Christ’s Finished Work: Justified by Faith

As a new believer in Christ, I was plagued by a scrupulous conscience. I would keep a pen and notebook in my pocket to list down the sins and transgressions that I become aware of in the course of the school day. At the end of the day, I would confess these specific sins to God one by one, asking forgiveness for each sin. This practice was discouraging as I became more conscious of my weaknesses and failings than of the presence and blessings and attributes of God.

I carried the heavy burden of unforgiven and repeated sins piled up one upon another. I felt condemned, guilty and discouraged. Peace fled, and darkness hovered over my head and took away the joy of my salvation. I was a poor advertisement of the love of God. How can I look so morose and glum when Jesus loved me so much?

On hindsight, I what I lacked was a proper understanding of Christ’s finished work. There was a missing element in the teachings we received from the pulpit. We had teachings about the repentance, regeneration, baptism, baptism of the Spirit, discipleship, the holy life, and getting ready for Jesus’ return, but none about justification by faith. This is a foundational doctrine that should buttress all others. It is an essential cornerstone of Christ’s finished work. If I had received understanding of this teaching, it would have set me free from condemnation and set me on the path of “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17).

Justified by grace through faith

Believers in Christ are justified by the grace of God. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; and they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:23,24). It was not something we earned, deserved or could achieve on our own. Jesus’ death on the cross redeemed or purchased us from our slavery to sin. We now belong to Christ and he has changed our status before God from guilty, to someone who has been declared righteous, and acquitted of all wrong. This declaration of “NOT GUILTY” anticipates the verdict we will one day hear on the Day of Judgement. God lets us enjoy this status now. This means that when God sees us, he sees us as men and women cleared of all guilt of all sins (past, present and future). It is a gift, and we receive it by faith. “We have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law” (Gal2:16).

Rags to riches

To what shall I liken this change in status? I think of a man hopelessly in debt to his creditors to the tune of $6 million. Someone paid up his debt out of sheer grace, and informs him that his debt has been cleared, and he does not owe his creditors any money anymore. What relief! What great joy! What wonder and gratitude fills this man’s soul. No more darkness and depression. Hope fills him. A new like beckons him. This is what has happened to the sinner who believes in Christ: the debt of sin is completely cleared. Zero. But this is only half of the good news of justification. There is much more. The story continues. That generous benefactor not only leaves the man cleared of all debt, he also added $10 million into his zeroed account. Now the man suddenly without deserving or earning or working for it is a multi-millionaire. It is the same with what Christ’s finished work did for us: he not only erased all our sins to zero; he also imputed and gave to us his generous gift of righteousness – his life of total obedience to the Father has been transferred into our once bankrupt account. Our debts of sin were put upon Jesus, and in a mind-boggling and gracious exchange, he put his perfect righteousness upon us. “For our sake he (God) made him (Christ) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him (Christ) we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).

This truth dawned on me and began to permeate my being after I read the book “Pastor Roland Buck: The Man Who Talked to Angels by Sharon White” a few years after I began my torturous journey as a new believer. It brought me great peace, stability and assurance before God. Joy returned and so did gratitude and confidence in God’s love.

Lord, thank you for Your finished work on the cross. For such a gracious and generous exchange. For the peace that passes all understanding and the great joy of Your salvation. Amen.

This is part of a planned series of writings on the topic of “The A to Z of Christ’s Finished Work”. I am writing it alphabet by alphabet. Thus far the others that I have written can be found HERE. Feel free to use it in personal or group discipleship discussions to establish the faith of believers. It can also be used to inspire ideas for pastors to use as a series of messages to strengthen the faith of the congregation. 

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The Power of Right Believing by Joseph Prince: reflection 2

"The power of right believing" by Joseph Prince
"The power of right believing" by Joseph Prince

Tomorrow I fly off to lead a group of 47 pilgrims in a tour of Israel. Half the members are from our church, the other half are their friends and a group from another church. Its going to be an exciting time. We go to pray and to bless Israel, and certainly be blessed as well. Blessed to see what was once not a nation now a nation; blessed to hear Hebrew, once dead but now a living language; blessed to feel how Old Testament prophecies have been fulfilled, and God’s faithfulness revealed. All this will be energizing for us. This is also the land where Jesus lived, moved and ministered. Here He was born; here He died and rose again. Here is where He will return in glory. I’m excited. Do pray for us.

Before I go off I wanted to write this reflection on the second part of Joseph Prince’s book. If you have his book and it is lying on the shelf somewhere why don’t you read this particular part and help contribute some thoughts on how the book has helped you. You can share what you like or do not like in the book, and discuss more deeply some of the ideas in this part which covers chapters 4, 5 and 6. Imagine you are in a reading club and we are all reading this stuff together to discuss it on this platform instead of face to face.

Part 2 is titled “Learn to See What God Sees” and here is my summary of each chapter in this part:

Play the Right Mental Movies (chapter 4) – The central idea is that we have a tendency to look at the negative and this creates fear in our hearts. We play the wrong kind of mental movies. And fear like a boa constrictor suffocates us to death. We cannot get rid of such fearful ideas. The best way is to replace them. Replace them with God’s truth and right belief.

See Yourself As God Sees You (chapter 5) – Here Prince introduces the doctrine of justification in its practical implications. A great exchange has taken place. Jesus took our sins. We received his gift of righteousness. When God looks at us He sees Jesus’ righteousness and not our failures, sins, weaknesses. He looks at us and He sees a child of God deserving of favor, blessing and approval.

You Are Irreversibly Blessed (chapter 6) –  Prince takes the Old Testament story of Balaam paid by Balak to curse Israel but when it came time to curse Israel he actually blessed Israel. Balaam explained that God commanded him to bless and he could not reverse that. God has “not observed iniquity in Jacob, nor has He seen wickedness in Israel”(Num23:20,21). The chapter went on to develop further the idea of justification and how God views us who are made righteous in Christ, and how therefore God loves to pour out his undeserved blessings on us.

I am beginning to notice the use of a dominant image or life story in each chapter. For instance the mental movie, the constrictor snake, or a businessman who moved from fear to faith, or an American guy who found help in knowing how God sees him. I like it that he is using both local as well as Caucasians (with an eye to connecting to American Christians) as it shows that this message can have the same fruit across national boundaries and cultures.

When I read Chapter 6, I thought, I must digest this and share this with the church. Its a beautiful “shadow”  that points us to the amazing work of justification and its implications. Traditional teaching on justification falls shy of talking about how God will bless and favor us as a fruit of justification. They will focus on the spiritual blessings as in Romans 5. Prince boldly talks about material blessings though not in this chapter but elsewhere.

Conservative interpretation of the Old Testament also does not allow for the use of typology when the event, person, object or colour is not so used in the same way in the New Testament. Thus since Balaam and the story of Israel, and the high priestly breast-piece,  used as “shadows”pointing to the real blessings of justification was never mentioned in such a connection in the New Testament, it is not permissible to interpret the OT text in this way. I am less conservative with regards to this, and there are scholars along a spectrum on this issue. To me, such typology should be permissible. However, the text must not be artificially contorted beyond recognition and reason. It should not contradict any of the major Bible doctrines that are made clear elsewhere. Lastly, it brings out the loveliness of Jesus finished work and not shed light on some insignificant subject. If it sheds light on the overall redemptive theme of the whole Bible and I give it my thumbs up.

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The Gospel is for every day

We mistakenly think the Gospel is just the four spiritual laws. We further mistaken that the Gospel is only for accepting Christ, for conversion, for “crossing the line” and after that we lay it aside and go to deeper things. How wrong this is, and how disastrous it is for the church to think so. The pastor ought to bring the gospel of Christ and his finished work as much as possible into his messages because the people need to hear it often. They need the constant reminders and renewal in the Gospel both in Word and sacrament, because our faith in the good news must be kept fresh and dynamic to keep drawing down from our spiritual inheritance of forgiveness, enabling grace, peace, power, the benefits of justification, love, healing and much much more. Here’s a video by John Piper that says this:

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The righteousness of God imputed

the reformersThis doctrine that we hear as part of the “grace message” of Joseph Prince has roots that go back to the Reformation. The early Reformation creeds give evidence of this. Creeds are succinct summaries of the teachings and faith of groups of Christians. The ones quoted below are from the Calvinist reformers of the Protestant movement. They express the crux of the message that generated  the great revivals of the Protestant Reformation. Study them and you will see that these reformers believed that justification…

… an undeserved gift of God’s grace;

… not just the forgiveness of sins but also the imputation of the perfect obedience and righteousness of Christ to the believer;

… received by faith alone apart from works of law, yet this faith is never alone but works through love;

…..cannot be separated from regeneration.

The Heidelberg Catechism (1563) was written by Zacharias Ursinus, professor at the University of Heidelberg, and Caspar Olevianus the court preacher.

“Question 60: How are you right with God?

Answer:  Only by true faith in Jesus Christ. Even though my conscience accuses me of having grievously sinned against all God’s commandments and of never having kept any of them, and even though I am still inclined toward all evil, nevertheless, without my deserving it at all, out of sheer grace, God grants and credits to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner, as if I had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for me. All I need to do is to accept this gift of God with a believing heart.”

The Belgic Confession(1561) was written by Guido de Bre`s, a Reformed Belgian preacher. Article 22 contains these statements:

“And therefore we justly say with Paul that we are justified “by faith alone” or by faith “apart from works” (Romans 3:28). However, we do not mean, properly speaking, that it is faith itself that justifies us – for faith is only the instrument by which we embrace Christ, our righteousness. But Jesus Christ is our righteousness in making available to us all his merits and all the holy works he has done for us and in our place. And faith is the instrument that keeps us together with him in communion with all his benefits. When those benefits are made ours they are more than enough to absolve us of our sins.”

The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) was written by 131 pastors and 30 laymen at Wesminster Abbey in London. It is a Puritan Calvinist creed.

XI.1 :“Those whom God effectually calleth he also freely justifieth; not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; ….by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.”

“Faith thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the [only instrument] of justification; yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.”

This message of justification, especially the positive imputation of Christ’s righteousness and its manifold applications, have not been preached much from most Protestant pulpits. The  Pentecostals and charismatics and other evangelicals have preached being regenerated and sanctified and anointed, but not much on being justified. Even traditional denominations like the Presbyterians, Methodists,Anglicans, Lutherans have jettisoned justification, deemed as risky and with an antinomian aftertaste, in favor of a more popular taste: the “char kway teow” of user-friendly, practical sermons. My plea is for a more Reformation flavor in our pulpits, especially, the one that is at the heart of the gospel: the message of justification. This is something all churches must do if they want to have healthy disciples. We lose a great source of assurance if we do not. This is my firm conviction.

(Source:  Hoekema, Anthony A. “Saved by Grace”, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1989, p 170-172)

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