By The Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
INTRODUCTION:Have you ever noticed that, no matter what, that some people just always get it wrong? Paul Harvey, in his book FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH, tells about a county jail in south Florida where jail officials found a plastic trash bag hanging to the bars of a cell.
Inside was Jimmy Jones, a prisoner who hoped he’d get taken out with the trash. And he might have, except for one thing, during roll call his reflexes took over. When the name Jimmy Jones was called… From inside the bag came a muffled response: “Here.” It’s strange but some people just can’t seem to get it right, can they?
In the Premium edition of This Is True by Randy Cassingham, he reports on a story in the Chicago Tribune. One evening, after allegedly drinking 10 beers, Steven Glenn, 38, of Plainfield, Ill., thought it would be a good idea to light a 10-inch commercial fireworks shell he had. In his house. He set it up and lit it. In his living room. Plainfield Fire Chief John Eichelberger said, “The whole house is pretty much, from the concussion of the explosion and the fire and the smoke, totaled.” Glenn was treated and released; his girlfriend Shauna Adams, 33, was hospitalized in fair condition. The house was a rental.
It’s strange but some people just can’t seem to get it right, can they?
We may not be able to get it right on our own. But the Good News is, that the Apostle Paul says we have been made right with God. And that is very Good News, especially for those of us who seem to get it wrong all the time or at least most of the time.
Let’s look at the passage from Romans 5:1-8.
1Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
6For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
Did you hear that? You and I have been made right with God, through Christ. Think of that. We don’t have to wonder whether we’ll be found acceptable when we stand before the throne of grace. We don’t have to keep trying to earn our salvation. Because of what Christ has done, those of us who so often get it wrong have been made right! Wow!!
So how does this take place? How are we made right with God?
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A. Paul says we receive all this simply through faith. He writes: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” For me, that’s one of the key verses in this passage.
When the writer Winifred Holtby was asked why the characters in her book South Riding, were uniformly untrustworthy, she replied: “I intended to make them good, but they would not be.”
That describes us. Let’s face it, most of us can’t and don’t always do what is right or righteous. We miss the mark. We don’t get it right. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God. Consequently there is a gulf between us and God. Our peace with God is destroyed. Christ is the one who bridges that gulf and restores our peace with God.
Through our faith in Christ Jesus we are forgiven and accounted righteous in God’s eyes. Through our faith in Christ we are declared innocent and we are acquitted of any wrong doing. Through our faith in Christ we are declared guiltless and blameless, all of our jagged edges are lined up and we can stand straight and tall before God, because we are justified through Christ.
B. Apart from Christ that’s not possible. Apart from Christ, we might think something is laid to rest, dead and buried, but then all of a sudden it’s “night of the living dead.” The guilt of our actions, the guilt of our sin, rises to haunt us again and again. That’s not the kind of resurrection Jesus was talking about.
Jesus offers forgiveness and freedom from guilt. We are forgiven and made righteous.
In a San Diego courtroom two men were on trial for robbery. A witness was being examined by the prosecuting attorney who asked the following sequence of questions. “Were you at the scene when the robbery took place?” “Yes,” was the reply. “And did you observe the two robbers?” Again, the witness nodded and said, “Yes.” The attorney then turned up the heat and boomed out his last question. “Are those two men present in court today?” (1)
There was no need for the witness to answer or for the jury to deliberate very long because the two defendants both raised their hands. Even though those two crooks weren’t very bright, they do teach us a little about our spiritual journey. We start our journey toward justification and acquittal before God when we acknowledge our guilt and put our faith in Christ.
II. THROUGH TRUST:
A. There’s a scene in C. S. Lewis’ book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, in which the children ask about Aslan the lion. If you’ve never read the wonderful stories of Narnia, Aslan is the Christ figure in Lewis’ stories. The children look at Aslan and ask, “Is he safe?” And the reply from the other characters is, “Of course he’s not safe. But he’s good.”
The same thing could probably be said about Christ. He looked safe. He looked harmless. But He turned out to be anything but, for he challenged the Disciples. And He challenges us. He challenges us to trust Him completely and follow Him.
B. Jesus challenges u, to move beyond our comfort zone. Once again, He calls us, like the Disciples, to step out on faith and follow him. It may not be safe, but it’s a Good thing. For when we put our faith and trust in Christ, and Christ alone, then we are justified before God.
It’s interesting to me that the word “Justify” has three different yet major uses.
First: it is a legal term which means the opposite of condemn; it means to show or give a satisfactory reason for having done something.
Second: it’s a printing term used to describe the process of taking the ragged edges out of a printing job by lining up both edges of the text and spacing the letters correctly. (Most Bibles and newspapers are printed this way.)
And Third: it’s a theological term which means to make one righteous through freeing them from the blame or guilt of sin through forgiveness.
And all three apply. First, in John 3:17 Jesus says, “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Second, in the process of Salvation, God straightens up all our ragged edges and lines up our lives with Scriptural Holiness.
Third, we are set free from the guilt of our sin and offered forgiveness. And that’s a joyous thing if we simply trust Christ and trust God.
III. EVEN IN SUFFERING:
A. This justifying faith and trust breeds confidence in our future. As Christians we believe tomorrow will be better than today. Why? Because we believe that God holds the future. The light at the end of the tunnel isn’t an oncoming train. It’s the light of God’s glory. It’s the light of Christ. We can have faith, that even if we should do wrong again, or if things should go terribly wrong in our lives, God will continue to be faithful. Because God is ALWAYS FAITHFUL.
And it’s not unusual for horrible or just weird circumstances to yield beneficial results and be a means of bringing glory to God.
A man once tried to kill Samuel L. Brengle by throwing a brick at his head. Brengle survived the attack, but had a long convalescent time. During that period he wrote many inspiring articles which were put into a book entitled HELPS TO HOLINESS. The book was a huge success. Later his wife said, “Had there been no brick, there would have been no book!” She kept the brick and had some words from the Old Testament painted on it. They were the words from Genesis 50:20. Joseph spoke those words to the brothers who’d sold him into slavery and said: “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good..” Sometimes it happens just like that. Sometimes what we think is the most tragic event that could ever happen to us, leads to some later triumph.
B. But even if it doesn’t, there’s still Good News. Paul tells us that even when we see no beneficial results, at least with God’s help we can keep growing. Nothing that happens in this world is in vain if we entrust it to God. Most of us will say that some of the most valuable lessons we learned in life were learned through adversity. Sometimes, just hanging on, not giving up, not giving in is all it takes to get it right. Paul put it like this: “We boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
There is a story of how Louis XII of France treated his enemies after he ascended to the throne. Before coming to power, he’d been cast into prison and kept in chains. Later when he did become king, he was urged to seek revenge but he refused. Instead, he prepared a scroll on which he listed all those who had perpetrated crimes against him. Behind every person’s name he placed a cross in red ink. Well, when the guilty heard about this, they feared for their lives and fled.
Then the king explained, “The cross which I drew beside each name was not a sign of punishment, but a pledge of forgiveness extended for the sake of the crucified Savior, who upon His cross forgave His enemies and prayed for them.” (1)
We know what kind of lives we lead. We don’t always get it right. As a consequence sometimes we lose all hope. We see the cross and think only of the judgment and the consequences of our action and we’re consumed by guilt. Sometimes that guilt gets in the way of accepting God’s forgiveness and we get the message all mixed up.
When in actuality, the Good News is that all we really need is to trust God and trust the faith that we claim. I don’t want it to be oversimplified, but some people are terrified of being justified because they think they might be modified and their lives nullified. Well, you will be gratified and I hope mollified to know that, when we are justified we are not nullified but rather dignified and classified and identified with the one who was crucified and glorified God. Our lives are purified and fortified by the one who exemplified God’s love. And though we are mystified at how we can be justified by faith to the one who was dissatisfied; we are edified, our faith is intensified and revivified. Through our faith we are certified, justified and made a bona-fide child of God. I hope that clarified what it means to be justified; and amplified the message testified to by Paul.
Once we are justified and find peace with God through faith in Christ. And when we have peace with God, we can follow His Son, anywhere. Like the disciples, like all Christians, we are called to follow Jesus. And because we are justified by faith through Christ, we will be strengthened in every way to follow.
And that’s the challenge. Getting It Right simply means Getting Right with God.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. The Pastor’s Story File (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), June 1994