Our aim on these Sunday mornings is to look at the four things which we are told that God does in Romans 8. It’s good for us to hear what other people are doing, but it especially important to hear what God does and to know what God does. Because when the papers have come and gone and we’ve read today’s papers and tomorrow’s papers and the next day’s papers, it is still absolutely vital to know what God is doing. And the Bible tells us in Romans 8:30 that He is predestining people, calling people, justifying people, and glorifying people. Absolutely wonderful. These are the famous golden chain.
And if you can imagine what some of the parents have been through this morning in waking their children, calling them to the breakfast table, perhaps washing them and dressing them, and then getting them in the car, and turning up here to the destination with a big smile as if the morning has been really lovely when it hasn’t, it’s what is called the Car Park Miracle. A car park miracle is where you turn up having fought all the way in the car, and suddenly, you’ve become all saintly and sweet in the car park of the church.
And this waking, calling, washing, dressing, and driving is a little bit like the picture of what we have in Romans 8, that God wakes people from spiritual death. He calls them to Jesus. He then justifies them, washes and dresses them, and he, eventually, delivers them to the very destination of glory. So, what we’ve done in the last couple of weeks is we’ve looked at God’s work in the past, the predestining work of God, his initiative to wake people and give them new life.
Last week we looked at His calling, that He arrest our attention, turns our heart around, makes us begin to follow the Lord Jesus which we wouldn’t normally do, and transforms us. And still, hand in hand with all of this we’ve seen these weeks, we are responsible. We have to make a response to God. We do not lose our sense of responsibility just because He’s a predestining and calling God.
And one of the most helpful, simple illustrations of this is that the Christian message presents itself to people in the world like an archway. And across the top of the archway, it says, “Come in. Believe in Jesus. Enter. Join the family. Join the kingdom. Whoever, come in, everybody.” And then, you find yourself walking through. And you looked back, and at the top of the arch as you look backwards, it says, “Chosen from before the foundation of the world.” And you begin to realize that behind your decision is God’s decision, behind your choice is God’s choice.
Now, I know some of you will continue to think, “It must be either that God does it or that I do it. It’s got to be either He does it or I do it.” And if you think, of course, that it’s just the programming of God, some kind of ruthless, ugly programming, then that’ll depress you. But on the other hand, if you think that it’s all up to me, you know, if it’s all my choice, my free will, then, it all hangs precariously and dangerously on you. And the wonderful thing about the Bible is that it doesn’t go down the line of either role. It says both and God chooses. No boasting. You’re responsible. No blaming. When you get to heaven, you see there’ll be no boasting because God is the God who saves. And there’ll be no blaming because you’re responsible. The Bible presents these two absolutely brilliantly and eliminates those terrible problems of boasting and blaming.
Now, these doctrines are not just for theological nerds. These doctrines come in the very middle of a letter to normal people who are going through the normal struggles and the sufferings. And they need to know that God is the one who predestined them, called them, justifies them, glorifies them, which are big words which simply mean what sort of things I’ve been saying to you. But especially, that God who loves you is working in all the details of your life. That’s what the Apostle Paul says.
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So, our word today is justified.” Let me read Romans 8:30. “Those He predestined, He also called. Those He called, He also justified.” I want to ask three questions this morning. What is justification? Why is it here in Romans 8? And how does it impact us?
What is justification? May be very familiar, many of you who have studied this, thought about it, explained it, taught it, all sorts of familiarity with the subject. Nevertheless, it needs to be preached again and again because it is almost impossible to naturally grasp it.
Martin Luther says, “I treat the subject of justification again and again because I greatly fear that after we’ve laid our head to rest, asleep, it will soon be forgotten. We cannot grasp or exhausted with one sermon to appreciate this as an everlasting lesson which we shall not finish in this life or your underlife.” He goes on to say, “The subject cannot be beaten into our ears enough or too much. For though we learn it and understand it, yet there is none that take hold of it perfectly or believe with all their heart.”
So what is justification? Justification is a legal word which is the opposite to condemnation. If a judge in a court is going to announce condemnation, you need to ask yourself, “What is the opposite word?” You might say, “Well, the opposite word is acquittal.” But justification is bigger and better as I hope you’ll see. Justification is what God, the Judge, declares or announces to a person who puts their faith in Jesus. They may be two years old or they may be a 102 years old. But when they put their faith in Jesus, God declares in His Word that they are justified. What that means is that they are now free of the guilt of sin and they are now entitled to the blessings of Christ. Free of the guilt of sin, entitled to the blessings of Christ.
So, He predestines and He calls, and then you respond in faith to Jesus. And when you respond in faith to Jesus, He justifies you. It’s more than forgiveness. Forgiveness is a clearing of the slate. But justification brings two benefits, the removal of sins consequences and the arrival of Christ’s consequences. If you believe in Jesus, your unfaithfulness belongs to Christ. His faithfulness belongs to you. And it’s a declaration, you see. It’s something that God says. Just as a minister at a wedding, he has a man say at the front, “I will.” And he hears a woman say, “I will,” and then he makes a declaration, “Husband and wife, you’re married.” It’s not a question of feelings. It’s a question of fact.
And just as Jesus bore our sins on the cross and God looked at the cross and His Son on the cross, and He saw there, a legal payment for sin, an effective, full payment for sin, and then, you take His gift by faith. You call on Him to be saved. And God sees a legal benefit to you take place, justification. It doesn’t mean that your character is suddenly perfected, but it means that your status is perfect. Because it’s a declaration, it’s not a transformation.
When a judge in a courtroom announces that somebody is condemned, he’s not making them guilty, they are guilty and so he announces that they’re condemned. When God or when a judge announces that a person is justified, He’s not suddenly making us perfect. He’s announcing that we are to be treated as perfect.
It’s interesting in Luke’s Gospel when the people were watching Jesus do miracles and were listening to him preach. They responded and they responded in a remarkable way. It says in Luke 7:29, you know what they did? They justified God. They declared God to be perfect. They declared God to be righteous. Now, of course, they didn’t make Him suddenly perfect or righteous as if the people of the world could suddenly make God righteous. No, no, they declared Him to be great. They declared Him to be righteous. They declared Him to be just.
Now, the technical word for this declaring or this crediting, a word which may help you or may hinder you, but it’s the word that is used mostly in Christian circles, is that God imputes it to you. I know it’s not a very helpful word. A lady said to me this morning who is a lawyer, she said, “There’s got to be a better word than imputation.” So she said she was going to go home and come up with a better word than imputation. But that’s the word that’s used, that God imputes to you, this righteousness.
So, imagine you’re in the courtroom and you’ve been found horrendously guilty, but somebody agrees to swap places with you and take your punishment, your penalty, and so justice is done. And the judge turns to you and he imputes to you, freedom and pardon, and you walk out. Or imagine, you’re in deep debt financially, somebody agrees that they will swap check books with you. They will take you in the red and you will take their in the black. And payment is done and the financial magistrate looks and he imputes to you, “No debt, riches.”
Or imagine, you’re standing outside a very prestigious hotel and the dress code is extremely sort of high standard and you’re in filthy smelly rags. And so there’s absolutely no way you can be welcomed, included. And somebody agrees to swap clothes with you and so the respectability takes place and suddenly the manager or the doorman looks, and he imputes to you that you’re suddenly clean and you’re fit to enter.
Imputation is the key to justification
Now, imputation is the key to justification. And it’s the key to the gospel and it’s the key to assurance because it means that you are legally, assuredly, by the promise of God, having a real status of righteousness. And if you don’t grasp imputed righteousness, to all who believe, I’ll tell you the problem for you, is that you’ll probably keep thinking that Christianity and salvation is a joint effort. You’ll probably keep thinking that salvation is a joint effort, and you’ll never get the gospel and you’ll never get assurance and you’ll never get joy and you’ll never get clear.
Now, Luther agonized over this question. Luther, the great Martin Luther, he said, “God’s righteous. I’m unrighteous. How can we connect? How can we relate? How can I stand before God? How can I live before Him? How can I face Him?” And then, in the pages of the scriptures, Martin Luther realised that righteousness is not just God’s standard, it’s also His gift. He gives His righteousness as a gift. And so righteousness, which had been, for Luther, the most terrifying phrase, meaning, “I’ll never be able to face Him” suddenly became the sweetest phrase. Because he realised, you see, that if God gives righteousness through Christ to those who believe and if you get it by putting your faith in Christ, and you do, how could you possibly be more secure than to stand in the righteousness of Christ? He does give it. You have asked for it. He has given it. You are covered by it. How could you be more secure? He can never ask anything more. You see, that’s where Luther began to rejoice.
He also realised that faith is not an achievement. I know that many people in church think that faith is an achievement. And you look at people, others in the church, and you think, “Oh, they just have extraordinary faith, you know. They’re so clever. They’re so courageous. They’re so committed.” Now, faith is not an achievement. It’s not climbing a high mountain to get a prize. Faith is a sense of helplessness. Faith is being on your sick bed and being offered medical help. Faith is being in the poor house and being offered financial help and saying, “Yes, please.” That’s what faith is. Faith is a sense of helplessness.
And R. C. Sproul says, “The eye of the Reformation tornado was in this one little word, alone.” You see, if God saves by grace alone, that’s it. If He saves you by your faith alone, your sense of helplessness that asks, that’s it. If you receive Christ alone, you’ve got everything. You have received everything that God has to give you and there is nothing to add. If you don’t have the word alone, well, of course, you are keeping on…aren’t you looking for that extra thing, extra job, extra commitment, extra sacrifice, extra sacrament. And on you go and on you go, and on you go, waiting, waiting, waiting, and there’s no good news. But once you’ve got grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, you’ve got the gospel.
Now, why does this word justification come in Chapter 8, Verse 30? I’ve been scratching my head thinking about this. This is my second point today, asking, why does the Apostle Paul want to tell us that in the present, the one thing you need to have is justification? I mean, for one thing, it’s a long word. Why didn’t he say to us, “The one thing you need while you’re in this world is to be adopted”? That’s a lovely word. It’s a biblical word. Why didn’t he say “The one thing you need is to be reconciled “? That’s a lovely word, or redeemed. I mean, they’re all big biblical words, but why is he taken the word justified.
Justification, you know, it’s got that sort of legal, cool, clinical shop sort of aspect to it. Why does he want us to know that the most important thing in this world is that we be justified? Remember, the predestination is in the past and the call is in the past, and the glorification is in the future. And now, the one thing that God wants you to know, the one thing you need is that you’ll be justified.
Well, it’s because I think that the Apostle Paul is writing a long letter called Romans, which is very much to do with the courtroom of God, that God is the judge, that we are guilty, that Christ saves the guilty. And so, he’s building up a very big courtroom picture. And this picture of the courtroom is not eccentric to the New Testament. It’s very much like the New Testament. Jesus spoke again and again of the judge and judgment, and being prepared. And so, this fits right in with the New Testament.
Paul is just sort of filling it out. But what he’s saying is, if you want to live in this world and if you want to walk in this world, and if you want to enjoy this world, the one thing you need is to be right with God. Everything else can go. But the one thing you need is to be right with God. In other words, to be justified.
Now, I know that it’s difficult for us because we live in the world which is very secular, especially this city of this country. And this city in this country, couldn’t care two hoots about whether God is a judge or there’s a judgment, or you can be justified or anything. Not the slightest bit interest.
And I know the church has dropped a lot of this sort of thinking as well. But I just want you to know that when you go back to the world of the New Testament, the world of the New Testament tells us that we live in the framework of the God who is just and merciful. It doesn’t matter whether you change your mind. It doesn’t matter whether you walk away from Christianity. It doesn’t matter whether the church walks away from Christianity. The Bible says that God is just and merciful. And if you’re going to meet him one day, you need His mercy if you’re going to cope with His justice. And therefore, you need to be justified. It’s a fact.
We’ve got to go back to the Biblical framework that God has given us. You can’t take justice out of the Bible and justification out the Bible as if you’ve just lost a piece of the jigsaw, but basically, you’ve got the whole picture. It’s the windscreen principle. When you actually take this justice and justification out of the Bible, you’ve smashed your windscreen. There’s nothing left. It’s the Biblical framework. And therefore, it is an amazing thing, isn’t it? That God tells us the one thing a person really needs is to be right with God.
The Impact of justification
How does justification impact us? Well, first of all, it means that when you put your faith in Jesus Christ, you have acceptance with God. I refuse to believe this is irrelevant. It seems to me that if I understand my own heart and system, a huge amount of my heart and system is looking for acceptance. My guess is that most people here are looking for acceptance. Deep down, we just want to be accepted. We want to be accepted by our family. We want to be accepted by our friends. We want to be accepted by our peers and the church, and the world. And the Bible say the most important acceptance, the one that really matters, is that you be accepted by God. And as soon as you put your faith in Jesus Christ, you are immediately accepted by God, the most important acceptance in all the universe. The one that will really count, the one that gives you security to face almost anything else, accepted by God.
Second, it means that you’ve got the final verdict today. We’re not in a high school certificate system waiting to find out how we’re going to go at the end. God is so kind that He tells us the verdict of the last day today. So, do you know what God will say to you when you meet Him? Imagine, you’re a person you’ve put your faith in Jesus. Do you know what God will say to you? God will say to you “Accept it. Welcome. Come in.” Is this just a pie in the sky thing? Is this a piece of optimism? No, this is what justification means. It means that you’re right with God and you’ll always be right with God. And it’s going to be no surprise to you to find yourself face to face with God one day saying to you, “Welcome.” Because that’s what He says in the Gospel. You’re welcome. That’s what justification means. Right with God today, right with God forever. Now, it’s not a proud thing to talk like this. It seems to me it’s a proud thing to doubt that God means what He says.
Third thing, it means that God is for us, not against us. As it says in Chapter 8, Verse 31, “He’s for us, and not against us.” And some days, when everything goes really well, we think to ourselves, “God is for me.” And then, when we’re thinking really stupidly, we think, “You know, I have a feeling it’s got to do with the fact that I had my quiet time for three days in a row. That’s why God is for me.” But no, no, no. God is for us because Christ died for us and you’ve put your faith in Him. And if He’s for you and you suffer, you can be absolutely sure that God is not suddenly attacking you, that He’s not suddenly cursing you, that He has not suddenly decided that He’s going to turn against you. Because the fact of the matter is that He has pronounced that He is for you. And whatever, therefore, takes place in terms of suffering or difficulty has to do with Him wielding these particular elements and aspects of your life for your good.
The last thing is that you need to preach this to yourself again and again, and again and again, and to one another. As John Piper says, “Especially if you’ve grown up with the environment which has been very condemning, and especially, if you’ve grown up in an environment where you never received and now can hardly give any encouragement.” Martin Luther, again, he says, “The gospel is a stranger to my nature.” “The law is a familiar dweller in my nature,” says Luther. “I teach the gospel to others very ably. And then, in my hour of need, the Lord rises up and clouds the gospel.” “Instead of asking what Christ has done and what Christ has deserved,” said Luther, “I foolishly ask again what I have done and what I have not done and what I have offended God in.” “I envy the young people,” he said, “who are growing up in the Reformation because you are not as infected with era as I am.” “I have,” he said, “much ado to hold this gospel and remove the terrors in my heart and plant the truth in my heart.”
He said, “I am learning to apply the word me to me. That God predestined me, that God called me, justified me, glorified me.” And that is the fact. If you put your faith in Christ, all of those facts are true. And therefore, you need to meet your feelings with the facts by preaching to yourself the gospel.
You know, that human love is very shaky. When a wife says to her husband, you’ve heard this before, you know, “Why do you love me,” and the husband says, “Well, because you’re so pretty, because you’re so clever, because you’re so successful.” That’s very dangerous ground, isn’t it? Because if one day she doesn’t look so pretty or if she isn’t so clever, or her success runs out, where does the love go? But God tells us in the Old Testament and the New Testament that He loves us because He loves us. It’s His decision. It’s got nothing to do with prettiness or cleverness, or success. He loves us because He loves us. And when Jesus came into the world and He was faced with the cross, and He had the decision, “Will I stay with the Father where I’ve been for eternity and give up on these people who are sinners or will I go with the sinners and lose the fellowship with the Father?” And He made His decision. “I’ll go with the sinners.” And He’s stuck with the sinners, you see, and lost the fellowship with the Father at the cross.
That is the same God who loves like that, who continues to love like that, and will finish lovingly what He’s begun to do.
Let’s bow our heads. Let’s pray.
Oh, gracious God, we pray that what you have revealed in your word you would write on our mind and on our heart so that we would credit you with what you’ve said and living the light of what you’ve promised, and pass on to others what you’ve given to us. And so, we pray that this word which we’ve thought through today would not be lost, would not be wasted, but for the sake of Your great name and for our need, and for the need of the world, You would cause this word to be screwed into our very being. And we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.