Justified by Faith?!
| Genesis 12:1-9
Romans 4:13 - 5:2
|Sun, June 9, 1996
Rev. Ed Searcy
Think about it.
When was the last time you had to justify yourself?
Maybe it was when you were late getting home.
Remember describing the surprise overtime at the office
and the horrendous tie up in traffic.
Perhaps it was when your grades slipped.
Remember the sweat
before phoning home to explain.
This week the news told a different story.
The story of two students who couldn’t face their parents.
Two boys who jumped from the sixteenth floor
rather than attempt to justify their grades.
It is one of those words that has been hijacked by theologians.
But when you think about it,
justification is something that all of us know plenty about.
our relationships cannot survive without it.
If we cannot justify our behaviour
to our partner
or our parents or our boss
then how can they ever trust us again?
For that matter,
if others cannot justify their own behaviour
how will we ever trust them again?
You know how it goes:
"Tell me again, the project is going to be late because ...?
Yes and what is your excuse for missing the payment?
Can you explain why you treated your mother so poorly tonight?"
Soon you start to see justification everywhere you look.
Politicians are forever on the hot-seat,
surrounded by microphones,
called upon to justify their actions.
they have made promises
and if promises are not met
justification is called for.
Justifications is all about relationships ...
it is about keeping faith with one another.
When promises are kept
when deadlines are met
when obligations are fulfilled
there is no need for justification.
But when things don’t go as planned
when trust is broken
then the relationship is at risk.
In the language of the Bible
such a relationship is no longer righteous.
Righteousness is relational.
There is no way to be self-righteous
only another can say that we are living righteously with them.
A righteous person is a person living in faithful relationship.
Well, heaven knows,
keeping up with all of our problems,
with all of our relations
is no easy matter.
You can see why we know about justification.
Most of our days are spent justifying ourselves
or listening to the justifications of others.
No surprise there.
Just look at how many of our relationships
are terribly out of whack.
It goes far beyond our own small circle
it extends to the whole human family.
We try to justify our standard of living
our addiction to consumerism
our reliance on so much of the world’s wealth.
We say that we work harder
that we "deserve it"
that the poor of the world should just ‘pull up their boot straps’
that the environment is really not in such bad shape
that there is nothing we can do to change it.
We try to justify it all
but our words have a hollow ring to them.
Maybe that is what brings us here.
Maybe we sense that we cannot justify our choices.
Maybe we come hoping to be justified
where it counts
That is what religion is all about in the end.
Every religion sets out to reconcile humans with God.
It doesn’t matter which one you try,
all of them have their ways.
Every religion can show you how to get right with God,
how to become righteous in God’s sight ...
and that is the stamp of approval everyone is after.
we know how this must work.
There will be obligations
that must be sworn in blood
It doesn’t matter the religion
they all have them.
Codes of conduct
Things that can be charted by a bookkeeping God.
Things that can be used to justify
God’s special protection
God’s special attention
to the devout, the faithful.
This is how things work in the world.
This is how things must work with God.
But Paul says ‘No’.
Paul says ‘No’.
There is no way to be justified by our works.
There is nothing we can do to set things straight with God.
There is no promise that we can make
no offering we can give
no law we can live
that will make our relationship with God righteous.
In other words,
all of our religion is doomed.
It is doomed
because it requires humans to justify themselves before God.
To this, Paul says:
"No, it cannot be done".
Instead he points back, way back
Abraham, whose story begins the epic journey.
Abraham who is chosen for no special reason.
He has done nothing,
offered no special sacrifice
kept no holy ordinances
believed no sacred creeds.
Paul points to elderly, childless Abraham
who is made the most outrageous promise:
"Go", says the mysterious voice,
"go ... into lands that I will show you,
go ... and I will make a great nation of your offspring,
go ... and in you all the earth shall be blessed."
Nothing is asked of Abraham.
He is not required to undergo special rituals
or live a respectable life.
Abraham is the original recipient
of amazing, astonishing, astounding
It is there for the taking
free for the taking
and all he has to do is take it.
"Go", says the voice.
Which, Paul points out, he does.
Abraham and Sarah and Lot pick up and go.
No questions asked.
They see this extravagant, outrageous gift for what it is
and take hold of it.
And there they are,
justified by faith.
There is nothing that they have done to get in God’s good books.
There is nothing that they could do to get into God’s good books.
God has already written them into the good book’s pages.
And they believe it.
There it is.
Abraham believes it.
Abraham believes that he has nothing to do
with being accepted by God.
It is really a matter of trust.
It is not so much that Abraham believes things about God
as that is willing to trust God.
Abraham has faith
in the faithfulness of God.
He believes that God will not let him down.
And his faith in God’s faithfulness
puts him in righteous relation with God.
Remember what it feels like to trust the promises of another.
Remember summers many years ago
standing in your life jacket
on the edge of the pool
or the dock
already in the water
waiting for you.
And you would walk to the edge
determined to jump in
until you looked over
and saw how deep
and how far it was.
Again and again
you would get ready to leap
only to stop
and stare at the water.
All the while
mother is there
right in front of you,
reaching out her arms
saying: "Come on, honey
I’m right here.
You’ll be fine."
you leapt into the water
trusting in the arms that caught you
laughing with delight.
Justified by faith.
Well, says Paul,
that’s how it is with us.
In raising Jesus from the dead
God has kept faith with the promises made to Abraham.
Through this offspring of Abraham’s seed
God has justified all people.
and without ‘getting religion’.
As Robert Farar Capon likes to say:
"Grace is wildly irreligious stuff."
Religion, remember, always puts us through our paces,
tells us how to be faithful,
to be acceptable to God.
grace just says
and you will discover
"this grace in which we stand" (Romans 5:2)
it doesn’t take us long to turn irreligious grace
into a religion.
Soon we start preaching
that all you have to do
It is true
if believing means
trusting in the unbelievable faithfulness of God
even when we aren’t able to believe it.
In the end, you see,
God catches us when we fall off the edge
whether or not we believe it in the first place.
That is the definition of amazing grace.
Which is why it is not true to say
that all you have to do is believe.
Soon we have turned our own faith
into a religious act which makes us acceptable to God.
Soon we have set up a hurdle
which must be overcome before God will say ‘yes’ to us.
Soon we are back to the old religious "shtick"
of justifying ourselves
in Jesus Christ
God has already said ‘yes’ to the world.
In Jesus Christ
God has reached out the hand of righteousness
to all people.
We have been set right with God
we need only say ‘yes’
to know the blessings of grace land.
That place in which we are invited by God to stand.
That land in which we are immersed in grace
and transformed by grace
so that our lives are marked by grace,
grace that costs us nothing
and yet costs us everything.
For, after receiving such astounding grace
we can never look at anyone
the same way again.
We live with astonished hearts
for we see with open eyes
that God’s faithfulness extends to all people.
we find our grasping hands letting go
letting go of their need for security,
of their craving for cash and for control.
Trusting in the faithfulness of God
we are liberated from justifying ourselves
and freed to extend our open hands to one another ...