29 And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John. 30 But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him. (Luke 7:29–30, NKJV)
Scripture says, “John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mk. 1:4). Sinners justified God when John baptized them. Their submission to baptism showed God to be just (righteous) in demanding their repentance and baptism to remove their sins. By contrast, the Pharisees and lawyers “rejected the will of God for themselves” and were not baptized by John. Like those unbelievers, refusing to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus is a rejection of the will of God (Acts 10:48; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21). John’s baptism required repentance as its prerequisite and prepared the people to believe in Christ Jesus who came after John (Jno. 3:22-36; Acts 19:4). God linked John’s baptism to remission of sins (Mk. 1:4). God also links Christ’s baptism to our remission of sins (Acts 2:38). Refusing baptism for the remission of sins is rejecting the will of God. Have you “justified God” by being baptized into Christ to be saved? Or, do you consider God unjust by commanding repentance and baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 2:37-38)?
13 “And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:13–14, NKJV)
This man knew his sins and what they had done to his spiritual condition before God. He was not bold to move close to the presence of God at the temple. Standing “afar off” from the sanctuary in the court of the men, he recognized his unworthiness before God. With lowered eyes of contrition, he beat his chest in shameful sorrow for his sins. His only hope was in God. He believed God to be a merciful God, ready to forgive a sinner like him. And so he pleaded for mercy, and God heard his prayer. Jesus declared the man’s humility before God resulted in gracious exaltation. The contrast is profound between the tax collector and the Pharisee, whose self-righteous pride prevented mercy from the throne of God (Lk. 18:9-12). Both were sinners, but only the humble was justified. We must confront our sins with honest humility when we approach God for mercy. By doing so, we will find His mercy and grace (Heb. 4:16).
“But wisdom is justified by all her children.” (Luke 7:35, NKJV)
The scribes and Pharisees rejected John the Baptist and Jesus, accusing John of having a demon and Jesus of being a glutton, a winebibber, and a friend of sinners. They rejected John’s baptism, and they crucified Jesus (Lk. 7:28-34). They had their reasons, and they felt justified in them (cf. Lk. 22:66-23:2). But, the people, “even the tax collectors, justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John” (Lk. 7:29). They had their reasons, too, and they felt justified in them. You see, wisdom has children. And, her children will always justify (validate, defend as right) their mother (the wisdom they follow). The wisdom of the world produces children who are darkened in understanding, blinded in heart, and alienated from God in unbelief (Eph. 4:17-18; Rom. 1:20-23). But, they have their reasons for rejecting Jesus and His gospel truth – and they feel justified by them. The gospel of Christ (the wisdom of God) bears children who are faithful, humble, obedient disciples (1 Cor. 1:18-25; 4:14-15; Jas. 3:13, 17-18). In this sense, the call of the gospel is a call to decide which wisdom we will follow. Whichever wisdom you choose, you will have your reasons for following it – right or wrong. Only the power and wisdom from God will save us and secure us in Christ (1 Cor. 1:23-24; 3:18-20). So, choose God’s wisdom. Because truly, “wisdom is justified by all her children.”
23 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:23–27, NKJV)
With these few words, the Holy Spirit summarizes God’s gospel plan for human redemption through Jesus Christ. He said: (1) The law of Moses prepared people for Christ (“before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law…our tutor to bring us to Christ,” 3:23-24); (2) Our means of justification is “by faith” (not by the law of Moses, 3:24); (3) Since “faith has come” (the gospel, 1:23; 3:2), the law of Moses no longer has binding authority over anyone (“we are no longer under a tutor,” 3:25); (4) Justification by faith makes Jews and Gentiles children of God (“you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,” 3:26); (5) Justification by faith happens at baptism (“for as many of you as were baptized into Christ,” 3:27); and (6) The lost become children of God at baptism, when their relationship with Christ begins (“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ,” 3:27). Without a doubt, the child of God has “put on Christ.” But, one is “baptized into Christ” in order to “put on Christ.” Therefore, without being baptized into Christ one has not yet become a child of God. One has not yet been justified by faith. Baptism is a necessary part of being justified by faith.
1 What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” 4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. 5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, (Romans 4:1–5, NKJV)
Abraham is the great example of justification by faith and not by works of law. Remember, “works” in Paul’s context is sinlessness – never violating God’s law (Rom. 3:20, 23, 27-28). The boast of justification by works is sinlessness (v. 2). Just one sin forever eliminates the ability to claim justification by works of law. Only sinlessness make righteousness a debt owed (v. 4). Like us, Abraham was a sinner in need of grace. And so, his faith was counted to him for righteousness (v. 3, 5; Gen. 15:6). The nature of Abraham’s faith is described in James 2:21-24. There, Abraham’s works of faith (obedience) were essential to his belief (which was accounted to him for righteousness, cf. Heb. 11:17). Even so today, saving faith is obedient faith, not to earn salvation, but so that we have a complete faith – the kind of faith that is accounted to us for righteousness.
27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. (Romans 3:27–28, NKJV)
No one has room to boast before God of being a perfect keeper and therefore, of being justified by law. Everyone under the law of Moses sinned against it and were condemned as sinners by it (Rom. 3:19-20, 23). By the works or “deeds of the law,” no one is justified because all have sinned against it. It is the “law of faith” (the gospel), which is “apart from the deeds of the law,” that justifies sinners. Paul defines “works” in this context as “the deeds of the law” (the Greek text does not include the article, so literally the phrase here is “deeds of law”). Keeping law for justification demands sinless perfection. That is earning salvation. But, that avenue is forever impossible to us, since we have all sinned. None of us can earn our salvation. Scripture says we are justified by faith (v. 28). The gospel (the faith, Gal. 1:11, 23) produces personal faith (Rom. 1:16-17). Personal faith includes obedience, but an obedient faith is not “works” that earn salvation. Obedience is the action of trust in Jesus to save you when you obey Him (Heb. 5:8-9). When we trust and obey the gospel our only boast is in Jesus, not in ourselves (Lk. 17:10; Gal. 6:14).
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, (Romans 3:23–25, NKJV)
All of us have sinned and are worthy of death (Rom. 6:23). None of us could justify ourselves before God. We could not remove our sins by our own power, because we were spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1). Separated from God by our sins, we were under divine wrath (Rom. 1:18). We needed grace to save us. The kindness and love of God appeared to the world “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (v. 24). God acted to save us. He set forth Christ Jesus “as a propitiation by His blood” (v. 25). A propitiation is the means of appeasing wrath, that which atones for sins. The death of Jesus atones for sins, it is the means of removing God’s wrath and replacing it with mercy (1 John 2:2). The atoning sacrifice of Jesus is “through faith” – not through the law (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 2:16). The gospel has the power to save you by producing faith in your heart (Rom. 1:16-17; 10:17). When that happens, your faith prompts you to confess your faith in Jesus, to repent of your sins, and to be baptized to be saved (Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 2:37-38). This is salvation “by grace, through faith” (Eph. 2:8).
Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. (Romans 5:9, NKJV)
To be justified means to be declared righteous, free of guilt and innocent of sin. The death of Jesus is the basis for our justification from sin. Without it we would have no way to be freed from the guilt of our sins and the wrath sin brings (Romans. 3:19; 6:23). The New Testament attributes the sinner’s justification to many things, including God’s grace (Romans 3:24), man’s faith (Galatians 2:16), and the works of faith (James 2:24). God’s love prompted the sacrificial death of His only begotten Son on Calvary’s cross (Romans 5:6-8). Although Christ died for every sinner, only those who have faith in Jesus are saved from wrath through Him (Romans 3:26; 5:9). Yet, sinners are not justified by “faith only” (James 2:24). Faith is dead without obedience to the word of God (James 2:17, 20). Do you have faith to do whatever Jesus commands of you? Or, is your faith merely an affirmation without obedience? Whoever “fears God and works righteousness” is acceptable to Him, not because they earn justification, but because they believe God justifies them by the blood of His Son when they obey His word (Acts 10:34-35). It should not surprise us that water baptism is the action of obedient faith by which sinners obtain justification by Christ’s death (Romans 6:4; Acts 22:16). The nature of your faith is crucial in assuring your justification by the blood of Jesus.
3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” 4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. (Romans 4:3–4, NKJV)
Obedience to Christ is not a work of merit that nullifies grace. The theology of Calvin has persuaded untold millions that obedience is a work that “earns” or merits salvation. If true, then James contradicts Paul, for he said, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God” (James 2:21-23). Faith is made complete by obedience. There is no contradiction in Scripture, only with Calvinism’s faulty definitions of faith and works. Like us all, Abraham was a sinner in need of grace. Only perfect law-keeping (sinlessness) would nullify grace and make salvation a debt (Romans 4:4). The faith that saved Abraham was not sinless, but it was obedient (as witnessed in the matter of Isaac). Through the gospel, it is obedient faith that God counts for righteousness today. Obedience earns nothing; it is the action of a dutiful servant (Luke 17:10). Obedience is the work that justifies the ungodly, for without it, faith is dead (James 2:20). Obedient faith, not faith only, justifies sinners (James 2:24).
23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed,” (Romans 3:23–25, NKJV)
The reality of sin in our lives makes it impossible for us to ever earn our way to heaven. God, out of His great love for us, provides sinners (us) with redemption from sin in Christ Jesus. His grace, freely given, justifies through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Since not everyone is saved (Jesus said few find the way to life, Matthew 7:14), it necessarily follows that sinners have a responsibility to respond to the gospel call to be saved in His Son. God’s grace is available to sinners in the blood of Jesus Christ, by which God’s wrath against sin is appeased (that’s propitiation). Redemption by the blood of Christ (His death) is obtained when we are “baptized into His death” (Romans 6:3). The action of faith that brings the sinner into contact with the atoning blood of Jesus, is baptism. We need God’s grace to be justified from our sins. Without grace, we are lost. Grace is available to all, and is received by those who “fear God, and keep His commandments” (Acts 10:34-35). Thank God, that He has revealed His plan to redeem us in His Son.