Justification Is Simple

BY DONAVON RILEY

The Gospel is simple to confess. That is, we are justified by faith alone, through Christ alone, without the works of the Law. And so long as we don't add any limits, measures, or conditions to this, the Gospel is easy to confess to others. The message that we are justified by faith faith alone through Christ Jesus is good news anyone can deliver. Anyone can speak the Gospel, regardless of social standing, education, or experience.

But as simple and easy as the Gospel is to announce, we just can't stop ourselves from adding to it. We'll confess faith alone out one side of our mouth, then declare out the other side that without works we're not justified, not completely. Then we wind ourselves up inventing works we can point at and call "good" so that we have something to hang our hat on when it comes Judgment Day.

This is wrong-headed, of course. The good news about Jesus' work for us, His suffering, dying and rising from death for our justification is the Gospel. It's the only true Gospel. The Gospel teaches that good works are the fruit of faith, but they are a gift from God and a work of God in us. Faith alone in Christ alone justifies us, because it clings to Jesus alone for everything. Faith talk then is Jesus talk, and so is talk about works. All of faith and works are wrapped in Jesus' faithfulness and work for us.

But still, we go for what's natural, what's comfortable for us, which is why we always tilt toward the Law instead of the Gospel. The Law comes natural to us, the Gospel is alien. This is why, when we talk about anything, even the Gospel, we'll add our doing and not doing. We'll talk about our faith, our good works, and so on. We even add our activities to what Jesus has already done for us. Jesus says "It is finished," and we say, "Yes, but..."

 
Saving faith, justifying faith which is a work of God in us, clings only to Jesus. Only when we are bound up with Jesus can we know what true faith is, what true good works are, and what to teach to others.
 

This is scary stuff for us though, because it means we are free from worrying about the Law and works. And freedom is the scariest, most horrible word in the Bible for people set on being slaves to the Law and their works, which is all of us at one time or another.

In fact, that's what the false apostles attacked St. Paul with in Galatia. He was guilty, they said, of preaching a false Gospel, of promoting sin, and teaching the Galatians Christians to live lawlessly. In short, St. Paul was guilty of preaching the Gospel so forcefully that it set the Galatian Christians free from their bondage to sin, death, and even their own works.

St. Paul had no trouble admitting God's Word of Law was holy and good. However, he wouldn't concede to the false apostles that God's Word of Law could justify. The Law can tell us that we should love God and neighbor, that we should engage everyone, especially brothers and sisters in Christ, with patience, kindness, and long-suffering. But, the Law can't tell us how we can be delivered from sin and death. The Law can demand good works but it can't produce them in and through us. Only Christ Jesus can do for us what the Law demands from us, and He does it through the Gospel. The Gospel announces to us what Jesus has done for us.

This is why Paul refused to allow Titus to be circumcised. The false apostles tried to add circumcision as a good work to the Gospel. St. Paul opposed this teaching and instead doubled down on Gospel freedom, which the Holy Spirit works through to produce His fruits in the Galatian Christians, and in us today.

That's why the Gospel is such a simple, such an easy, message to deliver. Everything has already been done for us by Christ Jesus. And the good news has been delivered to us by a preacher, that we are justified by faith alone, through Christ alone, without the works of the Law. From that sermon God sends us out into the world as His instruments of salvation, in the faith once delivered to us, fruitful workers in the Spirit, just like St. Paul and Titus, and all the saints in every place at every time.

Donavon Riley is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author, Online Content Director for Higher Things, a contributing writer at 1517 Legacy Project, Christ Hold Fast, and LOGIA. Pastor Riley co-hosts the podcast: 'The Higher Things Simul Cast'. He is pastor of Saint John Lutheran Church in Webster, MN. A graduate of Concordia Universities in St. Paul, Minnesota and Portland, Oregon, Pastor Riley received his seminary and post-graduate education at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He colloquized into the LC-MS from the ELCA in 2008. He is married to Annie, and is the father of four children: Owen, Alma, Hoshea, and Hallel.
Twitter @DonavonRiley