Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 November 15, 2020
“Right with God”
We confess this day that God is good all the time—and, all the time, God is good. This holds in all times and in every circumstance—including His dealings with us who are in Christ. Today we observe another benefit that flows to us by virtue of our union with Christ—justification, or right standing before God. This is unspeakably precious, but let’s try to speak it and to hear it as we read and hear God’s Word read and proclaimed once again in this place.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
Our text opens after a one-line break in my edition of the Greek New Testament—a break which indicates a major shift in topic. The Apostle Paul, as led by the Holy Spirit, writes for over two chapters (1:18-3:20) about the total depravity of mankind and the apparent universal dominion of sin. Paul sums his Spirit-led argument by asserting that none, neither Jew nor Gentile, is justified by observance of the Law—and he invokes several Old Testament passages to produce a ringing indictment of humanity in Romans 3:9-20. There is a precious remedy to this lamentable state, but first we must feel the depth of our spiritual need before we prize sufficiently the offered remedy. After the one-line break in NA26 comes Romans 3:21, and our prospects brighten considerably.
Now, God declares through Paul, a righteousness from God has been made known. This righteousness is apart from Law, for the Law cannot justify, but can only condemn. This righteousness enjoys copious attestation in the Law and Prophets of the Old Testament. In other words, this righteousness from God of which Paul speaks is on the very pages of the Old Testament—though its New Testament declaration is much clearer. This righteousness, moreover, is not by observance of the Law, but through faith in Jesus Christ. Through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, we are justified before God.
The Greek word here rendered justified (dikaioo [dikaiow]) in the English Standard Version of the Bible has many nuances. To be justified before God is to be acquitted before Him. We are not guilty before His Heavenly bar. To be justified is to be set free: set free from the penalty (immediately), power (over time by the indwelling Holy Spirit), and presence (either at departure for Heaven or at Christ’s return) of sin. We, being justified, stand righteous before God—just as if we never sinned—and, thus, we are made right, or stand in right relationship, to God.
This righteousness from God, through faith in Jesus, is a gift—it is the grace, or the unmerited favor, of God. Paul declares to the Ephesian Christian households, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10). How comes such a gift, a gift so precious to our souls? Let’s consider that next.
Paul’s Spirit led remark to the Corinthian church (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21) instructs us here. Jesus, Who knew no sin, became sin for us. His atonement is infinitely meritorious, because He gave Himself a perfect, sinless sacrifice. Even though Christ’s atonement is applied finitely—namely, to everyone the Father gives Him—the efficacy of His atonement has no limit. Jesus, in becoming sin for us, serves as the propitiation for our sins. Jesus, our propitiator, turned away God’s righteous wrath against sin and sinners to the full in our places, and He did this by offering Himself a penal, substitutionary sacrifice in our places. We, in turn, by faith in Christ, become the righteousness of God. Christ removes our unrighteousness, and He causes us to wear His righteousness upon our souls.
This righteousness, furthermore, shows God to be righteous. He shows divine forbearance: not so much of our sins before saving faith as of the sins of the Old Covenant elect, whose sins Christ atoned at Calvary. Our God is just. He punishes for sin. He also is the justifier of those having faith in Jesus—even the likes of us. God, in justifying us through faith in Christ, as given by the Holy Spirit, both acquits us and sets us free.
I have been an ordained pastor now for just a bit over twenty-five years, and I discharged supervised pastoral ministry for years before ordination. Hence, I have seen much—and one thing of which I have seen much is the drawing near of God’s veteran saints unto the threshold of Glory. I have seen, near that threshold, that money, and the possessions obtained thereby, do not console in that hour. Nor do deeds, and the fame obtained thereby, console in that hour. The presence of relations nearest and dearest, as transition to Glory hastens near, does gladden and relieve to great extent—but even blessed human relations do not console to ultimate extent. We need something else for consolation—in view of eternal verities.
Being right with God—and that alone—consoles ultimately. Being right with God consoles in this life as we receive joys and sorrows intermingled. Being right with God consoles in the life to come as we face our holy God, Who deals justly with sin. This is consolation indeed, for our holy God is also our merciful God, Who provides us an Advocate, the Lord Jesus Christ (1 John 2:2), Who Himself bore our sentence—and that for the joy set before Him (cf. Hebrews 12:2). May we each and all, be eternally right with Him with Whom we have to deal.
 I use the twenty-sixth edition of the Nestle-Aland text of the Greek New Testament (known as NA26 for short), to wit, Novum Testamentum Graece, 26th Edition (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1979).
 For that which follows, see Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, eds., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1989).
 This formulation of that from which we are saved, or set free, I owe to Michael Green, Evangelism through the Local Church: A Comprehensive Guide to All Aspects of Evangelism (Nashville: Oliver Nelson, 1992), 33.