Justified by Faith Alone

Justification is essentially Jesus answering for God’s wrath over all our sins. Then, with His Spirit, He continues to deliver the forgiveness of sins through Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper.

Justification is forgiveness of sins. According to our Lord, forgiveness is our deepest need. If we are not sinners, justification is irrelevant!

Justification is before God. It is not before man or the world. To stand before God means to stand under His judgment, where I am responsible for my sinful actions. Because of my Baptism, though, God does not see me standing before Him, but see Jesus Christ, my substitute.

Justification is not by what we do or who we are. Before God all our achievements and fame in the world are vanity. We cannot prepare ourselves to be justified by Him.

Justification is a gift. We contribute nothing to our salvation at all. Martin Luther illustrates justification as rain, a heavenly gift from above.

Justification is Christ’s doing. It is the office of Jesus alone to justify us. He bestows the forgiveness of sins in the ways that are most certain and true— by the water of Baptism, by words of Absolution, by the body and blood of Jesus to eat and to drink.

Justification is received through faith. As opposed to active righteousness, justification is passive righteousness. We receive—and only receive! Faith is nothing but receiving the Lord’s gifts. If we are told that we must believe it and accept it to be saved, there is not much hope. Faith is not achieved by something that we do.

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One Response to Justified by Faith Alone

  1. Rob says:

    Could you explain the last paragraph more? Especially “if we are told we must believe it and accept it to be saved, there is not much hope”.

    My background is evangelicalism, mainly Baptist, where there is a lot of emphasis on being sure one *truly* believes. I have never found assurance in that.

    REPLY:
    In answer to your question, here is an small excerpt from the book, Lutheranism 101, Chapter 9: It’s All About Jesus, Part 3:

    Have you ever tried to convert someone? Like maybe convert a Red Sox fan into a Yankees fan? That’s pretty hard work. But let’s say you succeed: who made it happen? You probably did lots of informing and responding to objections and making your case with personal stories and such. But in the end it came down to your friend deciding to make the change to become a Yankees fan. Your friend made a choice.

    What Can a Dead Person Do?
    When a person changes from being someone who does not believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior to being someone who does, we say the person converted to Christianity. But there is a big difference between converting to Christianity and converting to another sports team. When someone converts to Christianity, when that person becomes a believer in Jesus, he or she did not decide to do it.It may seem like it, but it is just not so. Here’s why.

    A person who does not believe in Jesus is dead. Not dead in the normal physical sense, but dead in a very real spiritual sense. God says to people who are now believers, “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” (Ephesians 2:1–2). So unless and until a person believes in Jesus, he or she is dead to any kind of a relationship with God.

    Imagine you are with a friend who suddenly grabs his chest, gasps, and falls down. You check for a pulse and listen for breathing. Nothing. Fortunately, you know CPR, so you shout “Call 911!” and you start resuscitation. Does your friend ask for help? Does he reach out and put your hands over his heart? Does he just decide not to have a heart attack? No. He is incapable of cooperating or even asking for help. And what if he dies? Can he choose not to be dead? Can he sit up and say, “Hey! How about a little help here, please”? Can he invite you to perform CPR? Nope.

    And that is how God describes us before we believe: dead. We are unable to change or cooperate or even ask for help. Dead people are passive—as in totally passive.

    That is why the Bible calls conversion to faith in Jesus being “born again.” You might have heard that to be born again means to make a decision to ask Jesus to come into your heart. Consider the birth of a child: what did the child being born do? Nothing. It is the mom who does all the work in childbirth. Maybe others help, but that baby sure does not. The baby is completely passive. The baby cannot even ask to be born, let alone take an active part in the process. That is a good illustration of being changed from an unbeliever to a believer in Jesus: someone else does all that work. In conversion, that someone is the Holy Spirit. And that is a real comfort because it does not depend on us; God does it all for us.

    What about Making a Decision for Christ?
    When a mother gives birth, she uses her God- given physical strength to make it happen. When the Holy Spirit gives new birth, He uses words—a message. Specifically, the Holy Spirit uses the message of Scripture: that God gave His Son, Jesus, to die as payment for our sins and to come to life again to change death from something permanent to something temporary. That message—that God forgives us as a gift that is free to us and paid for completely by His Son—is called the Gospel, the Good News.

    That is the message the Holy Spirit uses to bring a person to faith. The Bible says this Good News about Jesus is “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16) and that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Be sure to read the section on “The Means of Grace” for more about this (see Chapter 15 in the book Lutheranism 101). But for now, just know this:

      • We don’t choose to follow Jesus.
      • We don’t become a Christian by asking Him into our hearts.
      • We don’t make a decision for Jesus.

    Unbelievers cannot do these things because unbelievers are dead to God. And the almighty God does not stand at the door of our hearts knocking but powerless to turn the doorknob and let Himself in. The Holy Spirit calls people to faith when and where He chooses, and He uses the Gospel to make it happen.

    So, When Did You Know You Were Saved?
    There are many Christians who claim that you need a born-again “experience” to be able to say when and where your salvation happened. Well, though some people can recall an exact moment and place when they first believed, many Christians cannot. Do you remember being born? Of course not. Does that mean you weren’t born? Again, of course not. So how do you know if you have been born again? Simply ask yourself, “Do I trust in Jesus as my Lord and Savior, that He died and rose to life again for me?” If you answer “Yes,” then even if your faith is new or weak, even if you haven’t got all the details worked out, or even if you have some doubts, you are a believer, a child of God who has received God’s gift of forgiveness and new life. You know this because God says, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3) and “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

    You also have God’s promise in Baptism—or if you don’t have it yet, it’s available for you. Baptism is simply God’s Good News applied to the individual. God promises that His message used together with water gives the gift of faith and forgiveness and new life, because “as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). Since God makes promises like that, no one who believes in Jesus will delay being baptized; they will want the promises God gives in Baptism.

    The Holy Spirit Calls You Out of Darkness
    So when we put all this together from Scripture, we can’t help but say something like this: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith” (from Martin Luther’s Small Catechism on the Third Article of the Apostle’s Creed).
    Some people who believe in Jesus have believed in Him for as long as they can remember. Some can remember a specific moment when the Holy Spirit called them out of darkness into light, like turning on a dime. Still others come to faith in a long process of hearing God’s message, more like turning an aircraft carrier around than turning on a dime. Some have strong and mature faith; others have faith that is brand new and may be weak. But all those who believe in Jesus, even with doubts and fears and questions, can say with confidence that God has forgiven all their sins. He loves them as dear children, and they are already in a new life that will last forever.

    Christian confidence and hope is based upon this because they did not make it happen; the Holy Spirit did.

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