Please open your Bibles to Romans 5:1
How are sinners made right (justified) with God? Is it by works? Is it by works and faith? Is it by faith alone?
Is this statement true? – “Men and women are justified, made right with God, by faith alone in Jesus and not by good works.” In order to understand the world around us and impact it with the gospel, we must have a biblical understanding of what the gospel is.
Mormon evangelism: 2 Nephi 25:23 – “Saved by grace, after all you can do.”
My burden is that I believe that many within the protestant evangelical church affirm the false gospel of works too. Ligonier Ministries and LifeWay Research polled a survey asking this question to professing evangelicals: “God counts a person as righteous not because of one’s works but only because of one’s faith in Jesus Christ.”
In 2018, 91% of respondents agreed that faith alone was sufficient for salvation. That may be a good percentage, but considering the significance of the question it is still too low among professing Christians. In March of 2020, the same question was asked, and it was decreased to 84% of respondents agreeing.
To have a distorted version of the gospel is to obtain a powerless gospel that cannot lead to an accurate view of the world around us but more importantly it cannot lead to salvation and what we most need with God – peace. If the gospel is about our works plus the work of Christ, then it is not good news at all. The only gospel that is good news to a sinner is one that has a sufficient righteousness outside of themselves that can be received through faith apart from our works. This is the main point of Romans 5:1 – Justification, being declared righteous before God, is by faith, not works.
“Therefore”: Whenever we see the word “therefore” we must always ask ourselves, “what is it there for?” If we want to understand our text properly, we must understand where Paul has taken us thus far in his letter from both the macro and micro level:
MACRO (36,000 ft in the air): Paul’s primary purpose in writing this letter to the church in Rome is to supply the Roman believers with the foundations of the gospel. In Romans 1:1 Paul introduces himself to the Romans by stating he is a slave to Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, and set apart for the gospel of God. It is this gospel of God, not Paul’s gospel but God’s, that will be the driving focus in Paul’s letter. Paul informs the church of the most essential element to the gospel, for Jew and Gentiles (non-Jews) alike, that salvation and righteousness are received by faith alone — apart from the works of the Law.
MICRO (Boots on the ground): Prior to chapter 5 Paul has just walked us through a spiritual indictment on all mankind. He declares in chapter 1 that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men and women who suppress the truth of God. For Paul, no one is truly an unbeliever — we all know God exists and have a moral conscience of right and wrong. The problem then, as Paul describes, is even though we know God exists we do not honor Him nor do we give Him thanks for what He has given, and the consequences of our unrepentant heart and stubbornness is that we are without excuse and the judgment of God rightly falls upon us.
For Paul it is essential that people know the bad news before they can see their need for the good news – the gospel of God. The bad news for sinners is that God is holy, righteous, and just — and mankind is not, and we see this first hand in our failure to keep God’s Law and requirements. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at just four of the ten commandments:
- You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain (OMG)
- You shall not commit adultery (even in the heart Matt. 5:27)
- You shall not steal
- You shall not covet (ever wanted something that was not yours?)
You see the Law was never a bad thing. Romans 7:12 states, So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” It revealed God’s righteous character and standard. The purpose of the Law was to reveal to mankind that they were indeed sinful and in need of a Savior. And just in case Jews thought this was just a Gentile problem only, Paul tells us in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:10-12, quoting Psalm 14, Paul says “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.” (OUCH!)
Inevitably, if mankind is this depraved and wicked, then we are going to need to obtain something else besides our own sin-stained works to offer to God. No matter how prosperous our circumstances may be, our sin has caused us to be truly desperate before God.
This leads to Paul’s thesis statement on how we as mankind can be reconciled back to a holy and righteous God in Romans 3:28- “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the Law.”
Faith… faith is what justifies, not our works or deeds, before God. And it has always been faith that saves as Paul gives us the example of “the father of the faith” – Abraham, quoting Genesis 15 in chapter 4. He says, “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness’” (Rom. 4:3).
It is here that we find Paul in chapter 5 and verse 1. This is what is packed into the word “therefore.” Now having understood where Paul has been prior to this verse, let us read what he has concluded.
“Having been justified by faith”: Before we go further, I want to unwrap for us the word “justified”. It is the Greek word dikaiósis (DE-KAIO-SEIS) and it means to be pronounced righteous before God. To be righteous before God is to have peace with God; it is to be in relationship with God; it is to know God; it is to be known by God in redeeming love. What mankind by nature does not have is righteousness, and righteousness is the very thing needed to be saved before a just and holy God, who cannot sweep sin under a divine rug.
So how do we as sinners obtain this righteousness? It is by faith. Not just faith in general as being labeled a “spiritual person” and affirming the existence of an unknown god and the pursuit of good vibes; but faith in the Person and work of Christ. Our only hope comes in understanding that God has taken on flesh in Christ, that Christ lived a perfect life and died on the cross in the place of all those who would ever turn and trust in Him by faith alone, obtaining an eternal redemption for His people; and that He rose in victory over our sins and now offers to pour out His Holy Spirit into our hearts producing true life change. If we could work our way back to God in any other way, then Christ died needlessly (Gal. 2:20).
This is the good news — that what man could never do on his own, Christ has done for us, and it is received by faith.
Why is justification, being made right with God, by faith alone? Because God is holy, and we are not. The standard of God for righteousness, which is to be morally pure, is perfection. God commands us to be perfect. And as we have seen through the Law (Ten Commandments), none of us have lived up to that standard.
Because we have all fallen short of God’s glory, if a sinner is to receive anything from God that is not judgment, it is going to be a gift of grace and not works. Because we are not just spiritually sick outside of Christ, but dead in sin as Ephesians 2 teaches, even our good moral works and deeds done in the flesh are like filthy rags before a holy God – “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.” – Isaiah 64:6a
Maybe you are saying this bold statement to yourself: “Alex, I am not that bad. I have never sinned.” — I will respond with the apostle John in 1 John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
Or, maybe you are saying: “Alex, I have only broken one of those commandments.” — I will respond with James 2:10, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.”
Remember the purpose of the Law — it is given to show us we are broken, in need of a Savior and unable to earn our way to God by good works and accomplishments. This is why Paul says to the church in Galatia in Galatians 3:24, “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”
I wonder how many of us came into this building today with a sense of security, or insecurity, in our relationship with God? I wonder how many of us truly believe that we are justified and saved by faith — not in our works, but the works of Christ. I wonder how many of us came in here believing that His grace was sufficient to save without our works being a necessary component of being approved and loved by God?
Maybe you ask, why is faith alone sufficient to justify sinners before God? Because our justification, what makes us right with God, is not our faith in and of itself — it is the gift of God through the means of faith in Him that grants us the righteousness that belongs to Jesus, and not ourselves. Let me explain further. The righteousness we receive when we place our trust in Christ is a foreign or alien righteousness. It is a righteousness that is not our own, we did not earn it.
The righteousness we receive when we put our faith in Jesus is His own righteousness that Christ accomplished and earned in His life. This is why Jesus came to earth and became a human being like us – to live life experiencing all the same temptations we do, yet He endured them all without sin. His righteousness earned in His life through His obedience to the Father is imputed to us by faith in Him.
Illustration of Imputation: My wife is a school teacher. She earns her paycheck by abiding by all the standards of being a public educator and by effectively teaching her students the content required. Let’s say my wife took the money she earned and deposited it into my brother’s bank account. My brother, who is not a teacher, did not earn my wife’s money. He did not work for it, yet he has it and it is now completely his – it has been transferred, or imputed, to his account. Likewise with the righteousness of Jesus.
When we look to Christ in faith, the righteousness Jesus earned in His life becomes ours, it is transferred into our spiritual account and that my friends is what justifies us before the Father and allows us to experience salvation, eternal life, and peace with God. When we come to know Christ by faith, the Father no longer looks on us and sees our sin — the only thing He sees is the perfect obedience and righteousness of Jesus. Why can you have confidence and security in your salvation? Because Jesus… because Jesus.
Notice Paul says we are fully justified by faith. The text says “having been justified” — this is a present perfect tense. Why is this significant? When a sinner looks to Christ in faith and turns from their sin, they are completely justified, credited with the righteousness of Christ, and saved forever.
Even though we still struggle with the flesh and our sin nature as Christians, even though our journey of sanctification, becoming more like Christ, is a lifelong journey — from the moment we first looked to Jesus in faith we are forever justified and made right with God.
You see this is essential in understanding the biblical power of the gospel. The Christian, once justified, can never become unjustified. The Christian, once crucified and raised to life in Christ by faith, can never become lost again.
Paul says, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” – Romans 8:29-30
Jesus says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” – John 10:27-28
Those who look to Jesus in genuine faith receive a genuine justification, that can never be removed by life’s circumstances and troubles. In Christ, we have a sure salvation.
As we continue in this verse, Paul tells us of the great accomplishment our justification in Christ by faith receives – peace with God.
“We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”: Before we understand the peace that comes with our justification by faith, we need to understand who is the “we” in this verse, who are the recipients of this peace? Well, It is those who have made Jesus their Lord. Those who know Christ as Lord obtain peace with God. Paul says, “our Lord…” – Paul is reminding believers who submit to the Lordship of Jesus of the peace they have received through faith in Christ.
I mentioned that justification is by faith alone — this may have raised some ears for those familiar with the book of James. James 2:24 says, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” Interpreting Scripture with Scripture, we are able to see that James is referring to those who claim to trust in Christ, claim to believe in Jesus, but never come to know Christ as Lord of their lives.
These are individuals who love the idea of Jesus as a Savior, but not as Lord. Individuals who love the idea of faith and grace, but not repentance and turning from sin. To not know Christ as Lord is to not know Christ as Savior (x2). Repentance, turning from sin and turning toward the Lordship of Christ in our lives, follows genuine faith. We cannot claim to be believers and yet happily break God’s law and live in sin. The Greek word for “repent” is metanoia, literally means “to change your mind”. And because your mind changes, your life changes, too.
Christianity is not a message of covering up your sin and wickedness with good works, acting to be something you are not. It is a hope of real change. In Christ, people truly do change, not just improve. According to the Bible, true change comes through repentance and faith in Christ. But you see, even repentance is not a work of man, but a gift of grace that we receive with faith.
“… if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.” – 2 Timothy 2:25b-26
Charles Spurgeon, the great 19th century preacher in London, once said, “After faith comes repentance, or, rather, repentance is faith’s twin brother and is born at the same time.”
This is the logic that James is using. Genuine faith brings about genuine repentance that brings about genuine life change and good works. God has never saved a soul and it remain the same. Good works have always been a byproduct of salvation, not a prerequisite for it. If Jesus is our Savior, He will also make Himself Lord in our lives and transform us from the inside out.
Spurgeon in his classic book, The Soul Winner, speaks of the dilemma of professing Christ with your mouth but denying Christ with your actions: “They say they are saved, and they stick to it they are, and think it wicked to doubt it; but yet they have no reason to warrant their confidence. There are those who are ready to be fully assured; there are others to whom it will be death to talk of it. There is a great difference between presumption and full assurance. Full assurance is reasonable: it is based on solid ground. Presumption takes for granted, and with brazen face pronounces that to be its own which it has no right whatsoever. Beware, I pray thee, of presuming that thou art saved. If with thy heart thou dost trust in Jesus, then thou art saved; but if thou merely sayest, “I trust in Jesus,” it doth not save thee. If thy heart be renewed, if thou shalt hate the things that thou didst once love, and love the things that thou didst once hate; if thou hast really repented; if there be a thorough change of mind in thee; if thou be born again, then hast thou reason to rejoice: but if there be no vital change, no inward godliness; if there be no love to God, no prayer, no work of the Holy Spirit, then thy saying, “I am saved,” is but thine own assertion, and it may delude, but it will not deliver thee. Our prayer ought to be, “Oh that thou wouldst bless me indeed, with real faith, with real salvation, with the trust in Jesus that is the essential of faith; not with the conceit that begets credulity. God preserve us from imaginary blessings!”
As Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in D.C. once said, “we must realize that it is possible to be an active member of a local church and yet not truly be a member of the people of God.” We can never give enough money, teach enough Sunday school classes, or serve the poor enough to justify ourselves before God. The Bible gives us one, and only one, way for a sinner to be made right with God: Repent of our sins, proclaiming Christ as Lord; and trust in Christ, proclaiming Christ as Savior.
It is those who know Christ as Lord and Savior who receive the peace of God. In what sense do we have peace with God? I believe it is in two ways:
- Emotional peace: “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13
- Spiritual peace: “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the dead of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” – Romans 5:9-10
The work of Christ on the cross is described as reconciliation, where enmity between two parties is resolved. The separation we once experienced from God as His enemies due to our sin is now completely covered by grace and Christ’s perfect righteousness is now ours through faith in Him. The gospel is the good news of God reconciling sinners back to Himself, justifying them by grace through faith — apart from works, lest any man or woman should boast. This is the way to true peace, both within yourself and with God. Stop striving to earn your worth with God. Christ is your worth. Christ is your life. Christ is your hope.
Conclusion: Do you desire to have peace in your life? Are you weary from trying to earn your way to God by being “good enough”? Are you weary from religion and the guilt and shame of knowing that deep inside you know you are not the person everyone thinks you are?
Come, come to Christ — all who are unfaithful and broken; weary and tired; rejected and abused. Sinful and disobedient. Come to Christ. Look to Him and His finished work on the cross on your behalf. Trust in Him. Believe in Him. Surrender to Him. Rest in Him.
How can Jesus in Matthew 11:28 say, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest”? It is because the work that was necessary for salvation has been accomplished in Christ. YOU can REST because Christ has accomplished for you what you could never attain apart from Him. You can rest because in Jesus the work of obtaining righteousness is done, and you are invited to share in His righteousness by faith alone. Come to Christ with nothing but faith. The call of the gospel is to repent, turn from your sin and rely on Christ alone.