The doctrine of justification by faith alone launched the Reformation 500 years ago, and it continues it’s liberating work today. But we underestimate its power.
It’s important to remember what this doctrine means––that God declares us righteous by faith alone, because of Christ, and apart from any works.
But there is another question to ask beyond this: What does it do to us? What happens to us as we believe that God accepts us not because of anything good we do, but in spite of everything wrong we’ve done?
Here are eight ways that justification by faith alone transforms our lives. These eight implications show us the omnirelevance of this gospel doctrine. It isn’t just an idea to agree with, write down, and put it in our pocket until we need it to get to heaven. It saturates and sweetens every aspect of our lives.
- It Reforms and Brightens Our Intuitive View of God.
Many of us believe, at a gut level, that God is a hard taskmaster or nit picky boss. He is not gracious. He is not patient. He is not kind. In other words, we don’t think that God is very much like how he calls us to be. But Romans 4:5 says, “to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly.” Paul isn’t just speaking about a doctrine here; he is telling us what God is like. We believe in him who justifies the ungodly. This is our God: He is a God who delights to welcome the wicked who trust him. Anyone, no matter how disqualified they feel, can find a gracious welcome in the heart of God.
- It Gives Us the Peace We’re All Looking For.
In Romans 5:1 says, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Without justification by faith alone, we can’t be confident in God’s love. How could we? If he accepts us based on our performance, how can we ever be sure we measure up? To even say we knew that he accepts us would sound arrogant.
But justification by faith alone is not dependent upon our work for God, but Christ’s work for us. We just receive it. And then we can live in this confidence. And we “stand” in this grace, present tense, all the time, even as sinners in practice (5:2). When we roll out of bed and stand up facing our day, with great reasons to be anxious, we can remember that we’re standing in grace. We don’t have to work to be loved today. We don’t have to prove ourselves. We are already welcomed into God’s heart.
- It Enables Us to Enjoy God.
If God is a hard taskmaster, then we will not want to be with him. We may read the bible, pray, attend Church services, and avoid the really bad sins. But we won’t delight in these things. Because, as Walter Marshall put it, “You cannot love God if you secretly think he condemns and hates you… You simply cannot love God unless you know and understand how much he loves you” (31).
When we see his heart of love for us in cross–then our heart is melted–and we want to know him, love him, and serve him. We want to please him.
- It Gives Us a Counterintuitive Confidence Even As We Remain Sinners In Practice.
What do you do when you’ve really messed up, when you’ve committed the same sin for the 500th time? Do you give God some space for a while before you pray again? Do you wait until you’ve cleaned yourself up a bit and you sense that he’s cooled down?
Justification by faith means that not even our own sin can keep us from God’s love. And it gives us great boldness to return to him in fresh repentance and faith. Martin Luther put it this way: “Satan, you will not prevail against me when you try to terrify me by telling me how great my sins are and try to reduce me to heaviness, distrust, despair, hatred, contempt, and blasphemy. On the contrary, when you say that I am a sinner, you give me armor and weapons against yourself… for Christ died for sinners. And whenever you object that I am a sinner, you remind me of the benefit of Christ my Redeemer. It is on his shoulders, not mine, that all my sins lie… So when you say I am a sinner, you do not terrify me but comfort me immeasurably” (37).
In other words, our sins can now lead us more to comfort than despair. To be a sinner is to be qualified for the friend of sinners. And does not this kind of God and this kind of grace make us hate sin all the more? The fact that he would take us back like this? Is this not a power to resist temptation?
- It Puts An End to Our Search For Approval.
Justification is about showing that we’re right. It’s about being accepted. Is not that what we are often seeking in all our busyness? Our culture is bustling with activity. Why are we so busy?
What if our overworking at the job—or school or sports or exercise or physical improvement—what if these are our endless efforts at self-justification? What if much of this is driven for a kind of settled rest from a sense of arrival?
Justification by faith alone means that we can rest. We don’t need to earn our own righteousness before God or anyone else. Christ has done it all. And we receive him and all that he has, as a sheer gift.
- It Sets a New Tone of Grace In Our Relationships.
What kind of tone does this doctrine create in our relationships? Romans 15:7 says, “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you.” How has he welcomed us? Freely. Happily. With love and affection. And so we now welcome one another with open hearts.
If you always have a serious, flat, stern, or cold face toward people, what does that say? It says that people have to do something or be someone to get your affection and approval. They have to perform for your acceptance. But if we are justified by faith, and we have God’s smile over us, and he welcomes us freely, then how should we look at one another? The doctrine of justification by faith alone even has implications for our facial expressions.
- It Moves Us To Share the Message With Others.
This gives us the answer to the most pressing question of life: How can I be right with God? The answer is: not by anything you can do, but by what Christ did on the cross for you. This is what our neighbors and the nations need to know. Without it, they will not be justified.
- It Gives Us a Reason to Sing
Many of the rich hymns and songs throughout history were written to celebrate this doctrine. Justification by faith makes us happy, and happy people sing. As T.H.L Parker wrote in his biography on John Calvin, “The church is the place where the gospel is preached; gospel is good news; good news makes people happy; happy people sing.” Justification by faith alone sets our hearts free and gives us cause for praise.