People crave variety and freedom of choice. This truth is a main driver in the business world. No business can remain relevant without responding to the demands of its customers. Whether you are talking about something as simple as buying a loaf of bread, or something more complicated as buying a house or a car, the large variety of choices available in the market is the direct result of the demands of the customers' likes and dislikes. Never is a product produced for which there is no current market or the expectation of a future market.
Our consumer-based economy has created for us a culture in which people expect to have choices and to have their demands for choices embraced. It should be no wonder then that there are those who do not believe that one can be dogmatic when it comes to discussing how a person goes about becoming justified in the eyes of God. They want freedom of choice even in that area.
First, let me explain the biblical term of justification. What we are talking about is the means by which a person is declared to be a righteous or just person before God. This subject is important because "the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 6:9).
In the Old Testament we find hundreds of moral laws, the most popular of them being the Ten Commandments. Collectively, these commandments and precepts are referred to as the Law. Some people believe that if they just live by the Law, they will be justified in the eyes of God. Such logic would appear to be reasonable since the moral laws found in the Bible come from God and are expressions of His own holiness.
But the Bible says something interesting about this matter: "We know that what things soever 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 [subject to judgment] before God" (Romans 3:19). Wow! That means the purpose of the Law was never aimed at making people right with God. Rather, the objective was to convince all that they were wrong before God.
It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that a person cannot use the Law as a means of getting right with God since that was not the purpose for which it was given. Accordingly, the Bible says, "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight" (verse 20).
Interestingly, in the past, I have spoken to a few people who don't attend church but who proudly believe that they are all right with God because they say they live by the Ten Commandments. Clearly, they are trusting in their ability to live good enough to be made right with God. BUT THE BIBLE IS SAYING THAT NO ONE CAN SUCCEED IN DOING THAT.
The doctrine of justification by faith is fundamental to all genuine Christian denominations. We may worship differently, sing differently, or preach differently, but we all believe that there is but one way to get right with God. That is by placing our faith in Jesus' redemptive work on the cross.
At the grassroots level, however, there are those who equate their service in church or their church attendance record with justification. But again, by our works, however commendable they may be, we cannot be justified. I thank God for making me a messenger of His gospel. Over the past twenty-five years I have been blessed to touch a lot of lives through the gospel ministry. But what I do in the ministry has nothing to do with justification.
I am reminded of the last church I pastored. We used to take to the streets to witness to the lost. Time and again I met people who claimed to be saved, but when I asked them of the basis of their claim many of them talked about how long they had been attending church, when they got baptized, or how many offices they held in their local church. Many of these people appeared to be very sincere about what they were telling me, but very few of those I posed this question to could give me a biblical answer.
The sad truth about this is that the people who attend church believing that they are right with God because of their church activity and affiliation will not seek to be justified by faith in Christ. And though they sit in church on Sundays thinking they are heaven-bound, they are really sitting in hell's waiting room!
One of the fundamental differences between Christianity and all cults is that cults embrace the doctrine of justification by works. They have no other choice because cults deny the deity of Christ. If He is not deity then He is no more than another human being. And if that is the case He can do nothing to save us because He himself would need a Savior, and each man and woman would have to fend for himself-try to do enough good to be declared righteous by God.
Let's see why justification by our personal works will not work, cannot work. The Apostle Paul wrote about his attempt to live by the Law. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the Law. "The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good," he said (Rom. 7:12). But the problem is that while the Law is spiritual the Bible says we are carnal, sold under sin (Rom. 7:14). This is true even after we have become born again by faith.
Yes, when we become born again, God radically changes our inner being. But our new spirit is still clothed in an old body of death, to use Paul's expression (see verse 24). This corruptible body in which we currently live cannot perfectly live up to the standards of God's holy, just, and good Law.
Even if we could obey most of the Law, the parts we fail to obey would still make us a sinner before God.
I find the doctrine of justification by faith very liberating. I will be the first to say that I am not infallible. I make mistakes, I get angry at times, and at times I say and do the wrong thing. But I know that I am still a righteous person in the eyes of God because my being declared righteous does not depend upon me always batting a perfect score.
Some Christians are just too hard on themselves. Perhaps you are the one I am talking to. Do you beat up yourself every time you miss the mark? Are you having trouble forgiving yourself of some terrible sin or mistake in the past? I say to you by the Word of the Lord that you must place your faith in Christ's redemptive work on the cross, not in your performance.
Please do not misunderstand me. I know God is calling us to walk before Him with a perfect heart. That means we must love what He loves and dislike what He dislikes. That means when we miss the mark, we should readily ask His forgiveness and make amends. But we must always bear in mind that we have been made right with God not based on what we did but based on our faith in what Christ did for us on the cross. Only He could perfectly fulfill the law. And when we place our faith in His work on the cross, God imputes it to us for righteousness. That means He regards us as having perfectly fulfilled the Law!
It just doesn't get any better than this. Think about it. "He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Cor. 5:21).