Deep Theology For Daily Living: Justification

Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

2 Corinthians 5:21 | September 26 - Sunday Evening,

Sunday Evening,
September 26
Deep Theology For Daily Living: Justification | 2 Corinthians 5:21
Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Charitie Lees Smith was born outside of Dublin, Ireland on June 21, 1841. She died in America in 1923. Her father was the rector, the pastor, for a Church of Ireland congregation. Charitie married a man named Arthur Bancroft in 1869, so her name is often given today as Charitie Lees Bancroft. Six years prior to her marriage in 1863, so as a young woman just 21-22 years old, she wrote her best known hymn. She wrote many hymns, but this at least has been the one with the longest legacy. She called her hymn, The Advocate, but we know it today as Before the Throne of God Above. And we will sing it at the end of the service. In 1997, it was put to new music by Vikki Cook, and since then it has become a very popular, you might call modern, hymn. Though it’s an old hymn, and it is put to new music, it has been recorded by many Christian artists. We’ve sung it many times here.

Here is the third verse. “Behold him there the risen Lamb, my perfect spotless righteousness, the great unchangeable I Am, the King of glory and of grace. One with himself I cannot die. My soul is purchased by his blood. My life is hid with Christ on high, with Christ my Savior and my God.” I’m sure she had no idea, as a 21-22 year-old young woman, that some 150 years later churches all over the world would still be singing those words.

That verse is about justification. Regeneration is the blessing of being a new creation in Christ. Reconciliation is the blessing of a restored relationship with God through Christ. And justification is the blessing of an imputed righteousness from Christ. New creation in Christ, restored relationship through Christ, imputed righteousness from Christ. This is the third of these three weeks we are doing a series within a series looking at these deep fundamental doctrines of the faith. And so, this evening we are going to meditate on just this one verse and think together about this doctrine of justification.

Here’s the verse, 2 Corinthians 5:21. “For our sake, He made Him to be sin who knew no sin so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

If you have spent a lot of time in Puritan sermons and, let’s be honest who hasn’t, right, surely you have, you will notice that many of them, and not just the Puritans but into the 18th century Scottish Presbyterians, for a couple of centuries sermon structures were largely the same. They were often called text, doctrine, application or text, doctrine, and then uses. It’s not fancy but it works from time to time, and we’re going to use that for our outline this evening. First, look at the text itself, just one verse, then pull back and try to explain the doctrinal contours here from the text, and then finish with a few uses, a few points of application.

So let’s look at verse 21 and let’s set the context. In verses 18 through 20, Paul explained and outlined this ministry of reconciliation that invites the question, “How are we reconciled to God?” Well, we see part of the answer in verse 19, “Not counting their transgressions against them.” But that invites another question. “How is it that God cannot count our transgressions against us?” Now, for many of us, even if we’ve been in the church a long time and we’ve heard some of these things, yet deep within us it feels like that’s not the right question to ask. Or at least, it doesn’t feel like the question that we’re most prompted to ask, “What do you mean, how are we reconciled?” We say we’re sorry for our sins, God says, “Oh, that’s great. Your sins aren’t a problem. Everything’s better. I love you. You’re forgiven.”
But forgiveness doesn’t work like that. It would be a violation of God’s own nature. God is loving. God is just. And we never should play off those two attributes against one another, that somehow salvation is God letting 51% of love and mercy overcome 49% of justice. God cannot simply pass over our sins because he feels like it. Sin is a personal offense to God. So, if God were to simply look past our sin, simply wake up on one very good God morning and say, “Your sins, not a big deal, as long as you are really, really sorry for your sins, then your sins I won’t count them against you anymore.” That’s how many, many Christians think that reconciliation works. If we feel bad enough, God says, “Oh, well look how bad they feel and maybe says Father, Son and Holy Spirit, isn’t that enough? I mean, they’ve been through enough. Yeah, your sins, don’t worry about it.” But that’s not what God is like.

Proverbs 17:15 says, “He who justifies the wicked is an abomination to the Lord.” And we know this in our own life. If you have a judge or magistrate or a jury who justifies the wicked and everyone knows that this person has committed a crime and they are guilty of double homicide, and everyone can see it, and the evidence is clear, and yet the jury says, “Well, he feels pretty bad about it. Let’s just let him go.” There would be riots. None of us think that’s the appropriate execution of justice. So there is the sticking point with reconciliation.

From the Bible’s point of view the problem, according to scripture, is how can a just God pardon sinners? How can God, a God of holiness, pass over our sins without disparaging His own holiness? The question is not as we would feel the question, why does God judge people, but rather, why does God save people. Why does He forgive people. It is very easy for us to look back, and we can see the excesses of previous centuries, and we look at the way that for much of Christendom, and really for most parts of the world, for most of human history. In fact, whether you had the Christian God or some other sort of God or Gods, for most of human history most people have lived with a fear of displeasing God or the Gods. And they lived with the sense of dread, with the reality that there was an afterlife and it was not guaranteed what sort of afterlife they would have.

It’s easy for us to look back and say, “Well, those people were cowering in fear and maybe it led for powerful people to manipulate them and hold them under their thumb because they pulled the levers of heaven and hell.” And it’s easy to look at even a sermon like Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, and you’re just dangling over this thin web of God’s judgement and think, “Eh, maybe that was extreme.” I remember having to read that. I don’t know if they still do, but I went to public schools back in the day and had to read that. It was in our Norton Anthology of big American literature, and it was usually there to sort of say, “Look at how barbaric people used to be.” Well, we can say what you want, and many people will disparage that sort of language, and yet surely they had this going for them. They were closer in step with the Bible and its view of God’s holiness and our sinfulness. And so, these questions made more sense to them. How can God justify the ungodly? It’s not like God to look at wicked people, no matter how sorry they are, and just say, “It’s not a big deal.” Well, he doesn’t say it’s not a big deal. The reason we can be reconciled is through justification, and this passage is the passage that outlines the Great Exchange, as Luther called it.

“For our sake,” look at verse 21 speaking of Christians, “For our sake, that is because He loved us God sent His Son and this Son of His, He was made to be sin.” Now when we come to the doctrine, we’ll talk about in what way He was made to be sin who knew no sin. So, this man never did anything wrong, never failed as Heavenly Father, and yet He was counted as sin. Why? So that as we belong to Him, we might become the righteousness of God, the Great Exchange. His perfect righteousness to us, our sinful wickedness to Him. We took the test of obedience and we got an F. Adam took it, our father, and he got an F. And that was reckoned to our accounts. And then, as we continue to live, we just piled up more and more failing grades. Christ took the test and got an A. God is a fair teacher. How does He give to failing students a 4.0? Now, all of you students out there would like to think, “Well that’s easy, you just have teachers with mercy.” But teachers also have justice, and they want to see that their standards have been met, and so someone must be able to switch, that their test results must be counted for your test results. And so Christ, who got the A credited to us who failed the class. He got what we deserved, and so we can get what He deserves. And in that way, God and rebels are reconciled. We are justified before God as God’s justice is satisfied in the Great Exchange.

Now just pause there before we go to the doctrine, and this is justification by faith alone. We just read it from the confession. Many of you have studied. I imagine many of you have read books on it. Some of you have taught classes on it before. And it is easy to think that we know all there is to know, and praise the Lord, yes, justification. Let us brothers and sisters not lose sight of what a precious revolutionary, amazing doctrine this is. Armies have moved because of this doctrine, people have been imprisoned, lives have been lost. There is nothing more freeing, revolutionary and precious than to be justified by faith alone through the satisfaction and the perfect righteousness of Christ alone. Don’t get over it. Don’t get tired of hearing it, tired of meditating upon it. It is our faith. It is as the Reformers famously said, “It is the hinge upon which the whole Christian faith turns.” Without this, we do not have the Gospel. With this, what do we have? We have everything.

So, here we will move from the text to the doctrine. We’ve read from the confession. Let me read to you from the Shorter Catechism. It gives a more succinct definition. “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein He pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in His sight only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us and received by faith alone.”

If this were my systematic theology class, we could go through each of those phrases and I could give you multiple hours, so could Dr. Smith, give you many hours on justification. But since it isn’t, and it is approaching 7:00, don’t look, we still have many minutes left, I’m not going to give you a whole doctrine of justification. But I do want to focus on this one word which is at the very heart of verse 21. Now, it’s not mentioned in verse 21, but it is there when we read “He made Him to be sin.” He reckoned him. He credited to Him to be sin.

The theological term that we read in the confession, and we hear in the Catechism is the language of imputation. Only for the righteousness imputed to us. The vast difference between a reformation understanding of justification and the Catholic doctrine of justification, which the Reformers were arguing strenuously against, is this difference between an imputed righteousness and an infused or sometimes an imparted or inherent. Let’s just use the language of infused righteousness. What’s the difference between justification on account of an infused or inherent righteousness and an imputed righteousness?

Well, we must be fair to Roman Catholic theology, and it teaches justification. It teaches that you need faith. They believe that it is by grace. However, the grace imparts a righteousness to you and within you so that you are declared righteous because you are in actual possession of a quality of moral righteousness. Here’s the Council of Trent which was responding to the Reformers. This is part of the Catholic Counter-Reformation in the 16th century, and this puts a very fine point on the disagreement. If anyone says that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity that is poured in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them or even that the grace whereby we are justified is only the favor of God, let him be anathema.

That’s the Catholic Counter-Reformation, the Council of Trent. Let him be anathema. That means let him be accursed. Let him be damned. Did you listen? That was very technical language. It’s hard to just hear it without having it in front of you, but listen to some of the important terms. On the side of those who ought to be anathematized, so this is rejecting a Protestant Reformation understanding of justification. What don’t they want? Well, they don’t want you to say that you are justified by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ or that you are justified to the exclusion of grace and charity poured in our hearts and inherent in them.

So that’s the language of an infused or an imparted or an inherent righteousness. It is not solely by imputation. That word, think of credited. Here’s a good, I don’t know, they must say this somewhere in North Carolina, give you reckon. I reckon. Well, God reckons to us. I reckon that you’re righteous. Credited. Imputed. Rather than that it is imparted within you. Now, why do we see this? How do we see this in verse 21. Think about it. The connection is made between Christ being made sin who knew no sin and then us, we becoming the righteousness of God. So, we must become righteous in the same way that Christ became sin. That’s the connection. How was He made sin? He didn’t sin. He had no sin. There was not an inherent quality of sin that was infused within the soul of Christ. So, He was made sin only in this respect, that it was credited to Him. It was reckoned to Him. It was placed upon Him that God would look upon Him as one who had sinned. There was no actual sin within Him to merit or deserve God’s judgment. That’s how He was made sin. Logically then, for verse 21 to stand, in the same way we must be made righteous. Which means, we do not possess in order to be justified a quality of righteousness, actions of righteousness, some sort of infused principle of righteousness, but rather God reckons us, credits us, says, “I will count you as being righteous just as I count Christ as being sin.”

There is actually a story in the Gospels that, in a profound way, speaks against this Catholic understanding of an infused imparted righteousness. You may remember the story. Luke chapter 18. It is the pharisee and the tax collector. He told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt. So Jesus was telling this parable to people who trusted there’s something in me that makes me righteous. Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a pharisee, the other a tax collector. The pharisee is standing by himself, prayed, “Thus, God I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all that I get.” But the tax collector is standing far off, will not even lift up his eyes to heaven but beat his breast saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other, for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Now maybe you say, “Well, I see that. I see it’s about justification, but this man is claiming to pull himself up by his moral bootstraps. And Catholic theology, now what individual Catholics believe is different, but official Catholic theology doesn’t say that. It doesn’t say it’s completely up to you, just work as hard as you can and then God will just weigh your good deeds in the balance. Let’s be fair. That’s not what Catholic theology says. Catholic theology believes in grace through faith. But it’s a grace that puts within you the righteousness that then God looks upon to justify you.

So, here’s the key saying in this story. This man, who thought he was righteous says, “God, I thank you.” Now why do you thank someone? It is an expression of gratitude for grace that they have given you. This pharisee does not beat his breast and say, “I did it my way,” Frank Sinatra, thank you very much. “I did it! I earned it!” No, he says to God, “God, you did this in me, this righteousness, my fasting, my tithing, everything. God I thank you. You put this in me.” And Jesus said, “That man didn’t go home justified,” because it is nothing in you. The faith that justifies is the faith of the empty hand. Remember what we said earlier in the service when we recited the language from the confession, resting and receiving, the faith that rests on Christ, that receives Christ. So it is not the impartation of this righteousness which then in acting out by God’s grace our righteous deeds, he then justifies us.

Neither, do we want to say that justification is some act of legal fiction. That’s what we were talking about earlier. God cannot justify the wicked. It’s not a legal fiction. He doesn’t just wave a wand and say, “I don’t care about your sins anymore. I know the law requires this, but I don’t care about the law anymore.” That’s how a lot of people think about justification. That’s not, it is not a legal fiction. God is always fair. He would be unjust if He pardoned you without cause. But by the righteousness of Christ, He is able to pardon you and credit to you a righteousness that legally can belong to you because of Christ.

Let me try to put this together with a simple analogy. Suppose your whole life depends upon jumping 7 feet over a high jump bar. Difficult, let’s just make it 8 feet. I didn’t look up the world record, but that’s pretty close to it. That’s a long ways up. Eight feet and God says to you, “You need to jump over 8 feet, I’ll give you a week. Go ahead, practice, get a coach, and then we’re going to test. If you jump over it, gold medal, superstar. If you don’t, every bad thing.” How will you be justified? How will you pass the test? How will you receive the gold medal for jumping over the bar? Well, one answer is to say, “I’m going to take this week, and I’m going to really limber up, I’m really going to stretch, and I’m really going to practice jumping up and down every day. And then I’m going to clear the bar come next Saturday.” Well, that would be just by your own moral exertion, and God tells us, “Well, actually it’s not 8 feet, it’s 800 feet. You cannot do it.” That’s justification by sheer hard work. And some of us think of it that way. But no formal Catholic theology is going to put it like that.

So, what about a second way that you might pass over the bar. A second way, maybe God says, “You know what? I can see how much this means to you, how special you are. I am going to give you a miracle right now, bibbidi-bobbidi-boo, and you now, I have just given you super springy legs that you never had before. I have given to you the perfect arcing back to make it over the bar, and now you are still going to have to work, you’re still going to have to stretch, you’re going to get a good coach, but I have given you this miraculous supernatural ability and now next Saturday go and you do it and you run and clear the bar.” That is a kind of infused, imparted, inherent righteousness. You could say in a sense, “Well, God was gracious.” But it is still you clearing the bar. Still the test is, “Is he going to make it?”

A third way of being justified and receiving the gold medal is God just says, “You know what, never mind. Go ahead, it’s a limbo bar. Just run under it. Have at it. It doesn’t matter anymore.” That is not how we are justified.

So there’s a fourth way. And that is that God allows, just as you would think based on the whole sacrificial system of atonement and substitutionary payment, and the federal headship of Adam, God says “How about this. I’ll send my Son, and my Son can do it, and my Son can do it for you. And so when He gets it, I’ll credit that gold medal to you, and your lame limbo bar running under attempt, I’ll credit to Him, and He’ll pay for your failure, and you’ll reap the benefit of His reward.”

That is justification by a credited imputed righteousness. Christ bore the curse of the law so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. Not because you are in possession of it but because it is credited to your account. Imputation is what we love to sing. “No condemnation now I dread, Jesus and all in Him is mine. Alive in Him my living head and clothed in righteousness divine. When He shall come with trumpet sound, oh may I then in Him be found, dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne. I will glory in my redeemer who crushed the power of sin and death. My only Savior before the holy judge, the lamb who is my righteousness.”

Sometimes, you’ll hear theologians say that the Christian Gospel can be explained as three imputations. What are they? The imputation of Adam’s sin and guilt to us. So we are on team Adam. Adam’s our representative, and his sin and his guilt is imputed to us, credited to our account. That’s one. And then our sin and death imputed to Christ. That’s two, so He’s reckoned to be sin. And then the satisfactory atonement and perfect life of Christ imputed to us as the second Adam. We lose the first Adam and we more than win with the second Adam. Those three imputations are at the heart of the good news of this Gospel story and justification by the imputed righteousness of another.

So, what are the uses of this doctrine? Quickly, let me give you three. A proper view of justification ought to make us healthy, humble and happy. It ought to make us healthy. I mean spiritually healthy. Martyn-Lloyd Jones, in his book Spiritual Depression, which I recommend to anyone, and you say “Well, I don’t have depression.” Whether you do or you don’t, it’s not really about clinical depression. It’s really about struggling and wrestling in the Christian life. It is a series of sermons that he preached, and it’s a wonderful book. He argues that many Christians are bound in a miserable state because they have not properly understood justification. He says they are probably Christians, but they’re not very useful because they’re joyless and miserable all the time. And he observes that this sort of Christian very often grew up in the church, very interested in the church, really wants to be a good Christian. In fact, he or she will get quite down on himself, herself when they see other Christians seeming to succeed. These are the sort of Christians, and I imagine we have some in this church, you don’t feel inspired by missionary biographies. Why would you want to read that? You feel like a terrible person. “Why, I haven’t gone anywhere, given up my life like that.” You read about the heroes of the faith. You don’t feel inspired. You read sermons from the Puritans. You wonder if you’re a Christian anymore.

Lloyd Jones says this is exactly what the devil wants to do to us. He wants you to be focused on your sanctification before you ever properly understand your justification. He can get us to be interested in all sorts of good things and move so quickly past justification that all you think about is all you have to do and how you have to get better and not have that, which is a proper impulse, but it is improper if it is not rooted in and flowing out of the Gospel. And so, the devil gets us noticing all the things we haven’t done, all the things that other Christians are doing, anything to keep us thinking about ourselves. And Lloyd Jones famously said, “Our problem is we listen to ourself instead of talking to ourself.” Well, that sounds like a problem either way. He means, we’re always listening to ourself, telling us how much we are failing rather than talking to ourselves and speaking the Gospel. Say farewell to your past. Stop comparing yourself with other people. You have the same righteousness as God’s very Son. And when people say, this is a very modern thing to say, “Well, I can’t forgive myself.” Well, what do they mean? Of course, you can’t forgive yourself. And often we apply the wrong medicines. We say, “No, no, no it’s not so bad. You have to learn to forgive yourself.” Well, no, you and I cannot forgive ourselves. That’s why people say it. We know something deep inside of us, I am not in the position to absolve my own sins. I cannot forgive myself, but you can be forgiven by God based upon the righteousness of another.

So often it is our pride that does not allow us to accept forgiveness. We want to prove our worth to God. We’re like in Macbeth, “Out, darn spot.” Okay, you know what the word is. It’s out. I can’t get this out. Well, justification would have us look away from ourselves, look up to Christ. Was not the sacrifice of Christ enough for you? Was not His blood sufficient for you? Was not His death enough for you? Or are you going to add to your sin the sin of struggling to earn favor with God? I probably don’t have to tell you that we live in a day when anxiety, especially among young people, is off the charts. In a world in which people have more prosperity than ever before, more opportunities than ever before, people are more anxious than ever before. And we are applying misappropriated medicines. Now, don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re okay. That doesn’t work because you’re not okay. I’m not okay. Now, it is true, we can feel shame for things that we ought not to feel shame for, but in the broadest sense, you’re right and I’m right. There is guilt. We are sinners. Do not heal that wound lightly by just passing you’re okay, we’re all okay. Stop it.

Well, let’s talk about that. Why? Why can’t you forgive yourself? Why are you so anxious? Why are you so hard on yourself? Because you’re a sinner. That’s right. And no matter how hard you are on yourself, it’s not even as hard as you deserve, but here is the unimaginable good news. Don’t you think God has already treated His Son with all the shame and judgment that you and I deserve? And that is credited to us. Nothing for us to perform. Nothing for us to prove.

Justification makes us healthy. It ought to make us second, humble. What makes you better than the Christian, so maybe in the first category you look and you say, “Oh, I’m always the Christian who seems to be failing.” Maybe in the second category, you look and you think “I sort of come out on top, and I’m glad that I’m not as messed up as some of these other Christians. I’m glad that I really grew in my faith and now I really have this great theology and that I’ve really learned so many important lessons.” Well, maybe you have but have you considered, have I considered, that we might be implicitly trusting in our own righteousness. And you see this happen often. The very people who seem to be successful, oh, watch out when they fail because they’ve never learned to rely on the Gospel. They’ve always sort of, they mentally assented to it. They always said the right thing. They always knew the right doctrine, but inside they could kind of convince themselves that they’re basically, if not getting an A, they are at least getting a B+ when most other people are getting Cs. Until the time when they fail, when they sin, and then you learn how much we’ve really not been relying on grace.

This doctrine ought to make us humble. As you have heard me say before, if you and I are justified, not according to works but by faith alone, in grace alone, through Christ alone, why would we insist on everyone else being justified before us by works? Of course, it doesn’t mean we look past every offense. There’s no earthly justice. Of course, there is. But we must ask ourself this question in all honesty, “Why am I confident to stand before God?” It’s not because of your church attendance. It’s not because of your retirement bonus. It’s not because of your job offer. It’s not because of where you might get accepted into college. It’s only because of the righteousness of Christ. And that means if we truly understand this, this Gospel of sheer unalloyed, unmerited grace, if that’s what you’ve received, if that’s what you and I are resting on, sheer unmerited, unalloyed grace, then shouldn’t our response be the same? Not setting aside the law. Paul deals with that. Let sin increase that grace may abound. By no means, of course not. He makes us slaves to righteousness. But it ought to make us, of all people, most humble. Let’s confuse people in the world. Wow, those Reformed people, those Calvinists people, never met such humble people. Never met such spiritually healthy people.

And finally, I’ve never met such happy people. Now, I know we’re supposed to say happiness is, now that’s not very good, that’s worldly. But joy, well, it’s just how you want to translate the word. The beatitudes, the blessings, you can translate it as blessed, you can translate it as congratulations, you can translate it as happiness. And I understand that we don’t want happiness to be understood as “I always have wonderful circumstances, and I never feel sad in life.” But on the other hand, I’m sometimes concerned we think of it as joy is that thing that is so deep down, you never actually smile. That’s real joy. You’re never happy about it, that it’s spiritual happiness that never feels like happiness. It’s deep. It’s really deep. That’s the sort of thing we want to avoid.

When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within, upward I look and see him there who made an end to all my sin. Because my sinless Savior died, my sinful soul is counted for free for God the just is satisfied to look on Him and pardon me. Simul Justus et Peccator, the Latin phrase from the Reformation at the same time justified and a sinner. You say, “But I’m a sinner.” You are a sinner and you’re justified because Christ was not.

We have in our day the burden, as one author has called it, of the infinite extension of guilt. Guilt is everywhere. We like to think, “Oh, we’re a very tolerant people.” We do not live in a tolerant age, far from it. We do not live in a relativistic age, far from it. Everyone is constantly telling you all that you’re doing wrong. Perhaps you come from the wrong background. You have the wrong skin color. You don’t separate your recycling into the right containers. You haven’t done enough for this people. You haven’t done enough here. You have too many sugars in your diet. On and on and on. You haven’t raised your kids right. You have too much time in front of the TV. On and on. We have the infinite extension of guilt. Our world has retained, though it doesn’t know it, the Christian concept of depravity. You don’t think that’s true? Go online. Not just that you find depraved people but everyone, everything you’ve ever said can be brought up and will be brought against you and there will be no grace. There will be no forgiveness. You get one chance and you mess up, it’s the infinite extensibility of guilt. Our world has the Christian category of depravity and guilt, and it has lost the Christian categories of mercy and forgiveness. And many secular writers are even now writing about this. The New Puritanism, they call it, which is too bad because it’s like the Puritans. But what they mean is there is a weight of unwritten codes and taboos. Go back to your school days, did you have to read The Scarlet Letter? I did and the story by Nathaniel Hawthorn and what’s engraved on your mind as there the woman caught in adultery has to march through this puritanical Puritan town with the scarlet A around her neck. Adulterer. And you read it and you are meant to think, “What a horrible people. How judgmental. They don’t even give her a second chance. All they do is parade her and shame her.”

We live in an age where people are eager to hang around your neck any number of scarlet letters just as much as the worst caricature that Nathaniel Hawthorn could come up with it. It happens every day. In particular, if you’re younger and you’re online and you’re listening to people and you care about what those people say, whether you should or you shouldn’t, you can feel this, and justification is the medicine that our world so desperately needs without realizing it. You will not have real freedom, real happiness. Have you had just, it can be fleeting, just those moments even as a Christian, those moments where suddenly it hits you and the truth makes it the longest distance in the world from your head down to your heart, and you feel that sense of wonder and amazing freedom. And it doesn’t make you want to go out and sin as many sins. It makes you say, “This is amazing. My biggest problem in the world is feeling right with myself, right with my world, right with my maker, and the Gospel tells me how to solve the problem.” We should be, of all people, most joyful.

I will close with this from John Bunyan as he reflects upon the Great Exchange and the righteousness from Christ. “One day” he says, “as I was passing into the field, this sentence fell upon my soul. Thy righteousness is in heaven. And me thought I saw with my eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God’s right hand. There I say was my righteousness so that wherever I was, whatever I was doing, God could not say of me he lacks my righteousness for my righteousness was right in front of Him. I also saw moreover that it was not my good frame of heart that made me righteous or better, nor yet my bad frame that made me righteous or worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ Himself, the same yesterday, today and forever. Now, did my chains fall off. I was loosed from my afflictions. My temptations also fled away so that from that time those dreadful scriptures of God left oft to trouble me no more, and I went home rejoicing for the grace and love of God.”

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, what good news it is that we are not justified by prayer times, by parenting, by good grades, by preaching, by suffering, by helping the poor, by caring about social justice, by the cleanliness of our homes, by having babies, by volunteering, by clearing out our emails, by being on the right side of history, by signaling online all of the right causes. We give thanks we are not justified by any of these things, for we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ and in that and in Him we rejoice. Amen.