Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Justification: The Absolute Center of Biblical Christianity

Here is a ridiculous hypothetical. Suppose that earth was visited by aliens from a distant world. And suppose further that their job was to observe life on Earth to determine whether or not it was intelligent. The aliens would probably watch an episode of "Swamp People" or "Duck Dynasty" on the Discovery Channel and suspect that they had landed on the wrong planet!

But suppose that they began to survey our beliefs and fixed their attention on Christianity: What would they discover to be the central core belief of our faith?

Let me turn that question on you for a moment. What would you say is the central article of faith of Christianity?

Some might say “Upholding a certain set of values. Voting for this party or that.” That is important, but Christianity is not a political movement. Others might say “Being a good person; kind, loving, and warm. After all, Jesus told His followers to ‘love their enemies.’” But Christianity is not a social theory. Still others might say, “Obeying the Ten Commandments; living in accordance with God’s moral Law.” Oh how critical! But Christianity is not just an ethical system—it is so much more!

Here is what I would say: “At its absolute center, Christianity is a way (THE ONLY WAY!) for unrighteous sinners to be reconciled to a holy and just God.”

The Westminster Confession of Faith defines justification as follows:

Justification is an act of God's free grace, wherein He pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in His sight, on account of the righteousness of Christ imputed (placed upon) to us, and received by faith alone (WSC #33).

Some say, we don’t need theology, just our Bibles; yet this term, "justification" is thoroughly Biblical and is central to Paul's theology in Romans. It is found five times in Romans 3:21-31 for instance. Justification is a legal word drawn from the courtroom of Paul’s day. Literally, it means “to declare to be just.”  God does this, of course, only on the basis of His grace given us through the cross of His Son (vs. 23-25).

Historically, teaching on justification has lit churches up with power, grace, forgiveness, worship, mission, giving, and service! Listen to some of the all time great Reformers:

  • Martin Luther (1483-1546): “This is the chief article from which all other doctrines have flowed… It alone begets, nourishes, builds preserves, and defends the church of God; and without it the Church of God cannot exist for one hour.”
  • Thomas Cranmer (1489-1566):  “Whosoever denies [the doctrine of justification] is not to be counted for a true Christian man… but for an adversary of Christ.”
  • John Calvin (1509-1564): “Where ever the knowledge of [justification] is taken away, the glory of Christ is extinguished… [Justification] it is the main hinge on which salvation turns.”

Brothers, let us not forget to preach justification to our people. It is central to historic Christianity, central to the message of the Gospel, and central to revival.

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. Follow on Twitter @matt_everhard

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