Littlewell
Christ Centered Church Resource Site

Justified by Faith?!

Genesis 12:1-9
Romans 4:13 - 5:2
Sun, June 9, 1996
Rev. Ed Searcy
Justified.

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.

Justification.

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.

You see,

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.

After all,

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

with God.

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.

Of course,

we know how this must work.

There will be obligations

promises

solemn oaths

that must be sworn in blood

and kept

or else.

It doesn’t matter the religion

they all have them.

Codes of conduct

ritual offerings

laws

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’.

That’s right,

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

to Abraham.

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

grace.

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

your mother

already in the water

waiting for you.

And you would walk to the edge

very slowly

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 stand

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."

And finally

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.

Gratis.

Without charge

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.

But grace,

grace just says

‘trust me’

jump

and you will discover

"this grace in which we stand" (Romans 5:2)

Of course,

it doesn’t take us long to turn irreligious grace

into a religion.

Soon we start preaching

that all you have to do

is believe.

Which is

and isn’t

true.

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

before God.

In fact,

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

by God.

Like Abraham

we need only say ‘yes’

to know the blessings of grace land.

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.

No wonder

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 ...

letting go,

letting God.