Christ Centered Resources

Justified by Faith?!

Rev. Ed Searcy

Romans 4:13 - 5:2, Genesis 12:1-9
University Hill United Church : Sun, June 9, 1996
Justified. Think about it. When was the last time you had to justify yourself? Maybe it was when you were late getting home. Remember describing the surprise overtime at the office and the horrendous tie up in traffic. Perhaps it was when your grades slipped. Remember the sweat before phoning home to explain. This week the news told a different story. The story of two students who couldn’t face their parents. Two boys who jumped from the sixteenth floor rather than attempt to justify their grades. Justification. It is one of those words that has been hijacked by theologians. But when you think about it, justification is something that all of us know plenty about. You see, our relationships cannot survive without it. If we cannot justify our behaviour to our partner or our parents or our boss then how can they ever trust us again? For that matter, if others cannot justify their own behaviour how will we ever trust them again? You know how it goes: "Tell me again, the project is going to be late because ...? Yes and what is your excuse for missing the payment? Can you explain why you treated your mother so poorly tonight?" Soon you start to see justification everywhere you look. Politicians are forever on the hot-seat, surrounded by microphones, called upon to justify their actions. After all, they have made promises and if promises are not met justification is called for. Justifications is all about relationships ... it is about keeping faith with one another. When promises are kept when deadlines are met when obligations are fulfilled there is no need for justification. But when things don’t go as planned when trust is broken then the relationship is at risk. In the language of the Bible such a relationship is no longer righteous. Righteousness is relational. There is no way to be self-righteous only another can say that we are living righteously with them. A righteous person is a person living in faithful relationship. Well, heaven knows, keeping up with all of our problems, with all of our relations is no easy matter. You can see why we know about justification. Most of our days are spent justifying ourselves or listening to the justifications of others. No surprise there. Just look at how many of our relationships are terribly out of whack. It goes far beyond our own small circle it extends to the whole human family. We try to justify our standard of living our addiction to consumerism our reliance on so much of the world’s wealth. We say that we work harder that we "deserve it" that the poor of the world should just ‘pull up their boot straps’ that the environment is really not in such bad shape that there is nothing we can do to change it. We try to justify it all but our words have a hollow ring to them. Maybe that is what brings us here. Maybe we sense that we cannot justify our choices. Maybe we come hoping to be justified where it counts with God. That is what religion is all about in the end. Every religion sets out to reconcile humans with God. It doesn’t matter which one you try, all of them have their ways. Every religion can show you how to get right with God, how to become righteous in God’s sight ... and that is the stamp of approval everyone is after. Of course, we know how this must work. There will be obligations promises solemn oaths that must be sworn in blood and kept or else. It doesn’t matter the religion they all have them. Codes of conduct ritual offerings laws Things that can be charted by a bookkeeping God. Things that can be used to justify God’s special protection God’s special attention to the devout, the faithful. This is how things work in the world. This is how things must work with God. But Paul says ‘No’. That’s right, Paul says ‘No’. There is no way to be justified by our works. There is nothing we can do to set things straight with God. There is no promise that we can make no offering we can give no law we can live that will make our relationship with God righteous. In other words, all of our religion is doomed. It is doomed because it requires humans to justify themselves before God. To this, Paul says: "No, it cannot be done". Instead he points back, way back to Abraham. Abraham, whose story begins the epic journey. Abraham who is chosen for no special reason. He has done nothing, offered no special sacrifice kept no holy ordinances believed no sacred creeds. Paul points to elderly, childless Abraham who is made the most outrageous promise: "Go", says the mysterious voice, "go ... into lands that I will show you, go ... and I will make a great nation of your offspring, go ... and in you all the earth shall be blessed." Nothing is asked of Abraham. He is not required to undergo special rituals or live a respectable life. Abraham is the original recipient of amazing, astonishing, astounding grace. It is there for the taking free for the taking and all he has to do is take it. "Go", says the voice. Which, Paul points out, he does. Abraham and Sarah and Lot pick up and go. No questions asked. They see this extravagant, outrageous gift for what it is and take hold of it. And there they are, justified by faith. There is nothing that they have done to get in God’s good books. There is nothing that they could do to get into God’s good books. God has already written them into the good book’s pages. And they believe it. There it is. Abraham believes it. Abraham believes that he has nothing to do with being accepted by God. It is really a matter of trust. It is not so much that Abraham believes things about God as that is willing to trust God. Abraham has faith in the faithfulness of God. He believes that God will not let him down. And his faith in God’s faithfulness puts him in righteous relation with God. Remember what it feels like to trust the promises of another. Remember summers many years ago standing in your life jacket on the edge of the pool or the dock your mother already in the water waiting for you. And you would walk to the edge very slowly determined to jump in until you looked over and saw how deep and how far it was. Again and again you would get ready to leap only to stop and stand and stare at the water. All the while mother is there right in front of you, reaching out her arms saying: "Come on, honey I’m right here. You’ll be fine." And finally you leapt into the water trusting in the arms that caught you laughing with delight. Justified by faith. Well, says Paul, that’s how it is with us. In raising Jesus from the dead God has kept faith with the promises made to Abraham. Through this offspring of Abraham’s seed God has justified all people. Gratis. Without charge and without ‘getting religion’. As Robert Farar Capon likes to say: "Grace is wildly irreligious stuff." Religion, remember, always puts us through our paces, tells us how to be faithful, to be acceptable to God. But grace, grace just says ‘trust me’ jump and you will discover "this grace in which we stand" (Romans 5:2) Of course, it doesn’t take us long to turn irreligious grace into a religion. Soon we start preaching that all you have to do is believe. Which is and isn’t true. It is true if believing means trusting in the unbelievable faithfulness of God even when we aren’t able to believe it. In the end, you see, God catches us when we fall off the edge whether or not we believe it in the first place. That is the definition of amazing grace. Which is why it is not true to say that all you have to do is believe. Soon we have turned our own faith into a religious act which makes us acceptable to God. Soon we have set up a hurdle which must be overcome before God will say ‘yes’ to us. Soon we are back to the old religious "shtick" of justifying ourselves before God. In fact, in Jesus Christ God has already said ‘yes’ to the world. In Jesus Christ God has reached out the hand of righteousness to all people. We have been set right with God by God. Like Abraham we need only say ‘yes’ to know the blessings of grace land. Grace land. That place in which we are invited by God to stand. That land in which we are immersed in grace and transformed by grace so that our lives are marked by grace, grace that costs us nothing and yet costs us everything. For, after receiving such astounding grace we can never look at anyone the same way again. We live with astonished hearts for we see with open eyes that God’s faithfulness extends to all people. No wonder we find our grasping hands letting go letting go of their need for security, of their craving for cash and for control. Trusting in the faithfulness of God we are liberated from justifying ourselves and freed to extend our open hands to one another ... letting go, letting God.