Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.Acts 13:38-39
Paul makes a shattering statement in this message in Pisidian Antioch. Here were people who thought the Ten Commandments were the greatest word that God had ever given to men. They were trying their best to live up to them. They thought that the way to God was to obey the Ten Commandments — to do good. But now Paul comes to declare to them that they will never find acceptance by God in that way.
Rather, Paul tells them, God has found a way to accept us even though we cannot be good enough in ourselves, and that way is through Jesus Christ. This shook these people. They had never heard anything like this before! This is the first occasion where we have record of Paul's using that great word which is so frequent in the book of Romans,
justification by faith.
What does it mean to be justified? Most people think it means to have your sins forgiven. It does mean that, but it means more than that. Justification means to have your sins forgiven in such a way that God's honor and integrity are preserved by it. I served in the Navy for two years and then was honorably discharged. When I was discharged it meant that I was separated from the Navy. They were through with me, and I was through with them. But what I liked about it was the word
honorable. It was an honorable discharge. I could freely show my discharge papers to anyone. There was no blot on my discharge. But I knew certain men in the Navy who were dishonorably discharged. They were just as separate from the Navy as was I. The Navy was just as through with them as it was with me. But, there was a blot on their discharge, a stain on it. They did not like to show their discharge papers to anyone.
So what Paul is really saying here is that — if you merely had your sins forgiven, if God forgave in the way that most people think he does: i.e., you just come to him, and he is such a loving God that he says,
Oh, forget about it, that's all right, don't worry about it; you're such a great fellow and I love you so much that I'm just going to ignore it — if that were the case, then God's honor would be impugned. His character would be defiled by that kind of forgiveness. He could no longer be regarded as the God of justice and truth; he would be a partaker in my sins and yours. But God has found a way, through Jesus, to lay the guilt of our life and heart upon his own Son. Thus he can preserve his honor and character and integrity while at the same time he is rendered free to show his whole love to us. That is justification. Because of the cross, nobody will ever be able to point to God and say,
Oh, you let people off who are guilty! In the cross of Jesus, God poured out all his justice upon him. And in that cross, in the agony and the anguish of it, the world can see a picture of how faithfully God does obey his own laws. And yet, the wonder of it is that, because of it, God's love is freed to be poured out to us.
Father, my heart is stirred as I think of the mercy that you show to me, this marvelous justification by which all that has lain heavily upon my conscience has been washed away in the blood of Jesus Christ. How wonderful this is, Lord; teach me never to forget that I have been justified.
Have we missed the truly radical implications of God's righteous forgiveness? How can we do less than offer our lives in worship and gratitude for the majesty and wonder of God's amazing grace?