The great 16th Century German Reformer, Martin Luther, called it “the article upon which the church stands or falls.” The article in question is that of justification by faith alone. To Luther, whether this doctrine was believed and preached or not was the basis by which we judge if it is a true church! A church ceases to be a church when it ceases to declare that sinners are reconciled to God by no other way than by faith.

We live in a day of religious tolerance, when truth, it is said, should be sacrificed on the altar of relationships. May our voice sound with the noble martyrs of generations of the true church who say with the apostle Paul, “If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.’

The doctrine of justification by faith alone is essential to the gospel. The gospel ceases to be ‘good news’ if it ceases to declare that Christ alone has accomplished our salvation. Theologians have always understood that when we say we are justified by faith alone, we are really saying we are justified by the work of Christ alone. That’s why this doctrine is so important. If we contribute anything more to our salvation than simply believing what Christ has already done, we cheapen His work of grace and declare it insufficient. Now let’s look at Romans 5:1 and may we stand in awe of what Christ has done for us.

We will break down this verse into three parts.
1. The Means of Justification ‘. . . having been justified by faith . . .’
2. The Result of Justification ‘. . . peace with God . . .’ and,
3. The Person of Justification ‘. . . through our Lord Jesus Christ:’

But let’s begin by defining justification:

Justification is God’s act of pardoning sinners and accepting them as righteous for Christ’s sake.

  • It is a forensic, or legal, term meaning that sinners are declared righteous.
  • It is a positional term meaning that we are declared righteous positionally before God, even though we are still practically speaking sinners.

1. The Means of Justification “justified by faith”
What did we do to merit such a divine pardon? Nothing! What is the means by which this pardon is received? By Faith and Faith Alone! Not by our good deeds. As Titus 3:5 states,

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us . . .

Nor is it as may false religions teach, that it is faith plus human effort or faith plus sacrifices or faith plus confession to an earthly priest. No, the reformers were right when they said in the face of Rome in the words of John Calvin,

Let it therefore remain settled . . . that we are justified in no other way than by faith, or, which comes to the same thing, that we are justified by faith alone!

Is this what Scripture teaches? Let’s look at Romans 3:20-24, and 28.

(20) For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (21) But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it– (22) the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: (23) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (24) and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus . . . (28) For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

Yet some of us still try to take credit for our own salvation. “Yes, we’re saved by faith,” we say, “but I supplied the faith.” No! God the Holy Spirit knew you would say that so He inspired Paul to write in Ephesians 2:8-9,

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that (faith) not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works lest any man should boast.

Likewise, Romans 4:16 tells us that salvation “is of faith, that it might be by grace.”

2. The Result of Justification “peace with God”
This is the ‘good news’ of the gospel. This is the glad tidings of great joy of which the angels spake in Luke 2 as they announced the Saviour’s birth. With the coming of Christ into the world, comes peace. This is the good news that we have to proclaim to a lost and dying world. We are to go into the world and ask, “Sinners, why do you still war against the Almighty? He has delivered us from the thing that caused us to be separated from Him.”

This is Paul’s view of our ministry as seen in 2 Corinthains 5:18-21,

[18] And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; [19] To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. [20] Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. [21] For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

Now we can rejoice with David who said in Psalm 32,

Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.

In Romans 4:6, Paul interprets David as describing the blessedness (or happiness) of the man “unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works” which is the same as “justification by faith alone”

3. The Person of Justification “through our Lord Jesus Christ”
Now we move to the primary cause for our justification that results in our peace. It is the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, which is alone sufficient to satisfy God, thereby giving us peace with Him.

There are three key words that are important when we speak of the atonement. These words are the words: Substitution, Propitiation, and Reconciliation.

First, Christ is our substitute. If we do not believe this, then we have no reason for believing that God will not punish us for our sins. Our great confidence lies in the fact that God has already punished our sins on His cross. That’s why God can be both just and the justifier of those who believe in Jesus (Rom. 3:26)!

Christ is our propitiation. It is only because He is our substitute that He is able to be our propitiation. This word won’t mean much to you if you think of God as only having love with no wrath toward sin. But if you believe in the God of Proverbs 6:16, who hates sin, and if you believe in the God of Psalm 7:11, who is angry with the wicked every day, this word will be of great comfort to you.

The word means “to satisfy wrath.” Every religion in the world believes in some form of propitiation. They believe that they must attempt to satisfy the wrath of their god(s) by their works or sacrifices. But Biblical Christianity is the only religion (if you want to call it such) that says that God has satisfied His own wrath! We were helplessly deserving of God’s wrath toward us for our sin, but God set forth Jesus to be our propitiation or satisfaction. Romans 3:25-26 declares concerning Jesus,

[25] Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; [26] To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

Christ satisfied the wrath of God for us on the cross of Calvary. He is our substitute that He might be our propitiation that He might be our reconciliation.

Romans 5:10 tells us that “when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son.” In Colossians 1:20-22, Paul says that Christ made peace by reconciling us to Himself. Christ alone is our reason for peace with God and our state of declared righteousness before Him! Again let me say that to be justified by faith alone is to be justified by Christ alone!

Let me close this post by sharing with you how this truth of justification by faith alone changed one man’s life and through him the course of history.

In the sixteenth century a young man studied to become a lawyer. As a part of his studies, he studied the law of God. As he studied the demands of this holy God, he was filled with dread for he knew he could never meet those righteous demands. In his fear of God’s wrath, he sought to appease God by giving up his desired profession and becoming a monk. As a monk he subjected himself to many discomforts, trying to punish himself for his sins against God. He deprived himself of food and other comforts. He struggled daily with the question of how a holy God could not punish him for his sins and that God to remain just.

One day, he discovered what Paul said in Romans 1:17, “the just shall live by faith.” As he saw we do not have to satisfy God to be declared just, but only believe what Christ has already done, he said it was as if the doors of paradise swung open.

On October 31, 1517, exactly 488 years ago from today, this same young man marched up steps to the castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany. There he nailed his “95 Theses” for discussion of disagreements he found in Scripture with the Roman church. As the blows of his hammer echoed, they reverberated with the sound of chains falling from long burdened hearts that had been bound by a system of works-righteousness for salvation.

Martin Luther’s discovery of the gospel began what we call the “Protestant Reformation” and we are still today reaping the benefits of what was accomplished in that tremendous work of God that led to the recovery of the authority of the Scriptures and we are the descendants of that great heritage. “And now,” as Paul Harvey used to say, “you know the rest of the story.”

Happy Reformation Day!!!

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