Justification by Faith is the Catholic Gospel

October 28, 2007 / No. 3382

Dear Radio Friends,

      The church of the Lord Jesus Christ today celebrates a wonderful work of God called the Reformation of the sixteenth century, the time in which God arose and restored the gospel to the church through His servants Martin Luther, John Calvin, and many others—the gospel of justification by faith alone.

     The apostle Paul explains this wonderful truth of the gospel throughout his writings and epistles, especially in the third chapter of the book of Romans.  We will direct our attention today, in commemoration of the Reformation, to that chapter ( Rom. 3), with particular emphasis upon verses 29 and 30.  Justification, which the apostle Paul is explaining in those verses, is the wonderful truth that we are made right with God only through the work of Jesus Christ upon the cross.  His righteousness, or His perfect obedience rendered upon the cross, is imputed, that is, reckoned to the account of all of God’s elect, so that I am innocent in the court of heaven, forgiven of my sins, and declared to be innocent and righteous before God, solely, exclusively, only, and surely upon the work of Jesus Christ for me on the cross.  Martin Luther put it this way:  “Thou art my righteousness; but I am Thy sin.  Thou hast taken what belonged to me; Thou hast given me what is Thine.  Thou becamest what you were not so that I might become what I was not.”

     As a very good teacher, the apostle Paul, after explaining this wonderful truth, proceeds in Romans 3:27-31 to bring out implications, for our lives, of the truth of justification by faith, namely, that we are made right with God through the work of Christ.  The first implication, which he brings out in verses 27 and 28, is that boasting is excluded.  The second implication, which he brings out in verses 29 and 30, is that human distinctions are abolished.  Justification by faith means that there is one way of salvation for all men, whosoever they be.  The third implication, which he brings out in verse 31, is that justification by faith upholds the law, does not subvert the law.  Justification by faith (the truth that we are declared saved and forgiven solely by the work of Christ) does not gender a godless life, but it is the source of a new and true life of obedience to God.

     In commemoration of the Reformation we want to look today at verses 29 and 30—that second implication of the truth of justification by faith.  We read:  “Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles?  Yes, of the Gentiles also:  seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircum-cision through faith.”  The apostle Paul is bringing out an implication of the truth of justification that our minds do not usually think of.  When we think of justification by faith, the truth that we are made right in the work of Jesus, we think of personal peace.  We think, especially today, of the need to defend this truth against all notion of any merit.  The sinner, the child of God, the chosen of God, cannot and does not stand right before God on the basis of any work that he or another human being could do, but only on the work of Jesus.

     But here the Holy Spirit is bringing another application of this truth.  And that application is that the one God saves in one way out of every nation.  The blood of Jesus Christ was shed for the elect of all nations.  Black, white, brown—all nations.  Justification by faith is, therefore, the catholic gospel—the word “catholic” now being used in the sense of universal.  God saves, out of all the earth, out of every race, out of every nation, one way—through the blood of Jesus Christ, through the great truth of justification by faith alone.

     So, beware, Christian, of your prejudice.  We could read the verse this way:  “Is he the God of the middle-class American believer only?  Is he not also the God of the Far East, India, among all nations?  Yes, he is.  He is the God of white and black.  He is the God in Jakarta and Pretoria and Grand Rapids and Sao Paulo.  The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses God’s children out of every nation.”  So the Reformed church that believes this glorious gospel of justification by faith alone has a burden for missions.  Since one God has justified one way out of all nations, this gospel must not be kept within the confines of those who know it.  We must not become content simply that we possess and know this glorious gospel of justification by faith.  But the Reformed, biblical church, that is, the church that is the child of the Reformation, is a mission-hearted church.  Justification by faith is the catholic gospel, the universal gospel.  It declares that there is among all nations one God and one way of salvation—that being in the blood of Jesus by grace alone.

     The apostle Paul says, “Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith”—that would be a reference at that time to the Jewish nation; “and uncircumcisionthrough faith”—a reference at that time to the Gentiles, or to those who were not Jews.  He says, “The one God justifies.”  The God who justifies is one.

     Now what does that mean?  Well, it means, first of all, that there is only one true God, not many gods.  There is one God.  This is absolutely necessary to the Christian faith. This is truth, absolute truth.  Isaiah 44:6:   “I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.”  Isaiah 43:10-12:   “Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord…that I am God.”  This is what the apostle Paul says of God in Romans 11:36:   “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things:  to who be glory for ever.  Amen.”  If, now, that is what it means to be God—that all things are of Him, through Him, and to Him—there cannot be two gods.  All things are of Him.

     There is one God who is the ultimate source of all things.  All things are through Him.  God, one God, is the sustainer of all things.  And all things are unto Him, that is, the goal of all things is His own glory.  There is only one God.  This is crucial, now, for the truth of justification.  There is one God before whom all men stand.  And there is only one way to be right with Him.  It is not dependent upon your culture or your skin color.  It is alone through His Son Jesus Christ.  Every man stands before Him and is answerable to Him—the Hindu in India, the Taoist in Tokyo, the executive in New York, the grade-school boy in Hudsonville, Michigan.  How can you be right with God?  Only one way—through the blood of Jesus Christ.

     This point is so crucial in our day of pluralism—the belief in many gods.  Do we, as the Christian church, dare open our mouth and share our faith?  Jesus Christ is the way, truth, and life.  No one comes to the Father but by Him.  In an age in which religion is accounted to be this, that everyone’s view, everyone’s religion, is right, and the only evil is to be exclusive—in such an age, do we, the children of the Reformation, stand in awe of God?

     In our day it is said that all religions are equal.  It is said that we are all climbing a mountain, one on this side, the other on the other side.  God is in us all.  We are all going to the summit.  But then comes the truth of the Christian gospel:  there is one God; there is only one way of salvation with Him.  The conflict and opposition of the world of unbelief to the Christian church is inevitable.  Many will make it very clear to you, as a Christian, that they are very happy for you to have your God.  And they have theirs.  It does not matter which one you have, as long as you have one and you are a nice man and you care about other people.  Some will believe, in some kind of hazy way, that there are several gods, and to each his own.  Others believe that God is so indefinable that you really cannot know anything real or true about Him.  And then comes the gospel saying there is only one God—the God of Holy Scripture who shall justify one way.  There is only one way to Him, through the blood of Jesus Christ.  The important question, the only question of your life, is this:  Are you right with the only true God?  And there is only one way to be right with Him:  in the blood of His dear Son shed upon Calvary’s cross.

     There is one God.  That statement of the apostle implies what we call God’s simplicity, or oneness.  God is what He is, and He is not something else.  He is a God of fixed attributes.  He does not change.  He does not reveal Himself to those people over there in the world with this personality and to these people over here with that personality.  He does not say to these people, “This is the way to please Me and to come into My presence,” and to another group of people, “No, this is the way.”  He is not a God of wrath, fire, and judgment in the Old Testament  and now in the New Testament a God of love and mercy.  He does not reveal Himself one way in the Philippines and another way in Ghana and still a third way in western Michigan, and then in a fourth way in Sumatra.  He is one.  He is the I AM THAT I AM.  He is not multi-personality.  He is not contradictory revelation.  He is united in His being.  He is who He is.

     You meet a fellow believer, a Christian, on a business trip from Sydney, from London, from Delhi, and you say, “Our God is the same to me as He is to you.”  The apostle says, in Ephesians 3:14, 15, “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.”  So here is the basis, here is the foundation, of the truth of the Reformation, Christian gospel:  it is one God who shall justify through faith in Jesus Christ.  Are you right, right now, with this only true God?

     This has tremendous implications.  The true Christian faith is threatening to our age of religious pluralism.  The truth of justification by faith is the most threatening thing to the world of unbelief.  Why?  Because it is the absolute claim of God on all persons of all nations and religions.  He is God alone and there is but one way to Him:  through faith in Jesus Christ.  It calls for repentance from all false religions and all false faiths.  And faith in the one true God and His Son, Jesus Christ.

     This is the Christian gospel.  Since 9/11, we are more and more aware of pluralism.  A hundred fifty years ago we were not so well acquainted.  Now, with modern technology, the whole world lives next door to each other.  We are no longer protected and isolated.  We stand as Christians in the midst of a world of idols.  But this is not the first time that that has been true of the Christian church.  The early church, in the first centuries, lived in a pluralistic world of many gods.  Christians in the first century confessed one God and one Lord Jesus Christ and one salvation, and they suffered and died in the Roman coliseums because they reverenced the one God and cherished His one Son Jesus Christ.

     Now we, today, as the Christian church, represent this same message—the saving gospel of God in this world.  Apart from faith, the world will see this as a threat.  Not because our God and His Son are advanced by guns and bombs or by democracy.  It is the false gods who are advanced by force.  Christianity is not advanced by force.  Christianity advances irresistibly by the proclamation of this God in the Holy Scriptures, and then by the lives of the people of God who are chosen and believe in Him.  It declares that God is God alone.  There is but one way to Him—through His Son Jesus Christ.  Repent or perish!

     I know that I will be called arrogant and filled with presumption.  Many will say, “Who do you think you are?  The Muslim must be converted or he perishes?  The Hindu must renounce his Hinduism?  The self-willed, pleasure-mad American must turn from his materialism or he will perish?  How arrogant.  How bigoted!  Who makes you to know?”

     In response, standing upon the Word of God, we declare that all religious pluralism is antichrist religion.  It is pious, outwardly pious, but it is intolerant of God, the One God, and the only way of salvation.  To declare God and the only way of salvation through His Son—this is love.  For if you do not know Jesus and what God has done by grace through Him, you will perish.  This is what love prompts us to do.  As Christians we go out into the world with this message:  “God is God alone.  And only in His Son, by grace, through His death, is there life, true life, to be found with God.”

     The oneness of God, says the apostle, implies that there is only one way of salvation for both Jew and Gentile, for the elect of God out of all peoples.  The apostle asks, “Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles?  Yes, of the Gentiles also.”  God has willed to gather His church out of all nations.  The elect church of God is catholic, or universal.  God has already said to Abraham, “In thee shall all nations of the earth be blessed.”  Not one nation, not one race, possesses the gospel, lest they say to God, “Well, it was because I was an American, or because I have this skin color, that I am saved.”  Oh, no!  Truth is, all men, regardless of nation, culture, or skin color, are alike fallen in Adam.  Not one nation is righteous.  There is none better than another.  Since there is one God, He has willed to save one church out of all nations in one way—through the blood of His Son Jesus Christ.

     And so Paul says, “Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith,” it is only through faith in Jesus Christ, in the blood of Jesus Christ, that one is saved.  Hear the gospel!  The Indian is not saved by his belief in a spirit world.  The Sherpa of Nepal is not saved by his prayer-wheel.  The sheik in Arabia is not saved by bowing toward Mecca.  The American in this country is not saved because his father went to church.  But an Indian, a Sherpa, a sheik, an American teenager is saved one way, through faith in Jesus Christ alone, God’s gift.  Ephesians 2:8:   “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves:  it is the gift of God.”  The gospel message is the same for all.  There is one way of salvation.  Do you understand?  Repent and believe.

     That call of the gospel is not simply for those who live in a slum or live on crack or who are drunken or who are degenerate.  It is equally for the respectful, for the decent, for those who are raised in the church.  Here is the gospel:  there is one God.  You must and you will answer to Him, for He made you.  There is one way of salvation—through faith, God’s gift in His Son Jesus Christ as my righteousness.

     And to all else—Muslim, Hindu, Americans, with their self-sufficiency and complacency—unless you repent, you will perish.  The way of salvation that God has provided cuts across all ethnic, cultural, and national barriers.  God will justify the circumcision by faith and the uncircumcision through faith.  The gospel of justification is the only way to heaven.  God is no local deity.  Baal in the Old Testament might have been the god of the Canaanites.  Zeus might have been the god of the Greeks.  Diana of the Ephesians and Allah of the Muslims.  But God is the God of the earth—every square inch is His.  And from it He will take one people in Jesus Christ, who will proclaim, “Worthy is the Lamb who hath redeemed us to God by His blood out of every kindred, tongue, people, and nation.”  Out of every culture, color, height, look He redeems in the blood of His dear Son—one elect church, justified one way, through the blood of Jesus Christ.

     So the Reformation gospel is the mission gospel.  Declare His name among the nations.  Sing unto the Lord a new song.  Sing all the earth to God.  Tell His salvation from day to day.  Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous works among all people.  Do you understand?  The blood shed to justify me, the sinner, was shed to justify the elect out of all nations—black man and brown man, one culture and another culture—all chosen eternally of grace.

     The gospel must go forth to bring the redeemed in the blood of Jesus home to the Father.  Go into all the world and preach the gospel.  Preach one God.  One problem—sin.  One Savior—Jesus Christ.  One possibility—God’s grace.  And one call—repent and believe.

     For is He the God of your church only?  Is He not also the God of His people in the Philippines?  In India?  In China?  Yes!  Of the Filipinos and Chinese also.

     Is He the God of the aged only?  Or of parents only?  Is He not also the God of children?  Yes, seeing there is one God who shall justify His people one way.  Does He come only for a certain social class?  Is He the God of one social class only?  Is He not the God of the poor and the lowly, as well as of the rich and the lofty?  Yes.  He is the God of all those who by His grace alone confess Jesus Christ as their righteousness and their joy and their only hope.

     For this gospel, our Reformed fathers gave their life.  They died in order that it might be published.  Let us not fear in this age, an age that wants to shut the mouth of the gospel of salvation by grace in Jesus Christ.  But let us publish, let us preach, let us pray, let us live the gospel.  Let our hearts feast on the gospel.  It is truth:  Righteous in Jesus only.  It is amazing.  God has justified out of all nations, in the blood of Jesus, one people to live before Him and to praise Him—Tokyo, Jakarta, Bagh-dad, London, Johannesburg—out of all nations and all races.

     Why should that seem incredible to you?  For He has justified the chief of sinners, Christian, in yourself.

     Let us pray.

     Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word so precious and so pure.  Seal it to our hearts in Jesus’ name, Amen.