Redeemer Adult Sunday School: Justification

One of the greatest doctrines of Christianity is this teaching of justification by faith alone. Martin Luther said that this was the article by which the church stands or falls. And practically speaking, this is the most foundational truth that speaks directly to the deepest part of your heart and the questions that we’ve all been asking ourselves since we could talk:

  • Do you think I’m good enough?

  • Am I acceptable?

  • Am I lovable?

  • Do you like me?

And here’s the pastoral question I want you to be asking yourself as we explore this teaching: I want you to think about the areas in your life where you excelled at (especially growing up). And then I want you to think about the ways in which you feel deficient. Here are a few questions from Matt Howell to ask yourself to see if you struggle to believe in justification by faith alone:

  • Have you ever hated yourself or wished that you were someone else?

  • Have you ever thought that something wasn’t right in you?

  • Have you ever resolved to be a better person—eat better, pray more, exercise more, etc?

  • Have you ever thought that if your body was slightly different or a lot different then you would be more lovable?

  • Have you ever name dropped important people that you know?

  • Have you ever done something sexually that made you feel like you needed and wanted to be punished?

  • Have you ever wondered if God is making you pay for mistakes you’ve made in the past?

  • Have you ever checked social media more than once just to see how many likes you got?

Howell says, if you answered yes to any or all of those questions, those are desires for justification.

The problem with most of us is that we won’t sit in our failure long enough to find Jesus. (Read Romans 3:20-26, 2 Corinthians 5:21).

Westminster Confession of Faith: What is Justification? Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.

What does it mean by “act”? What does “imputed” mean? (What is Jesus’ passive and active righteousness?) What does “received by faith alone” mean?

If you had to name a few of the main ways the “normal Nebraskan” seeks to justify themselves, what would you say they are? Here are a few more diagnostic questions that will help you locate where, in particular, you are seeking to justify yourself:

  1. What is your greatest nightmare? What do you worry most about? What keeps you up at night?

  2. What, if you failed or lost it, would cause you to feel that you did not even want to live?

  3. What do you rely on for comfort when things go bad or get difficult?

  4. What do you day dream about? What do you think about when you don’t have to think about anything?

Read Luke 18:9-14.

One of the ways we can fail to let Christ justify us is to try and be good enough. This, in fact, is one of the strongest allies of evil: your goodness. The ways in which you are good are typically the areas (in your mind) that you have separated yourself from other people, and that’s what this parable is about. It is the root of pride.

“The most dangerous sin is not rape or murder or some heinous act, it’s you being confident in your own goodness.” — Matt Howell.

“There was already a deep black wordless conviction in him that the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin.” — Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood

“God connects salvation with believing, trusting, knowing, remembering. Yet the salvation is not in our act of believing, trusting, knowing, or remembering; it is in the thing or person believed on, trusted, known, remembered. Nor is salvation given as a reward for believing and knowing. The things believed and known are our salvation. Nor are we saved or comforted by thinking about our act of believing and ascertaining that it possesses all the proper ingredients and qualities which would induce God to approve of it, and of us because of it. This would be making faith a meritorious, or, at least, a qualifying work; and then grace would be no more grace. It would really be making our faith a part of Christ's work, - the finishing stroke put to the great understanding of the Son of God, which, otherwise, would have been incomplete, or, at least, unsuitable for the sinner, as a sinner. To the man that makes his faith and his trust his rest, and tries to pacify his conscience by getting up evidence of their solidity and excellence, we say, miserable comforters are they all! I get light by using my eyes; not by thinking about my use of them, nor by a scientific analysis of their component parts. So I get peace by, and in believing; not by thinking about my faith, or trying to prove to myself how well I have performed the believing act. We might as well extract water from the desert sands as peace from our own act of faith. Believing in the Lord Jesus Christ will do everything for us; believing in our own faith, or trusting in our own trust, will do nothing.” — Horatius Bonar

“Remember that the gospel is not a list of duties to be performed, or feelings to be produced, or frames which we are to pray ourselves into, in order to make God think well of us, and in order to fit us for receiving pardon. The gospel is the good news of the great work done upon the cross. The knowledge of that finished work is immediate peace...” — Horatius Bonar

"I'm here to tell you that the fear of failure is the engine that has driven me throughout my entire life. It flies in the faces of all these sports psychologists who say you have to let go of your fears to be successful and that negative thoughts will diminish performance. But not wanting to disappoint my parents, and later my coaches, teammates and fans, is what pushed me to be successful ... The reason nobody caught me from behind is because I ran scared. People are always surprised how insecure I was. But I was always in search of that perfect game, and I never got it. Even if I caught 10 of 12 passes, or two or three touchdowns in the Super Bowl, I would dwell on the one pass I dropped ... If I have one single regret about my career standing here today, it's that I never took the time to enjoy it.'' — Jerry Rice, in his Hall of Fame speech