Let’s get right to the point. How are you with God? What’s your status before him? What does he think of you? Is he pleased with you? Are you guilty before him? Or is it somewhere in between? The chief article in the Augsburg Confession is the article on justification. How is it that sinful people can be justified before God?
Our churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works. People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight (Romans 3 and 4) (Augsburg Confession, “Article IV: Justification”).
The word “justify,” especially when the Bible uses it, means “to declare or demonstrate someone/something to be right.” This definition is important. To justify does not mean “to make someone right.” Justification is about a declaration or demonstration. When it is demonstrated that an innocent person is innocent, they are justified. For a guilty person, they are justified when someone with the proper authority declares them to be right.
We cannot justify ourselves before God. That is, we cannot make ourselves right. Have you ever felt guilty about something and thought you should do something to make up for it? That’s self-justification, and it doesn’t work. It is good that you want to do something good, but it will never undo the bad. Once the bad thing is done, it’s done; we can’t make it go away. We cannot demonstrate that we are innocent, because we are not. The only thing left is to be declared righteous. We need God to justify us.
God’s justification does not mean that he makes us better. We are often tempted to think that God’s work is to help us be better people, so that our good will outweigh the bad, but even that would not make the bad go away. We need more than mere assistance from God. We need him to save us.
For God to justify us means that he declares us to be righteous. But this might seem even less believable than us justifying ourselves, because I am not righteous. So if God declares me to be righteous, when I’m clearly not, doesn’t that make God a liar? It would … if he hadn’t earned the right to say it. Jesus made satisfaction for all sins by his death. He bore all of our sins in his body. He died with them. He paid for them. We can’t make them go away, because we are unrighteous. But when the sinless Son of God died, he could make them go away, because he is the infinite, innocent, and willing victim. On this basis, God declares you to be righteous. And everyone who believes this promise, has what it declares.
The peace of Christ be with you all,
Pastor Dan Antal