I think stories are spiritual. They have the uncanny ability to hit the human’s mind and heart in a deep way that cold, hard facts can’t. Stories bring in and tie together complex truths of our world into a way that we can process it. Stories imprint on us. Stories pinpoint ideas. Stories offer emotional and psychology oxygen. Or…. they can also strangle us. Because stories are spiritual, I think they can go both ways. Not all stories are good stories. Not all stories offer good and happy endings. Some stories are down right diabolical and can terrorize a person’s mind with its ideas, and philosophies. Either way, stories stick with us. They help mold our minds, whether for good or bad.
I just finished a story that left me highly unsatisfied, mainly because the way it ended was just rather incomplete. Here was a character that spent the entire story searching for redemption for his past sins. He had a hidden grief that made him somber, closed off to other people; he was unwilling to love those who were willing to love him, kept people at arm’s length, hesitant to trust, all because he was still searching for redemption of his past sins. He was trying to reconcile his present life of a peaceful living with his past of being part of war. He vowed never to kill again and to use the same hands that have killed so many to protect people. And the question came to me, “what will happen when you are not there to protect the people you vowed to protect?” And sure enough, the enemy attacked his loved ones, those he wasn’t really willing to admit that he cared for, and he proceeded to shut down. He couldn’t do it anymore, he couldn’t go on with trying to find the answer and live his life when the closest ones to him were still suffering at his expense; he was too tired. His idea of redemption, his process of making things right for himself and within himself still had massive loopholes. He was constantly stuck in war no matter where he went with himself, even while being in a time of peace. He was struggling to make himself better, to no longer be the person he used to be and finding out that he really couldn’t.
And it made me sad. Here I was staring at this story, knowing that he was a fictional character, but I knew he represented a very real thing, and the thought that kept coming to my mind was, “If only you knew Jesus. If only you knew.” Because even though this character was fictional, he embodied a very honest reality of millions of people across the world and across the eras of human history.
Some of us live very defeated lives. Some of us think, “No matter what I will always be what I am.” Some of us have been affronted with very strong words that have equated us to nothing. Some of us are our own worse critics. Some of us just can’t let our past die. Some of us have people always throwing our dirt in our face. Some of us are even thinking of ending our lives. Some of us are just too tired to even get out of bed. Some of us just live in denial of our problems. Some of us are just too angry to even care. Some of us live a life of victimization. Some of us live a life of excuses. Some of us lie to ourselves. Some of us have been so beat up to even think. Some of us have so heavy of a past, we don’t even know what to do with it. Some of us are just here and that’s it. Some of us think that, “I will never be right. I don’t even know what right is, but I know that whatever it is, I will never be it.”
NEXT STEPS: Young Adult Ministry Training
And here is where I want to talk about justification by faith, or righteousness by faith. The reality is if you are remotely Christian Protestant, or have grown up in the Adventist faith, these terms have been tossed around like sprinkles on Christmas cookies. It is almost like garnish in everyday jargon for the Adventist, reviewing Reformation history with Martin Luther and learning about the famous day when he came upon the verse, “the just shall live by faith,” (Romans 1:17). And we have probably heard of it close to a thousand times and still have no idea what it means, because unfortunately, sometimes the very ones waving the term around may themselves not even understand it.
But justification by faith, or righteousness by faith, (both terms are simultaneously interchangeable) is the very bread and butter of the thriving Christian. It is that welcomed gulp of fresh air after almost drowning. Righteousness means “rightness” or things done right or is right. Justification means the state of being justified and justified means being declared innocent or guiltless. Faith means, as defined in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” (ESV).
A quick rundown on what faith is not; it is not wishful thinking, or a distant dream too good to be true. Faith is not crossing your fingers, hopping around on one leg, and throwing in a lucky penny in the wishing well. Faith is not blind belief, doing whatever is told to you even though there is no evidence for it. Faith is not pleading, and begging, and beckoning God to do just the thing that you want Him to do and holding your breath long enough. Faith is not positive thinking in difficult situations. Faith is not the Christian equivalent of luck.
Faith is trust.
So, justification by faith is, “trusting that you have been justified (innocent or guiltless),” or righteousness by faith is, “trusting that you have been made right.”
Some may argue that the definition of faith given by Paul in Hebrews leaves room for ambiguity, where he himself notes that faith entails believing in things that you cannot see. While I do admit that there will be some ambiguity, it does not necessarily mean that there is no evidence. There will always be ambiguity in regards to the things of God because He is God. There will be things of God that will always retain majestic mystery. There will be some things that we will not understand. However, even though God is mysterious, therefore deserving ambiguity, that does not mean that there is no evidence in order to trust Him. He has given us ample evidence in regards of His character and the type of person He is in the Bible, so that even if there is something that I may not completely understand that God is asking me to do, I do understand the type of being He is, and I know enough to trust Him for who He says He is and to go forward, knowing that He will not contradict Himself. The entire chapter of Hebrews 11, which is called the Faith chapter, is explaining this very thing, where Paul lists person after person who worked off of this very principle in their lives while following and loving God.
The principle of justification by faith is found throughout the entire Bible by those who followed God, but the actual principle itself is only mentioned four times: Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11 and Hebrews 10:38. Every person, those in the Old Testament, and those in the New Testament who followed God believed, lived, worshiped, loved, and grasped unto this truth. People in the Old Testament who sincerely followed God had to believe in His promise that a Messiah will come to make things right, us today and those in the New Testament who sincerely follows God has to believe in His promise that He provided the Messiah to make things right. The Old Testament looked forward. The New Testament looked back. At the pivotal center of it all is the Cross. Neither the Old Testament nor us living today, except for those who lived with Jesus, and even then, they did not completely see(understand), have seen what Christ has done for us on the Cross.
Jesus understands the situation of sin far better than we do. We are like fish in a fish tank, a fish lives in water, but he doesn’t really know what water is, other than he lives in it. He can’t tell you whether it is wet or dry, whether it is a liquid or solid. He doesn’t really know, he was born into it. We really don’t know what sin is, other than that it has some pretty serious consequences, it has made life miserable for us and we live in it. Other than that, there’s not much to say on our part. Oh, we can theologically and intellectually argue over it, but at the end, it was the theological experts that put Jesus on the Cross and Jesus Himself said, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they do,” Luke 23:34.
Once sin entered into our lives, Jesus knew exactly the type of battles that we were going to fight, the internal struggles that we will have with ourselves day in and day out, the constant search that we will have to make things right within ourselves. The search for redemption for things in the past, in the present, and the vain hope that everything will be fine in the future. The constant pleading for peace. He knew all of that and that is why He came. He came to offer us the answer to escape all that. He is the answer!
Jesus came. God with us. Jesus had the right relationship with God. Jesus had the right relationship with mankind. Jesus lived the right life. Jesus died the right death. While we struggle to do the right things, Jesus did the right things for us. Jesus is Right. It is Christ’s righteousness that saves us. Justification by faith (righteousness by faith) is strongly linked with Christ’s righteousness. And by being so, God showed us mercy. Beautiful, perfect, awesome, sweet, mercy. By accepting Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior, essentially what we are doing is casting off all the wrong things we have ever done, and accepting all the right things He has done for us. Putting on the robes of Christ’s righteousness. We are putting on His right deeds, His right relationship, His right life, and we stand made right in eyes of God because of Jesus. Reconciled with God. Connected with Him once again. No longer fighting or battling for redemption, but basking in its glorious light in the presence of God. That is justification. That is living in Christ’s righteousness.
Do you trust that Jesus’ right relationship with God is enough to cover your poor relationship with God? Do you trust that His right relationship with mankind is enough to cover your poor relationship with mankind? Do you trust that Jesus’ right deeds covers your wrong deeds? Do you trust that Jesus’ right living is enough to cover your wrong living? Do you trust that His death on the Cross is enough to cover for your death that was meant to be on that Cross? Do you trust in your Savior that He made you right? Do you trust that your Savior is right? All of these things are things that you cannot see with your own eyes, but if you accept these things, you are living out justification by faith; you are living out righteousness by faith. You are living in Christ’s righteousness. You have the assurance of things hoped for. You have the conviction of things not seen.
We will always have bad days; where awful reminders of pasts will rise up, or old insecurities will rise up, or depression snags us, or grief of a passed loved one comes on us with a new wave, or we fall into temptation, but claiming unto justification by faith, by remembering the promise and the provision that God has done for us on the Cross through Jesus Christ, by rejoicing in Christ’s righteousness, by trusting that Jesus is enough, that He is Right and that you have been made a new creature, that you have been made right in the eyes of God regardless of feeling like a failure, that you have the power of angels behind you, that you have been justified, redeemed, and forgiven; and that the mercy and long suffering of God is at your side, you will persevere. You will claim victory, “For you are not ashamed of the Gospel,” Romans 1:16, you will not live a defeated life, because you have a trustworthy and reliable Savior, Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lords of Lords, that He has placed upon you His white robes and have been claimed His child. We have been made righteous, we have been made right. And that is a story that is true. And there are no loopholes, and it has a very complete and satisfying ending.
There is a powerful song that is quite popular right now in contemporary Christian music called, “Overwhelmed,” by Big Daddy Weave. I love that song; it brings me to tears almost every time I hear it. It just uplifts my soul and praises Jesus in a powerful way. There is a verse in the song that goes like this:
God, I run into Your arms
Unashamed because of mercy
I’m overwhelmed, I’m overwhelmed by You
Listen to the song, if you are not against or made uncomfortable by contemporary Christian music. It is a soft and worshipful song. Powerful. “God, I run into Your arms, unashamed because of mercy.” The picture of God with His arms wide open, scared in His hands and sides because of me, yet still searching for me and ready to accept me, and I can run into His arms because of His mercy is powerful. Just powerful. Redemption and being made right does not get any better than that.
If you are still curious to learn more about Christ’s righteousness, justification by faith, and overcoming sin in your life, I strongly recommend these three sermons by Dr. Steve Bauer. He takes you through the journey step-by-step, clear, real and precise with some practical tools. Don’t miss out.
Gripped By Sin:
Gripped By Grace:
Gripped By Christ: