We can never be good enough to meet the demands of God’s law. On this episode of Simply Put, Barry Cooper testifies to the One who met those demands on our behalf.
When you stand before God at the end of your life, and He requires an accounting for all the life and the breath that He has breathed into you, what will you say? That you’ve done your best? That you were probably, on average, better than most other people?
According to Jesus in Luke chapter 10, there’s only one method for justifying ourselves in the eyes of God.
Jesus says you need only do two things. First, you need to have loved God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and secondly, you also need to have loved your neighbor as you love yourself.
It’s a bit like when I asked a friend of mine for feedback on an early version of a book I was writing, and he said there were only two things I needed to do: number one, change the words; and number two, change the order they were in.
It’s the kind of feedback that drives you to despair. In the same way, Jesus says only two things are necessary for justification: firstly, love God perfectly, and secondly, love other people perfectly. As long as you’re completely perfect, all the time, there’s absolutely nothing to worry about.
Now, when Jesus is explaining this in Luke 10, He’s speaking to a lawyer. And like any good lawyer, this lawyer immediately tries to discover a possible loophole in what Jesus has said, anything at all which might make justification a little bit easier.
And who can blame him? Who on earth has loved God to the absolute uttermost for every single minute of every single day of every single year of their lives, and also at the same time loved everyone else almost as much? I don’t know about you, but I doubt I’ve ever managed to love like that, not even for a nanosecond.
This is precisely the kind of thing that once drove the German monk Martin Luther to distraction. How could he possibly be good enough, be loving enough, to meet the just demands of God’s law?
But then Luther saw something glorious in Romans chapter 1 that he hadn’t seen before. He saw the good news clearly for the first time: we can be justified before God. As we anticipate the day when we will be asked to account for the lives God has given us, we stop putting our faith in our own attempted goodness—which is indeed a lost cause. Instead, we put our faith, our trust, in the perfect goodness of another. This is justification by faith alone.
Only God the Son can stand before God the Father and say, “Yes, I really have loved You with all My heart, soul, strength, and mind, and I really have loved My neighbor as Myself.” And this same Son turns to you and says, “As soon as you put your faith in Me, it is as if you have lived My perfect life.”
Also, at the same time, Jesus says: “As soon as you put your faith in Me, it is as if I had lived your life. That’s why I died as I did. It was a punishment-bearing death, a punishment I took on your behalf, so that you wouldn’t have to.
“Because of Me, you are fully and forever justified in the eyes of My Father. You are justified, because I am—and you are in Me by faith and by faith alone.”
We call this “justification by faith alone,” and even here Luther didn’t want anyone making the mistake of thinking that “having faith” is a “good thing” we do that somehow justifies us in the eyes of God. No, our justification isn’t contingent on anything we do or have. It is wholly and purely a gift from God—a flawless, dazzling, irrevocable promise that we simply receive. Faith is simply an open hand that receives God’s gift of justification, not a work that we do in order to earn our justification.
And by the way, this wasn’t something that was discovered for the first time in the sixteenth century by a startled, and very relieved, German monk.
Listen to this letter, written in the second century by an early Christian:
“When our unrighteousness was fulfilled, and it had been made perfectly clear that its wages—punishment and death—were to be expected . . . [God] Himself gave up His own Son as a ransom for us.
“The holy one for the lawless, the guiltless for the guilty, the just for the unjust, the incorruptible for the corruptible, the immortal for the mortal.
“For what else but His righteousness could have covered our sins? In whom was it possible for us, the lawless and ungodly, to be justified, except in the Son of God alone?
“Oh the sweet exchange, Oh the incomprehensible work of God, Oh the unexpected blessings, that the sinfulness of many should be hidden in one righteous person, while the righteousness of One should justify many sinners!”
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Who on earth has ever loved like that?
Answer: the One who said those words, Jesus Christ. Though we cannot ever justify ourselves, there is One who can.