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The Grace of Justification

June 4, 2018

“I tell you this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted,” (Luke 18:14, KJV).

In Luke 18:9-14, we read a parable about two men going to the Temple to pray. We read that the first man thinks he is better than everyone else. He thinks he is not a sinner, and that his works are something to be honored. The second man knew his sinfulness. He knew he was not worthy to even look to God. In light of the knowledge of his sin, he simply begs God to be merciful to him. Jesus then says, “this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.”

First, we must properly understand what it means to be justified. Contrary to what some contemporary theologians teach, to be justified normally means to be declared just, righteous, or in the right. It is the idea of being legally (or forensically) declared just, innocent, or not guilty. We see Paul use the term that way in Romans (see Romans 3:4 where God is declared right when people judge him, 4:5-8 where the concept is described as being forgiven of sin and not having sin put on one’s account, 8:33-34 where justification is used as the opposite of being condemned as guilty). More importantly for our passage, we see Luke use the term in this same Pauline fashion (Lk. 7:29, 7:35, 10:29, 16:15). It is used to refer to someone who is declared righteous. In the immediate context, to be justified answers the phrase in vs. 9, “And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.” Instead of trusting in himself for righteousness according to his deeds, the man who is actually declared righteous by God is the one who knows he is a sinner and can only trust in the mercy of God.

Of course, we want to be the latter man. We want to be those who do not think we are righteous in ourselves, and then look to our works as if they were something. Based on our sin, we always deserve the wrath of God and our works do not outweigh our sin (Rom. 1:18, 2:1-2, 3:10-20, etc.). But God has been merciful and has provided the means for our forgiveness in His Son who died for our trespasses and was raised for our justification, so that we could be declared righteous in the sight of God through faith in Him (Rom. 3:24-28, 4:25, 5:8-10, Gal. 2:16, John 6:29). We must remember that even Paul considered all his deeds of his old life as rubbish compared to knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection (Phil. 3:4-10), so that he could, “be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith,” (Phil. 3:9). Paul knew that he was the second man in the parable above.

The amazing thing about this truth, is that this is what motivates us to passionately work for the glory of God (Titus 3:3-8). Do we know that we should offer more of ourselves to the worship and service of God but feel that we lack the motivation? Are we easily distracted with the things of this life giving us more joy than the God of the Scriptures? The solution is clear. We must meditate on our wickedness so that we properly know the extent of our sinfulness before the Holy One. We do this, not so that we would walk around with guilt and condemnation. No, we remember that it is those that feel they are too wicked to even look up to heaven, that trust only in the mercy of God, that are those who have the sufficient cause for joy in the forgiveness of their sins by God! It is so we will rejoice in the tremendous mercy of our God and find our joy in Him! It is as we know this in a deep and real way that we will find our lethargy towards God broken and our zeal for Him restored. Do you struggle to give your life fully to Christ? Do you struggle to be passionately learning of God and living your life only for His purpose and will? Perhaps you need to spend some time examining the extent of your sin before the law of God and His Holiness. Do this in light of the fact of the death and resurrection of Christ which occurred so that you could be accepted and declared righteous, even though you do not deserve to even look up to heaven, and you will find a passionate love for God inflamed. It is as we better understand the death and resurrection of Christ in light of a better understanding of our sin, that we will be revived to a life fully given to Christ.

May God grant us this understanding.

From → Theology

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