June 12, 2006
God did his most deadly work to destroy hopelessness and futility and provincial cowardice. He gave up his Son to torture and death. A perfect life, a perfect death, and the decisive work was done.
But there are millions who are numb to hope because of the God-belittling things they have done and how ugly they have become. They don’t lift lofty arguments against God’s Truth; they shrug and feel irretrievably outside. They don’t defy God consciously; they default to cake and television. Except for the periodic rush of sex and sport and cinema, life yawns. There is no passion for significance. For many, no passion at all.
There is a Christian version of this paralysis. The decision has been made to trust Christ. The shoot of hope and joy has sprung up. The long battle against sin has begun. But the defeats are many, and the plant begins to wither. One sees only clouds and gathering darkness. The problem is not perplexing doctrine or evolutionary assaults or threats of persecution. The problem is falling down too many times. Gradually the fatal feeling creeps in: the fight is futile; it isn’t worth it.
Along with this hopelessness and futility, especially since 9/11, provincial cowardice captures many Christian minds. They fear that it may sound conceited to call every people group in the world to trust Christ or perish. It seems too global. Too sweeping. Too universal. To say it takes their breath away. And, worse, it brings down the wrath of the tolerant. What could be more arrogant than to think that the infinite variety of need in all the cultural groups of the world could be met by a single Savior!
It is astonishing that the biblical gospel of justification by faith alone answers these three human failures: the hopelessness of unbelievers, the feeling of futility from falling down, and the fear of making global claims for Christ.
To the numb and listless sinner, feeling beyond all hope of godliness, the Bible says, "To the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness" (Romans 4:5). God justifies the "ungodly." This truth is meant to break the back of hopelessness.
The connection between the sinner and the Savior is trust, not improvement of behavior. That comes later. It’s this order that gives hope. "For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law" (Romans 3:28). The basis of this wild and wonderful hope (the ungodly justified) is "Christ for righteousness to everyone who believes" (Romans 10:4, literal translation). Through faith alone God counts the ungodly as righteous because of Christ. "For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21). Let all who are paralyzed by the weight of sin and the powerlessness to change turn in here.
To the fallen saint, who knows the darkness is self-inflicted and feels the futility of looking for hope from a frowning Judge, the Bible gives a shocking example of gutsy guilt. It pictures God’s failed prophet beneath a righteous frown, bearing his chastisement with broken-hearted boldness. "Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light" (Micah 7:8-9). This is courageous contrition. Gutsy guilt. The saint has fallen. The darkness of God’s indignation is on him. He does not blow it off, but waits. And he throws in the face of his accuser the confidence that his indignant Judge will plead his cause and execute justice for (not against) him. This is the application of justification to the fallen saint. Broken-hearted, gutsy guilt.
For the squeamish fellow afraid of making global claims for Christ, the biblical teaching on justification explodes his little world. It says: the deepest problem to be solved is the same for every human being, because every human is a descendant of Adam. And the problem to be solved is that "by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners." "One trespass led to condemnation for all men." The only solution to this universal condemnation is a "second Adam" who provides "the free gift of righteousness" to all who hear the gospel and believe (Romans 5:17-19). Therefore Christ, the second Adam, the giver of righteousness, is the only global Savior.
Embrace as your treasure the gift of justification. There is no part of your life where it is not immeasurably precious.
The Righteousness of God and the Justification of Sinners - Romans 3:1-31 (Audio CD Set) In Romans chapter 3, the apostle Paul deals with how the vastness of our rebellion against God and the free offer of the gospel fit together. How can a holy and just God declare guilty, rebellious, sin-enslaved people as righteous before himself without becoming unjust and scorning his own glory? (9 Messages—9 Discs)
John Piper has been the Pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, since 1980. He has authored numerous best-selling books, including The Passion of Jesus Christ, Don't Waste Your Life and Desiring God. You will find 25 years of online sermons, articles and other God-centered resources from the ministry of John Piper at www.desiringgod.org. He also has a daily radio program, called "Desiring God," which can be accessed online at www.desiringGod.org/radio