow. If there is a poor family whose electricity is about to be cut off, he pays the bill. If there is an orphan that needs help, Al Capone helps that orphan. All of the charities in Cicero are sponsored by Al Capone. And the whole populace are debtors to him and his good works. And when they go to the polls to vote, they vote the ticket of Al Capone and nobody can touch him.”
What does God think about that? What does God see in that? Remember the doctrine, God has respect unto the man first – unto the man himself – and then He has respect unto his works. Not by the works of a man is he ever acceptable to God. The man himself must be acceptable to God. Then God accepts his good deeds.
I think of the story of Samuel who was sent by God to Bethlehem, to the house of Jesse, to anoint a new king over Israel in the stead of Saul. And Samuel, calling the family of Jesse to a sacrifice and to a sanctification, he asked Jesse to have his sons pass before them because one of them God said was to be anointed king over Israel. So Jesse had his first boy to pass before Samuel, God’s prophet. His name was Eliab – tall, strong, handsome, and when Samuel looked upon him, he said, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before me.” And God said, “I have refused him. I reject him.” So Samuel said to Jesse, “Have your second boy to pass before me.” And Abinadab stood before Samuel, equally as fine and strong and handsome. And Samuel said, “Surely God’s anointed stands before me.” And God said to Samuel, “I have rejected him.” And the third son of Jesse passed by, Shammah. And when Samuel looked upon Shammah, fine and strong and good-looking, he said, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before me.” But God said to Samuel, “I have rejected him.”
And all seven of Jesse’s sons pass before Samuel and all seven of them God said to Samuel, “I have rejected him.” And in despair, Samuel turned to Jesse, and said, “Are these all of your boys? I don’t understand. Are these all of your sons?” And Jesse replied, “No. I have another little boy. He’s with the sheep. But he’s just a boy. His face is unshaven. He’s too young to grow a beard. He’s just a lad.” Samuel said, “We’ll not sit down until he comes.” And they fetched David, and when the boy stood before Samuel, God said, “This is he, anoint him.” And he was anointed in the presence of his brethren, and God said to Samuel, “Man looks on the outside, but God looks on the heart.” God looks on the heart. First the man himself is received by God, and then his works, always in the Bible.
Now there is no arguing but that the doctrine of self-justification, of self-merit and self-righteousness has an exceedingly acceptable place in our thinking and in our hearts. It is very attractive and persistent. It’s hydra headed. No matter how often you refute it, it rises again. It appeals to the man. It’s a self glory. “I do it. I did it. I am saving myself. My righteousness commends itself to God.”
I cut out of a daily newspaper this little item and I glued it here to this white piece of paper. “`A mother of seven children burned herself at the stake in the hope of becoming a saint,’ police said Wednesday. Officers said that Angelita Borsen, forty-eight, piled up straw and soaked it and herself with gasoline. Then she tied and gagged herself and set fire to the straw. `I shall die,’ she said in a note, `like Joan of Arc and my soul will be received in the kingdom of heaven.’”
“I’m going to do it. It has a glory of its own. My self-righteousness, and my sacrifice, and my labor, and toil, and effort will commend me to God. I’ll be a saint.” Not only that, but the doctrine of self-justification, self-righteousness, self-merit, self-glorification is plausible. It’s like one of those self-evident facts. Preach righteousness, good works, and you will encourage your people in virtue. Isn’t It a strange thing? In experience, it’s just the opposite. A worldly unregenerate man will boast of his righteousness, “I’m just as good as anybody else.” I don’t care who he is. He’ll tell you that. “And my good works and my righteous life I’ll set up against anybody and I’ll stand before God on my worth and merit and goodness.”
This is the cry and the boast of an unregenerate, worldly man. If you ever find a saintly man, he will say, “I am the least of the saints. I am the chief of sinners. My only hope lies in the grace and goodness of Jesus my Lord.” He’ll be that way. He will never boast of his goodness or of his righteousness, never.
Not only that, but this doctrine of self-justification, of good works, our salvation in ourselves, that is the one common doctrine held by all false religions, all of them. They may differ in a thousand other ways, but there is one common doctrine that characterizes all false religions and it is this doctrine of self-justification. “We are going to save ourselves by our good works.” It seems to be a reflection and a facet of fallen humanity. All false religions are like that. They have endless works of fasting, torturing the body, making long pilgrimages such as to Mecca, doing and enduring a thousand things to commend themselves to God, hoping to be saved in their merit and worth and self-righteousness.
Now, in this passage from the Apostle Paul, why is it that the doctrine of self-justification, of self-righteousness, of our own merit and good works, why is it that it is not acceptable to God? Paul uses, in the passage I just read, a strong verb describing it. He uses the word translated here, “Frustrate the grace of God and the death of Christ.” Atheto is a Greek contraction of atheteo. An a in Greek is a negative. It’s called an alpha privitive. Tithemi is the Greek word for “to set it, place.” So atithemi,atheteo is “a denial, a rejection.” It is “an abrogation.” It is “to nullify” a very strong word. And Paul teaches us that when we follow the doctrine, that “I am going to save myself, self-justification, my good works will commend me to God and open the door of heaven,” when we do that, there are three things that happen.
One: this atheto — this rejection, this abrogation, this nullifying. One: we abrogate and nullify the atoning death of Christ. We don’t need His death. We can save ourselves. Sin becomes venial. It’s a petty mistake. It’s a peccadillo. It does not demand the sacrifice, the atoning death of God’s Son. It is something I can handle, I can overcome, I can atone for. And the death of Christ becomes superfluous.
Number two: it makes superfluous the grace and mercy of God. If a man can save himself, he need not cast himself upon the mercy of the Lord. He can save himself. Look at this: if a man stands before a court, and he’s there before the bar of justice and the judge is standing there, if the man is innocent, if he’s righteous, he does not say, “I plead for mercy on the part of the court.” What the man does, he says, “I stand on my innocence and my righteousness and I demand justice from this court.” Not in the history of creation was there ever a man who was innocent who plead mercy from the court. What he demands, what he ought to have is justice. He’s innocent.
So it is when we stand before God. If we are innocent and we are righteous, we don’t demand mercy from God. “Lord, I stand here pure and holy and sinless and I demand my rights. I demand justice.” Now, when we stand before God in His holiness, every one of us is condemned. Our hearts condemn us. Our deeds condemn us. Our thoughts condemn us. Our visions and dreams and hopes, our lives condemn us. We are sinners by nature, by practice. And what the man does when he stands at the judgment bar of Almighty God, he throws himself upon the mercy of the Lord. That’s what we do. “Lord, have mercy upon me, a sinner.” That’s God’s grace reaching down to us.
Another thing: in all of the Revelation, the last apocalyptic book in the Bible, in all of it, there is not one self-laudatory note, not one. Every song in the Revelation is to Him. Starts off that way in the first chapter of the Apocalypse, “Unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, unto Him be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
Then turn the page and beginning at chapter 5, you have one glorious paean of praise after another to Jesus our Lord, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive dominion, and power, and riches, and glory; for He hath redeemed us by His blood out of every nation and tribe under the sun.” And all the elders and the four cherubim reverent to the whole world fell down and worshiped Him. There’s not one song, there’s not one note, there’s not one syllable of one lyric, “Glory unto me. I washed my robes and made them white. Glory unto me. I wrought this great salvation.” It’s not in the Bible. “All glory unto Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood.”
I am either saved by my own merit or my own righteousness, or else it is a free gift bestowed upon me in the grace of God. I am not saved because I am a worthy sinner, or a sensible sinner, or a good sinner, I am saved because Jesus loved me and gave Himself for me. Jesus shut the doors of hell that faced me. He opened the doors of heaven for me and He welcomes His redeemed child in. That’s why I pointed out this incomparable, glorious verse that all of us have memorized. In Galatians 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me, and the life that I now live in the flesh I live by the grace of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” Our praise and our glory and our thanksgiving is not, “Look what I have done,” but, “Look what He has done.” His grace, His mercy has reached down to a poor sinner and I am saved by Him.
Paul, in the fourth chapter of the Book of Galatians, just turning the page, Paul likens the difference between justification by faith and justification by works as the difference between slaves and sons. A slave, a servant, works in another man’s house for hire, for pay. And if he works forever, he is still a hired servant working for pay. That’s works. But a son inherits all that his father has. He’s a son in the household. Jesus illustrates it in one of the most poignant stories in the human literature. There was a prodigal son, went away into a far country, wasted his substance in sinful living, came to want and to hunger feeding the hogs, and so ravaged he would eat the food that the swine were devouring. And sitting there in the hog pen he said to himself, “How many servants, hired servants, in my father’s house have more and to spare, and I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go back to my father and home, and I’ll say to him, `Make me one of your hired servants.’”
So the prodigal boy turns his face fatherward and homeward and starts to make his speech, “Make me, father, as one of your hired servants.” And the father never lets him finish the sentence. He says, “This my boy, my son, was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. Bring forth the finest robes, and put on him; put a ring on his finger, kill the fatted calf; let us rejoice and be merry. This is my son. This is my boy. No hired servant; this is my son.”
That’s God’s grace toward us. Not a slave, not a servant hired in another man’s house, but a fellow heir with Jesus Christ in the kingdom of God. And all the wonder, the glory, the marvel of what God’s grace is able to do for us, how it changes us, how it glorifies us, how it blesses us, God’s mercy and grace.
Yesterday morning, Saturday morning, I went to a breakfast at the Lakewood Country Club, a convocation of men and women who are appealing for scholarship funds for our Academy children, our First Baptist Academy. There are so many boys and girls who want to go to the school and they’re poor and they can’t pay the tuition, so the appeal that we give to make possible the attendance at the school for a boy or a girl who can’t pay. Well, it was a beautiful thing that the men were doing and it blessed my heart just being there. And it closed with a testimony from Charles Rhodes who is the principal of the secondary school. He heads the high school. He said, “There was a prodigal boy, an unworthy boy, an obstreperous, incorrigible boy in the school, fourteen years old. And,” he said, “he’d run away. And,” Charles Rhodes said, “I’d spend days and hours up and down the streets of Dallas trying to find him. Finally, upon a day,” Mr. Rhodes said, “a high school teacher came in and took that boy and sat him down in the principal’s office and then made the announcement to the principal, `I am through with this boy. I refuse to have anything to do with him. I don’t want him in my class. I don’t ever want to see him again. It is impossible. I can do nothing with him and I am bringing him to you to let you know that I no longer welcome him in any class that I teach.’”
And she stormed out of the principal’s office and left the boy seated there in front of Mr. Rhodes. He said, “I had had a most difficult day.” So looking at the boy, Mr. Rhodes said, “Stand up and leave. I don’t want to talk to you today. I just don’t feel like it. Now, you get up and go.” Mr. Rhodes said he put his head in his arms and bowed his head on his desk. And then he lifted his face and that boy was still seated there. He hadn’t stood up, much less leaving. He was just still there seated there. And Mr. Rhodes said, “I said to the boy, `Didn’t you hear what I said? I said for you to stand up and get out of my office. I don’t want to talk to you today.’” And the lad said to the principal, “Sir, I’ve stayed here because I want to change. I want to be saved. I want to be a Christian and I thought you’d show me how, you’d teach me how.” The principal said, “I showed the boy how to be saved, how to become a Christian, and he accepted the Lord as his Savior. He went home and he won his father and his mother to the Lord. And all three of them are now in the church worshiping God together.”
That’s the grace of God. It changes our hearts. It changes our lives. And all the blessings that subsequently follow are due to that wonderful grace, God’s grace that makes us new men, new women, new young people, new born-again children of the father. Oh, what a gospel to preach, that we had the tongue of an angel to proclaim it!
Now, may we pray together? Dear Lord, how indebted forever we are to Thee. You have broken our chains. You have opened the iron doors of our prisons. You have invited us to liberty, to freedom, to life abounding, abundant, overflowing, blessings uncounted, innumerable, without number, without end. And, our Lord, we pray that this day, this holy moment, there will be many who coming down that stairwell from the balcony, walking down this aisle on the lower floor, “Pastor, today we have decided for God. Here’s my whole family. We’re all coming today,” or, “Just the two of us are coming,” or, “Just I. I am coming. God has spoken to me and I’m on the way.”
In a moment, when we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, that family you, that couple you, that one somebody you, make the decision now in your heart. And in this moment when we stand and sing, that first step toward that stairway or toward this aisle will be the greatest step you ever made in your life. Do it, and God bless you in the way and a thousand times welcome as you come. In Jesus’ saving name, amen. While we stand and while we sing.
An ordained Baptist minister. Worked for 10 years with a Christian publishing ministry where I was the circulation manager for a growing publication, The Sword of the Lord. I also did most of direct mail fundraising and promotion. I have pastored churches in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama & Arkansas. I served for some four years as Vice President of The Spoken Word of God ministry, Orlando, FL. This ministry was active in church planting in India and broadcasting the Scriptures via Trans World Radio and other radio outlets. My associate in this ministry later invited me to join him and his dad in starting a business working with churches providing multimedia equipment. I have done this work for the last 16 years. This blog, hopefully, will scratch an itch I have for communicating the Word of God to a broader audience via the Internet. I would be honored to hear from you via email.
View all posts by Editor