Recently, a group of students at a Christian University were asked what justification meant to them. The sad reality was, not one student had any idea what the term signified. I think if we went out into the streets of our cities and towns and asked the same question we would probably receive the same responses. So, if justification by faith is the core proclamation of the church, we have to ask ourselves what have we been preaching and teaching over the years?
For the New Testament writers, Christ crucified and risen so that fallen humanity might be reconciled to God, through Jesus sacrifice for all who accept by faith alone was their message. The book of Galatians makes that absolutely clear. Paul summarizes what he has written to the Galatians this way, “For freedom, Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1
John Stott in his little commentary on Galatians, Only One Way, unfolds this verse and the message of Galatians for us. “As the New English Bible puts it, ‘Christ set us free to be free men.’ Our former state is portrayed as slavery, Jesus Christ as a liberator, conversion as an act of emancipation and the Christian life as a life of freedom. This freedom, as the whole Epistle and this context makes plain, is not primarily a freedom from sin, but rather from the law. What Christ has done in liberating us, according to Paul’s emphasis here, is not so much to set our will free from the bondage of sin as to set our conscience free from the guilt of sin. The Christian freedom he describes is freedom of conscience, freedom from the tyranny of the law, the dreadful struggle to keep the law, with a view of winning the favor of God. It is the freedom of acceptance with God and of access to God through Christ.
We must not lapse into the idea that we have to win our acceptance with God by our own obedience. The picture seems to be of an ox bowed down by a heavy yoke. Once it has been freed from this crushing yoke, it is able to stand erect again.
It is just so in the Christian life. At one time we were under the yoke of the law, burdened by its demands which we could not meet, and by its fearful condemnation because of our disobedience. But Christ met the demands of the law for us. He died for our disobedience and thus bore our condemnation in our place. He has ‘redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us’ (Galatians 3:13) And now He has struck the yoke from our shoulder and set us free to stand upright. Christianity is freedom not bondage. Christ has set us free; so we must stand firm in our freedom.” P. 132, 133
Of course, once we become Christians we find ourselves living closer to God’s ideals for our life, but this is not what Paul is talking about here. He is telling the Galatians they have freedom from the bondage of trying to be good enough to please God, because Jesus declared them good enough from the cross. Only the acceptance by faith that Jesus is my substitute who took my condemnation that I might receive the fruit of His sacrifice reconciliation to God, sets us free.
This is good news for those people who are beaten up by trying to earn God’s pleasure, or for those who just think Christianity is a bunch of fun crushing rules and regulations. The problem with Christianity for many people is that they have to stumble over us Christians on their way to check it out and they don’t like what we portray. Legalism, being judgmental, condemnation of anyone who disagrees with us all bring dishonor to the simple gift Jesus freely offers through his nail pierced hands. You are free in Christ to live assured of your salvation when you accept that greatest of gifts, reconciliation to the Father. If you trust God’s promise then you may sleep well tonight.