A Message from Pastor Hale
Forgiveness is the center of the Christian faith, its proclamation, and our lives in Christ. Without it, no doctrine or teaching is complete or truly Christian. All other teachings support or preserve this teaching of justification — which is the biblical word for the forgiveness of sins.
The world thinks that it knows about forgiveness, but it does not. Since it butchers forgiveness, the special word “justification” is very useful. In the Greek New Testament it is related to “righteousness.” An expert in the law, desiring to justify himself, told Jesus how great he was and all the good things that he had done. But true justification comes only from the true God. What we do or think or say is not the basis for justification, since we are not good. Our sinfulness can only bring condemnation and wrath from God. His Law gives us that verdict, so we cannot live by our own deeds. But justification is God's own verdict of righteousness, not reasons we use to excuse our sinful ways. We can only get in the way of biblical justification — make it less than a gift from God.
Justification is something that happens in heaven. God see us differently — as no longer sinful or unholy. We are given this verdict in words, so that we know God. One act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous (Romans 5:18-19). This justification was earned and accomplished by God's own Son, Christ Jesus, the holy One who died for sinners. It is already won by His blood and is now given to you in the Word. All have access to righteousness. God's own heart is the source of this life-giving righteousness, which alone can give peace to our hearts. Every word of Christ brings this life to lost sinners.
Righteousness to the sinner always means doing things. We are experts in the law — justifying ourselves and condemning others. It is easy for us, because we do not know God's grace by nature — only the Law. We try to achieve righteousness and think that just a few bad habits are stopping us from acceptance. But the doctrine of sin is critical to Christianity. Unless we are convicted by God and deserving of death, we will justify ourselves and think too much of ourselves — minimizing God's righteousness and making Christ's death unnecessary. If we can get a hold of righteousness by our efforts, we don't need a savior.
The root of righteousness is not the law — it is not ourselves at all. The basis for the only true justification is God's love, shown in the sacrifice of Christ for all the world's sins. Your sin was put on Christ, when He suffered on the cross. His death is your death to sin. Justification is not an idea or a theory, it is your life. The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made (Psalm 145:8-9). The verdict given in the Gospel of Christ applies to all. It is the only way to know God and receive His grace.
Without the promise of righteousness apart from the law and our actions, we could never be sure about God. But in the Gospel of forgiveness, God becomes not an unknown power, but a Father who is loving and merciful. No sin prevents His acceptance of you. Christ's holy blood has already finalized your adoption: you are now holy and acceptable. This is your confidence and righteousness. We have rest from the divine law and from the thoughts which accuse and excuse us constantly. God has spoken His verdict over you. Rest in it, not what you seem to be by the judgment of yourself or others.
Unlike the animals, man has the capacity to repent, the counterpoint to belief. To rely on Christ for the forgiveness of sins is also to admit and confess guilt. It is the most natural thing for the Christian to be a sinner and to confess that, according to the Law. But according to God's righteous judgment, we are only righteous and need nothing to be loved by God the Father. Everything is given in Christ, since He was put under the Law for us.
The world says the word “forgiveness” a lot, but does not know anything about God's forgiveness in Christ. It thinks there is no such thing as real forgiveness, only short memories. But God did not laugh off your sins. There is no comfort or certainty there. God did not sweep things under the rug or put them in the closet — those things will come out eventually. Christ will judge the living and the dead on the Last Day. Nothing will be hidden forever, even the deeds done in secret and the thoughts not uttered. But those who are called righteous, actually are in faith, which is created through the word of forgiveness by the Holy Spirit. It is God's own work and declaration in heaven. No sin will follow you or tarnish your status in Christ. His righteousness is now yours.
So don't look at people or things on earth for confidence. Forgiveness is based on God's own heart, which led to Christ's suffering and death. Righteousness is yours; it has already been earned. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53).
We never move past the Gospel or needing to hear of our justification in Christ. When we have the verdict of forgiveness, our sins are actually removed and we are restored to God. This is the most important action possible — because Christ Himself who died for us earned it and speaks it to us. So if you are baptized, trust that you are wrapped fully in Christ's righteousness. This one justification grants eternal life and rescues from death, therefore we should not get bored or tired of hearing this word of justification.
The Lord has not turned you away. Take heart, your sins are forgiven in Christ. This is the basis of our life in Christ. Be certain that the holy God desires to be your God. For this reason He has declared you to be righteous in His sight. Amen.