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Paul an example – Rebuking the works of the flesh Ch.2:11-19

Study E2
Justified by faith

Study E2 Justified by faith

When rebuking Peter, Paul explains that we are justified by faith and not by the works of the law. The word justified is a well loved word by Christians, and how a person was justified was the issue that sparked the so-called Protestant reformation of the 16th century. But what does it actually mean? If we are to grasp the significance of Paul’s argument we need to have an understanding of this very basic truth.

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

E2.1 The Roman court

Paul uses the term ‘justified’ in its Roman legal sense, so for us to grasp its significance we need to understand the background to this term.

In Roman times, if a man were brought before the courts, the legal process would go something like this: firstly the accusation would be made, the evidence would then be presented to the court. After that the judge would have to decide on the guilt or otherwise of the man; if the man were found guilty then he would say that the man is condemned, and is under condemnation, the prisoner would then have to pay the appropriate penalty for the crime committed. If however he were found not guilty the prisoner would be pronounced justified, and the legal process would stop and the man would be set free.

We then have two words: condemned, meaning guilty, and justified meaning not guilty. Neither case depended on the prisoner’s feelings, the pronouncement, either way, was matter of fact,  he was either guilty or not guilty. For example, suppose someone was brought before the courts on a charge of theft. After the court’s deliberations if the judge pronounces the man guilty (condemned) it does not matter how loudly the prisoner protests, he is guilty. It’s no good saying ” I don’t feel condemned” for feelings have nothing to do with the case. Similarly, if he were found not guilty then it’s no good saying that he felt guilty either. Guilt has nothing to do with feelings, just facts.

So how does this apply to salvation and to Paul’s argument?

E2.2 God’s court

In Romans Paul systematically spells out God’s plan of salvation, for he says that the epistle is a declaration of such Rom.1:15-17. In the first two and half chapters Paul brings the accusation and judgment of God against the human race. In chapter one he shows the guilt of the Gentiles, in chapter two that of the Jews, and in the first half of chapter three he concludes everyone is guilty before God and is condemned.

What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

Now it’s no good saying that we don’t feel condemned, because feelings have nothing to do with it.  It is a declared fact of God, the whole human race is guilty whether a person feels like it or not. Now the due punishment is eternal damnation that is separation from God, yet God in His mercy and love sent Jesus to pay the penalty for our sin, Jesus was hanged on a tree to take the punishment that we should have borne.

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
I Pet.3:18

The penalty for our sin was paid for by Jesus. And the important thing to note is that Jesus’ work at Calvary ALONE paid the penalty for sin so that we could be declared not guilty – or justified. How we receive that justification we will come to shortly, but there is one further point to make.

One common phrase Christians come out with is ‘I feel condemned’, Now in the light of the above discussion it should be apparent that this is simply not true. As believers walking in the Spirit we are not under condemnation Rom. 8:1 therefore to talk of feeling condemned is nonsense. If we are justified then we are not condemned, it is one or the other; if we are condemned then we are not justified!

What Christians actually mean is that they are under accusation in some way. That is not condemnation! Why is this important to understand? Because if the devil can get our eyes off the truth then we will be in turmoil and not effective. Once we see this truth, when accusations do come (and they will) then we can recognise them for what they are and deal with them and overcome the evil one.

Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.

E2.3 Justified, but how?

So if we are condemned how do we receive this justification verdict?

Firstly we will answer in the negative: not by works of the law. The law was the very thing that brought our condemnation, so how can it pronounce us not guilty?

Now we know that what things so ever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

One of the reasons the law was given was to show up sin for what it is; having done that it can’t do anymore; it cannot show to us, or God, that we are not guilty when it declares us guilty! Having brought God’s condemnation on us it can’t do anymore, it can’t pay the penalty for the sins we’ve committed, so basically the law gives us no hope. We can not pay for the sins we’ve committed by keeping the law because by the law is the knowledge of sin.

Secondly we answer in the positive: since Christ has paid the penalty for our sin then if we trust in His payment for our sins, then we are declared not guilty- or justified. But note it has to be in Christ and Him alone. We have to abandon all our own efforts for – as we have repeatedly said- to add anything to the pure gospel makes the message invalid, because we are saying that Christ’s work is not sufficient. Hence we are either justified or condemned, and we either trust Christ alone or not at all. There are no in between alternatives. All the following scriptures emphasise the truth of justification by faith alone.

Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.
Rom. 4:25

And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification.
Rom. 5:16

Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.
Rom. 5:18

It is through Christ alone that we have justification, and to appropriate we have to do so by faith, that is abandon our works and efforts and wholly rely on the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the gift of God and as such we receive it as such, there is no merit of ours at all, if we won’t come on that basis then we cannot be justified at all.

Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
Rom. 3:20

Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
Rom. 3:24

Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

Rom. 3:28

Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
Rom. 5:9

Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
Rom. 8:30

And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.
1Co 6:11

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
Ga 2:16

But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.
Ga 3:11

Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
Ga 3:24

That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Titus 3:7

Today in many so called Christian circles justification by faith is preached and taught, but in practice it has been replaced with other things: such as justification by decision, justification by the sinner’s prayer, justification by counselling, justification by church attendance, justification by signing a declaration of faith, and so it goes on. One only has to ask the question: ‘how can signing a card, or repeating certain words make us not guilty of sin?’ to see what a nonsense it all is.

All these things are works of the flesh and the sooner this is recognised and repented of the better.

E2.4 Summary

Justification  is a Roman legal term, and we see that this salvation changes our legal standing before God: no longer condemned (guilt)  but justified (not guilty) before God. This is  not because of anything we have done, rather because of what Christ has done, the one who alone has satisfied God’s requirement for our sin.

So then we have either justification by faith in Christ’s work alone, or doing the works of the flesh that brings our condemnation, they are mutually exclusive. It’s is either one or the other. Adding to faith in Christ denies that His death and resurrection were sufficient, and thereby invalidates the message preached. For example it is useless preaching justification by faith on Sunday evening, only to baptise infants the following Sunday morning and saying that by this they become Christians. It is nonsense.

No, in God’s court – and that’s the only one that counts in the end- we are either justified by faith in Christ alone or we stand condemned waiting to pay the price of our own sin in eternal damnation, where the fire is not quenched.