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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:Justification offers up a wealth of gospel benefits
Text:LD 23 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation
 
Preached:2017
Added:2018-01-09
Updated:2018-01-14
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 98

Psalm 123

Psalm 103:1,4,5

Hymn 1

Hymn 9

Scripture reading;  Romans 5:1-11

Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 23

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus,

The gospel has often been compared to a diamond.  After they’ve been processed, cut, and polished, diamonds typically have numerous facets.  These are the flat surfaces of the diamond.  The gospel contains all these different elements that are like the facets on a single diamond.  But most diamonds have a central facet, what jewellers call the table.  It’s the top facet at the centre of the jewel.  If the gospel is a diamond, then it too has a central facet.  This precious jewel of the gospel has the doctrine of justification front and center. 

Believers have expressed the importance of justification in different ways through the centuries.  One popular way of saying it is the doctrine by which the church stands or falls.  It’s often attributed to Martin Luther, but many others have said it too, including many Reformed theologians.  If the church gets justification wrong, she falls from the gospel.  It is vitally important we get it right.    

And yet, despite it being so valuable and so crucially important, the doctrine of justification is often neglected or misunderstood.  Time and again, surveys have shown that many self-professing Christians really don’t understand what the Bible teaches about justification.  Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but whenever I use the word in a sermon, I always define it for you.  I need to do that, because we cannot take it for granted that everyone knows what it means.  There are children and young people who are just learning the faith, there are those who are new to the Reformed faith, but then there are also those who have forgotten what it means.  If it’s really so important and valuable to us, perhaps we shouldn’t have to be reminded, but as it is, we do.  You’ll always be reminded and again this afternoon.

So what is the definition of justification?  Listen carefully:  justification is God declaring a sinner to be right with himself because of what Christ has done for the sinner.  One of the most common ways that people get justification wrong is by saying “justification is God making a sinner right with himself.”  The problem with saying it like that, and why we must never say it like that, is that justification is a verdict issued by a Judge.   On earth, judges don’t make accused criminals innocent or guilty.  Judges issue a verdict, a declaration.  It’s similar with our Judge in heaven and his courtroom.  He issues a verdict -- he makes a declaration about the accused standing before him.  So we should never say that justification is God making us right.  It is not.  Rather, it is God declaring us to be right with him.  If you don’t understand that, you miss the whole picture that justification is painting.

Let me fill out that picture a little more.  The whole picture is indeed of a courtroom.  You have heard this illustration before, but the reason you hear it so often is because this is the way the Bible presents it to us in Romans and elsewhere.  Justification involves a courtroom.  God is the judge and we are the accused.  Our Catechism summarizes what the Bible says are the charges against us:  we “have grievously sinned against all God’s commandments, have never kept any of them, and [are] still inclined to all evil.”  Those are weighty charges and a guilty verdict carries with it an eternal death penalty.

There is only one way of escape.  It is to own up to the charges and then turn to the only defense lawyer available, the only Mediator Jesus Christ.  He intervenes in our case and offers up the only solution that can help us avoid a guilty verdict and the punishment we deserve.  Jesus Christ says, “Yes, this sinner has sinned against all the commandments.  But I made satisfaction at the cross for him.  Yes, this sinner has never kept any of the commandments.  But I offered up a life of perfect obedience in his place.  Yes, this sinner is still inclined to all evil.  But I am not and never will be and this too is for him.  Judge, you can look at this sinner as if he had never had nor committed any sin.  Judge, you can look at this sinner as if he had accomplished all the obedience I rendered for him.  Judge, you remember that I rose from the dead and when I did that, you approved all of this.”  The gospel announces that the Judge accepts this solution.  The Judge then issues his verdict. 

I want you to note carefully what the verdict actually is.  The verdict is not “innocent.”  Rather, the verdict is “righteous.”  You are declared righteous.  That means that in the sight of God your Judge, not only have you not sinned, but you have also done everything he requires.  The verdict is “righteous.”  And this verdict is far better than “innocent.”  To be declared righteous means you are free from the burden of having to go on to measure up for the judge.  Everything that needs to be done to please the Judge has been done on your behalf by Jesus Christ.  Everything! 

This precious gift of justification is held out to you by a loving God.  How do you take hold of this gift?  The Catechism gives us the biblical answer right at the end of Answer 60: “if only I accept this gift with a believing heart.”  You will be declared right by God when you embrace Jesus Christ with a true faith.  So dear brothers and sisters, you must.  Each of you, every man here, every woman here, every teen, every child:  all of you are called again this afternoon to take hold of this Saviour by faith.  Say with me in your heart, “Yes, I have nothing to bring to the courtroom but my sin and misery.  Of myself, I am a sinner lost and hopeless.  But I have a Saviour in Jesus Christ.  I throw all my hope on him only.  Through him only can I be declared right with God and so I rest and trust in him.”  If that is your response, you can be 100% confident you have been justified in the sight of God.  You can have the comfort of knowing the verdict is most certainly in your favour.

Here already we have such a treasure of gospel encouragement.  But there’s more to be said.  For the rest of the sermon this afternoon, I want us to look at the wealth of gospel benefits offered up by our justification in Christ.  There are benefits that we can call outward benefits, and then there are those which we can call inward benefits.  

The book of Romans is often associated with the doctrine of justification.  It was by studying the first chapters of Romans that Reformers like Martin Luther came to a correct understanding of this teaching.  The doctrine is most clearly laid out in Romans 3 and 4.  Then you get to Romans 5 and it begins with, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith…”  Since we have declared right by God and have received this gift through believing in Christ, here are some of the benefits that flow from that. 

The first outward benefit is there in verse 1, “…we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  In other words, we have reconciliation.  In fact, reconciliation is explicitly mentioned in Romans 5:11.  Justification produces reconciliation with God.  A relationship that was once hostile is now friendly.  The one who was formerly our Judge becomes our Father.  Because of justification, we can go from the courtroom to the family room.  Because of justification, we’re adopted into God’s family.  He is our Father and we are his dearly loved children.  Since we are justified through Christ, we have fellowship and communion with God and nothing and no one can take that away from us.  Nothing will ever be able to separate us from his love.  What an encouragement!

Another outward benefit has to do with the suffering God sends us.  According to Romans 5:3, we can rejoice in our sufferings.  Why?  Because if we are justified through Christ, our sufferings have a purpose.  Every suffering we experience in this world has a purpose and it is a positive purpose, according to Scripture.  Here in Romans 5, suffering produces endurance, endurance goes on to produce character, and character produces hope.  The afflictions that the LORD sends our way are always for our good.  Sometimes these afflictions are chastisements.  Sometimes God chastises us with suffering.  That means these sufferings are sent to discipline us, to open our eyes to some blind spot in our lives.  Jesus says in Revelation 3:19, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline.”  Sometimes afflictions and suffering are sent to us to mould us as God’s children.  He sometimes uses these hard times to bring us closer to himself and to conform us more to the image of Christ.  Whatever the case may be, the justified believer can say with the Psalmist in Psalm 119:71, “It is good for me to be afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.”  We must learn to say that, “It is good for me to be afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.”  We don’t always understand what God’s purpose is in our sufferings, but because we are justified and we are his children in Christ, we can be confident that there is a purpose and it is for our good.  God is not punishing us, but shaping us.  The Word of God promises that. 

A final outward benefit is at the end of Romans 5:2, “we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”  This is another way of speaking about eternal life.  Those who are justified in Christ can rejoice knowing that they will live forever in the glorious presence of God, giving glory to God, and having been glorified by God.  The “hope” here is not a wishful-thinking type of hope, but an absolutely sure confidence.  If we have justification now, we shall surely have glory later.  If God has declared us right with himself, we shall surely live with him forever in the new heavens and new earth.  The hope of eternal life is another gospel benefit offered up by justification.

So we’ve seen three outward benefits:  reconciliation, afflictions which serve our good, and eternal life.  Now let’s shift our attention to the inward benefits justification offers.  We’ll look at four of them. 

First of all, there’s peace.  Here we’re not speaking about peace with God anymore, but peace within.  Notice the way the Catechism speaks of being accused by your conscience.  Your conscience can really bother you with the fact you’re a sinner who has rebelled against God.  But once the verdict has been declared by the Judge, your troubled conscience can be quieted.  First John 3:19-20 speaks about this.  John writes, “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.”  Your conscience might still bother you, but you have a greater Judge and he has issued his verdict.  So when there's a sin you've confessed and sought God's forgiveness for and it still troubles you, you must speak to your conscience and say, “I have been declared right.  All that sin is horrible, but it has been dealt with by Christ.  If I continue to feel guilty, I am saying that I am a higher Judge than God.  I can’t say that, I won’t say that.  I can and must be at peace within.”  Justification gives us this gospel benefit too – a soothed conscience, peace within.

Our next inward benefit is boldness at the throne of grace.  Romans 5:2 says that we have now obtained access – access to what or whom?  It’s into this grace in which we now stand.  It’s in this gracious relationship that we have with God.  As his heirs and children, we have access to God himself.  The way is open for us to approach him with boldness.  As Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace…”  We can do that because Jesus is our High Priest, our Mediator.  He is the one who has secured our justification from God.  So, because we are justified, we can be bold and confident in prayer.  We can approach God without fear of being turned away and rejected.  He is a Father whose ear is lovingly inclined to his children.  As we’ll sing from Psalm 103, as a Father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on us.  That knowledge makes us bold to approach him.  We still approach with humility and godly fear, with respect and reverence, but at the same time with confidence.  That can only happen because justification has happened first.

A third inward benefit has to do with joy.  Romans 5:2 says that because of our justification “we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”  Verse 3 says that we can “rejoice in our sufferings.”  Verse 11 adds that we can rejoice in God through Christ the one who has brought us reconciliation.  Three times in these verses Paul writes about the joy that justification brings to the Christian.  That’s an inward benefit.  Joy is something you experience inwardly, in your soul.  With justification, it completely makes sense.  I’m sure you’ve seen those courtroom scenes in a movie or TV show where an accused is standing in the courtroom waiting to hear the verdict.  If the verdict doesn’t go his way, the accused often appears dejected and sad, sometimes they’ll collapse on the floor or into their arms of their lawyer.  But what happens when the verdict goes the way the accused hopes?  The person hears he’s free of the charges and he may leap up, he may be smiling and dancing, hugging the lawyer and family and friends.  It’s a moment of great happiness.  Similarly, for Christians when they know they have been declared right, when they have that assurance, there can be a time of very emotional happiness.  But that’s not the full picture of the joy envisioned by Romans 5.  It’s only the beginning of it.  Biblical joy is not merely an exuberant happy feeling that lasts for a short time.  Biblical joy is not a fleeting emotion.  It shouldn’t be confused with superficial happiness and smiley faces – those things always depends on circumstances and can come and go.  Instead, true biblical joy is an abiding sense of contentment in God and with God.  That was the joy that Paul experienced, even when he was in prison, uncertain of whether he was going to live or die.  In Philippians you hear him speaking about this – whatever happens, I can be content in God’s plan.  That’s biblical joy.  This abiding joy is another wonderful inward benefit of justification.

Our last inward benefit has to do with God’s love and our awareness of it.  It could happen that God loves you and you are completely oblivious to it.  Or it could happen that even though you have entrusted yourself to Christ, you doubt God’s love and don’t really sense it or experience it.  But the doctrine of justification is designed to assure us inwardly of God’s love.  In the verses we read from Romans 5, God’s love is mentioned twice.  Verse 8 says, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  God’s love for us led Christ to his death on the cross.  But, like I said a second ago, it could be that you’re not really aware of it.  That’s where his Word comes in:  you are justified because God has loved you.  That defense lawyer or Mediator speaking on your behalf has been appointed to that position because of God’s love for you.  You need to see that and be aware of it.  In fact, verse 5 says, that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”  If we have believed in Christ for our justification, then the Holy Spirit is living in us.  He is the One who produced the faith which embraced Christ.  So not only the Mediator, but also the one who created faith, the Holy Spirit, he is an assurance of God’s love for us.  The Mediator would have done us no good if we had not had the Spirit to give us faith in the Mediator.  In his love, God gave us both.  His Word therefore assures us of his love.   His Word speaks to our hearts and proclaims, “Your God loves you and you should be confident of that.”  Through our justification, we are given this inward benefit of being intimately aware of the love God has for us.

Justification offers up a wealth of gospel benefits.  There are the outward ones:  reconciliation, afflictions which serve our good, and eternal life.  There are the inward ones:  a soothed conscience and peace within, boldness at the throne of grace, abiding spiritual joy, and intimate awareness of God’s love.  Brothers and sisters, do you see what a rich treasure chest is unlocked with this gospel doctrine of justification?  All you need to receive these treasures is to repent of your sins, turn away from sin, hate it, and turn to Christ with true faith.  If you’ve never done that before, you need to do that right now.   You want these treasures, don’t you?  The way is through throwing yourself on Christ, resting on his work, trusting in him alone.  And if you’ve long been embracing the gospel, do it again – do it as often as your hear it.  The gospel beckons one and all to receive these riches.  The gospel is like a diamond -- but with this important difference:  it’s worth infinitely more than any diamond in this world.  With this gospel embraced in our hearts, God makes us eternally rich with everything that really matters.  AMEN.      

Prayer:

O God our Father,

Again this afternoon you’ve encouraged our hearts with the gospel.  Thank you for Jesus Christ, our Mediator.  We’re thankful and glad for his satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness.  We need everything he has done for us because we truly are sinners.  Help all of us to constantly throw ourselves on him, resting and trusting only in what he has done for us.  Through him, we trust that we are justified, you have declared us right with yourself.  Father, we thank you also for all the benefits that come from our justification.  We’re glad that we can call you our Father.  When we have afflictions and trials, these work together for our good under your sovereign and loving control.  We have eternal life – the hope of glory.  Father, you’re the one who has given us peace in our consciences and boldness to approach you.  You’ve granted joy and the awareness of your love.  These things are dear to us.  For all these things, we praise you, we love you, and we commit our lives to your service.                 

                       




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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