As many of you are probably aware, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church on October 31, 1517. That date is known to many of us as, “Reformation Day.” Many count that event and that date as the beginning of the Reformation, probably the most important event in human history in the last 500 years. All of this because a German monk, an academic, issued an invitation to debate what was never intended to go past the faculty there in Wittenberg. The most important doctrine to come out of the Reformation is that of justification. Justification refers to how we are declared righteous before God. The Shorter Catechism question 33 asks, “What is justification?” The answer is, “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.” Our salvation rests here in justification, therefore it is of utmost importance.
Last month I wrote about faith and how that fits into the order of salvation and it is integrally linked to justification. We believe that we are justified before God by faith in what Jesus Christ has done for us on the cross. At the cross Jesus took upon Himself our sin, the Scriptures even saying, “He became sin…” He was counted guilty because of our sin and the wrath of God against our sin was poured out upon Him. His righteousness was then credited to us; we are counted righteous because His righteousness has been imputed to us. When we exercise faith in Christ's finished work in our behalf, then we are justified. Rom. 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. It is so important for us to understand God's initiative and work in our justification. It is God's work, it is God's initiative; salvation is all of grace, because all we could add to our salvation is sin. If any part of our salvation depended upon our effort we would be lost because there is nothing in us that is holy and righteous. All that we are is tainted by sin and therefore unworthy, but in Christ we are made worthy by God's grace. Therefore we can stand before the very throne of God and not be ashamed because of what is ours in Jesus. Ours is holiness and righteousness in Christ. Let that soak in. That is the Good News, that is the gospel. We need it daily, we need it from hour to hour so that we might be better equipped to live the life we were designed to live.
Justification sets us free from the false idea that we must earn our salvation or that we can merit God's favor in any way. When we trust in Jesus Christ for our salvation it is “just as if we have never sinned.” That is justification and that is worth celebrating this month as we remember the reformation.