Now that Christmas time is past, we can prepare for the new year with hope and courage. Celebrating Christmas brings new grace by having had a fresh look at the manger in Bethlehem. The babe in the manger would be our breath of life and the honor of His righteous life and the sweet savor of His sacrifice on the cross is certain to give us a taste for God. Christmas treats and table settings, often filled with sweets, cannot sustain us through 2023; but God can! It’s time to ween ourselves off of the fruitcake and eggnog by stimulating our spiritual taste buds with the grace of God. May the Lord enable us truly to taste and see the goodness of God this year.
“O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.” Psalm 34:8
Our taste for God has surely been whetted this Christmas at SPBC. I hope it will stimulate a hunger for His word and a hankering for holiness in 2023! Thank you for making this Christmas past very graciously special for a lot of folks. The choir singers and cantata performance was really good. I received several comments from church members who attended the Christmas communion service saying how very special it was to them. The decorating committee put the right arrangements in the right places meshing the green holly, red berries and golden candles to show a divine décor to aid in declaring the good news and great joy of our Savior’s birth. I intentionally asked the youth of the church to participate in the advent readings and candle lighting during our Sunday morning services during the advent season and on Christmas day. Every young person I asked accepted the call without hesitation and did a splendid job, honoring God and encouraging us all. A Wednesday night meeting around the fire at the pergola was well attended and the cookies and carol singing were en- joyed by all. Also, a few of the brave and hearty ventured out in the cold to sing Christmas carols at the homes of some of the home bound church members. One man told me with tears in his eyes how much it meant to him and his wife for the carolers to come and sing!
Well for sure we have plenty of sacred Christmas 2022 moments to propel us right into the new year with much graceful gusto to serve the Lord and to serve one another. As we begin 2023, let’s rejoice and remember that we are free! We’ve just celebrated the incarnation. As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ; His virgin birth, His righteous life, His substitutionary death on the cross, His resurrection and ascension, along with His present intercessory priesthood, we begin the new year as a new creation. And, read this carefully, we begin the new year sinless and righteous. No, we are not in Heaven yet, but positionally we are there. The work has been done, the job has been finished. Jesus Christ took our sins, all of them, and gave us His righteousness, all of it.
“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” II Corinthians 5:21
If we can just think more about what Jesus Christ has done for us and to us we’d hit the ground running the Christian race in 2023. A track athlete doesn’t try to run the 800 meter race with an overcoat on, or with a log chain tied on one leg. He or she dresses light so their stride is right. Likewise, we don’t need the baggage of guilt nor the rubbage of regrets to run the race set before us in 2023. The devil knows this too, so beware, he will try to fill our heads with unwarranted unworthiness and weight us down with worrying about whether or not our past sins are really forgiven. Don’t start off on the wrong foot this year. We can believe the truth and be free or we can believe a lie and be in bondage. I am not just kidding you!
“Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:24
Justification is a legal term whereby sinners are declared righteous by a holy, righteous God because He loves them and His Son has died on the cross in their places. Christ on the cross bore our sins and by dying for them, paid the penalty. Not only did Christ Jesus take our sins, he also took the wrath of God for us. Justification is more than forgiveness, as great as that is. Justification not only means our sins are forgiven, it also bestows upon us a righteous standing before God. It’s sort of like the teacher giving all the students a perfect grade of 100 at the very start of the course. If we can grasp the gracious concept and context of God’s justifying grace, it will be key to our efforts and enjoyment of working for the Lord in 2023. Remembering who we are will inspire us to go far, far from sin, far from worldly sorrow, and far from sorriness too!
Justification is the key doctrine of our faith because it magnifies the glory of God and diminishes the vain glory of man. As Atlas toted the world on his shoulders, justification bears the entire evangelical knowledge of God’s love in Christ toward sinners. Being justified does not mean we cooperate with God. Actually, we have nothing whatsoever to do with it. Salvation is of the Lord, and so is justification. Justification is a consequence of God’s electing love. It is wonderful to be a member of a church like SPBC which states the Biblical truth of election and predestination as one of her articles of faith. Embracing unconditional election should not embarrass us or make us feel “holier than thou,” rather it should humble us and cause us to serve God and others because we are justified sinners.
Most likely we will all face some pretty tough challenges in 2023. And, there is a one in one chance that we will die (Maybe not this year) but it’s going to happen. Knowing that God will never leave us, that He is always faithful and that our performance doesn’t merit any brownie points with God gives hope for the helpless and heart to the homeless. Not only is justification a key to the kingdom, it is also a kicker for His kingdom. A swimmer’s stroke guides the glide through the water, but the kick propels progress to the finish line. You would think that being justified, declared righteous and in good standing with Almighty God would mean we can slack up or maybe have a license to sin. However, God’s word is powerful and progressive and will always yield the peace- able fruit of righteousness. In other words, justification not only puts us in His kingdom, it also gives us “kick” for His kingdom. God does not set us apart to sit in the dark! He sets us apart to set us on fire so that we can shine for his glory and burn in His presence.
Even though justification is a pretty big word and is considered a theological term, don’t let it frighten you or bore you. It is exciting to be in God’s kingdom and even exhilarating to go through trials and suffering for Jesus’ sake, especially when we realize and understand that God has already declared us righteous and in a right standing with Him before we even go through it all. Justification is simply about trusting God during trials and trouble and rising in the morning and putting our working britches on just for God.
Justification is the pronouncement of a verdict of not guilty by a judge. That judge is God! God is a righteous Judge who is always right, always holy, always there.
Therefore as by the offence of one judgement came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” Romans 5:18 ,
Justification is an event, not a process. It is a legal forensic term used in a court of law context. God is serious about His law and He expects, even commands that we live by and adhere to it. If we break God’s law, we will die. We have all broken God’s law, therefore we all died. When God declares us just and righteous, He does not do so based on what we have done or not done, but solely and wholly upon what Christ has done. God, as the righteous judge both justifies and condemns. Everyone is not justified because Jesus Christ did not die for the sins of every person, but only for those chosen by God before the foundation of the world. Some people say that they can’t believe in election because it implies that God is not fair. God is not fair, but He is just. If God treated us fairly, we’d all go to hell! Rather, He treats us mercifully, not because we merit it but because Jesus Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law. When God declares us just He means it. Really, all we need this new year, to keep us faithful and without fear is God; just God!
Jesus Christ is not only the foundation and cornerstone of the Christian faith, He is the basis for our justification. The Apostle Paul was not the originator of justification, Jesus was:
"I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Luke 18:14
“He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.” Isaiah 53:11
The reason belief in the Lord Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is key to our salvation is because it’s by Him that we are justified. Justification through ‘faith alone’ shows the complete incapacity and incompetence of man for any sort of self justification. The key to the freeing call to follow Jesus is just submitting to the justification of God, not doing works, simply believing. To say “justification by faith” is just another way of saying “justification by Jesus.” Faith is not a work because faith has no value in itself, its value lies solely in its object, Jesus Christ.
Justification is not an act of amnesty, nor is it pardon without principles or forgiveness that overlooks or forgets. When God justifies sinners, He is not declaring bad people to be good or saying that we are not sinners after all. He rather is pronouncing us legally righteous and free from any liability for the law we broke because He Himself in His son has borne the penalty of that law breaking. We are justified by Christ’s blood. There could be no justification without atonement. God will do anything for Jesus’ sake, including justifying sinners like us. Justification is a key for God’s kingdom but Jesus Christ is the door. The way to God in 2023 is not complicated or confusing. The only adjustments we need to make is focusing our faith on Jesus; just Jesus.
If justification is a key to the kingdom then surely grace has to be a key to justification. Justification, unlike sanctification, has no degrees, it’s a done deal, done by God because He is a God of grace. Our salvation is not of works but grace, not of law, but faith, not of righteous deeds, but His mercy.
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” Titus 3:5
Once we grasp the facts that the work of the Son for us and the work of the Spirit in us cannot be separated, we can have assurance that through grace God has justified us completely and wholly — that we have been made accepted in Jesus, forgiven and free from sin.
It is all too true that sometimes we don’t feel justified, but that’s when our faith needs to be verified. When we talk about justifying an opinion or an action, it doesn’t mean we change or improve it. Rather, it means we have se- cured a verdict for it. Let’s make sure before we go any farther in 2023 that we acknowledge that God’s ways are right, that He is
just and that His grace will be sufficient to make it through the year should He not come first.
Really, grace is so amazing and it is the very source of justification. How could the righteous declare the unrighteous righteous? The answer is grace. If we were not sinners there would be no need for justification, but if it were not for grace, there would be no possibility of it.
“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one.” Romans 3:10
May God enable us all to live this year, this day, even this moment not in a mundane manner, but realize this year, this day, this moment is not just another year, just another day, just another moment but time to rejoice because we are righteous before God and blessed beyond measure because of His divine declaration. Look around and listen to your heart this new year. Don’t try to accumulate so many things, because the way to happiness is justification—just God, just Jesus, just grace.
Happy New Year! Brother Randy