Sermon

God's Word Faithfully Preached from the Pulpit

Heidelberg Catechism LD 23: Justification by Faith Alone (Genesis 15:1-6 and Romans 3:21-28)

We continue our study from the Heidelberg Catechism, and Lord’s Day 23 begins with the question: “But how does it help you now that you believe all this?”

And the words “all this” point back to what is discussed in the previous Lord’s Days. Kung ire-recall po natin, sa Lord’s Day 7, pinaliwanag po ng ating Catechism na tanging ang mga may tunay na pananampalataya lamang ang maliligtas. And there’s the question, “what then must we believe?” Ano ang dapat nating sampalatayanan?

The answer is the gospel, which is summarized in the Apostles’ Creed.

And in the Apostles’ Creed, we learned:

  • That God, the Father, is both our creator and our loving Father
  • That Christ, the Son of God, is our redeemer and who will return as our glorious King
  • That the Holy Spirit indwells us and applies to us all the saving benefits of Christ. And that God forgives us and give us the hope of resurrection and eternal life.

So now, Lord’s Day 23 asks, “what does it help?” Anong ine-establish nito? Or anong pinapatunayan nito ngayong sumasampalataya ka sa katotohanang ito?

Answer: “That I am righteous (matuwid) in Christ before God and an heir to life everlasting (tagapagmana ng buhay na walang hanggan).

And that is the big concern that everybody has deal with: being right with God / in the sight of God. In the early portions of our Catechism, we establish that we are sinners and God is holy and just. And the big question is: “How can a sinful and totally depraved human being be acceptable to the perfectly holy and righteous God?” [Tagalog: “Paanong ang isang makasalanang tao ay magiging katanggap-tanggap sa harapan ng banal at matuwid na Diyos?”]

This is where we encounter the term “justification.” Simply put, justification is an act or state wherein God legally declares a believer as righteous. And again, the question is: “Paano yun? Paanong mangyayari na ang isang makasalanan ay ituturing ng Diyos na matuwid?”

Question and Answer 60 answers that—”Only by true faith in Jesus Christ.” Tanging sa pamamagitan ng tunay na pananampalataya kay Jesu-Cristo.

That will be our topic this afternoon: Justification by faith alone. And we will consider three points in our sermon:

  1. The instrumental cause of our justification
  2. The ground of our justification (and we will look into those 2 together, and in the end)
  3. Our response to our justification.

Let us read God’s Word in Romans 3:21-26

  • V. 21 — “But now…”

And the conjunction makes the connection with the previous passages wherein Paul says, “There is no one righteous, not even one…” And in the previous verse (v. 20), he states that, “by works of the law no human being will be justified”

“But now” this is the way a human being will be justified.

  • V. 21 — “… the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law”

Yung “righteousness” po dito ay hindi lang tumutukoy sa inherent righteousness mismo ng Diyos, but also on the righteousness that God gives and imputes upon human beings for their justification.

This righteousness is apart from the law, Yes, the whole Old Testament bear witness that the only way to be acceptable in the sight of God is perfect obedience to the Law, but men cannot achieve it themselves.

How then is the righteousness attained?

  • V. 22 — “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”

It is not by working or obeying the Law, but by believing in Jesus Christ. Paul is making a truth statement: What leads to our salvation is not our works, but faith.

  • V. 23 — “For there is no distinction…”

The conjunction “For” means this is the reason or supporting argument for that statement…

  • “… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and 24 are justified by his grace as a gift…

And as explained by Paul in Romans 4, if it is a gift, hindi ‘to isang bagay na trinabaho mo o pinagsikapan mo. It is by grace, undeserved. Hence, it is a gift.

  • “… through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood

Propitiation is the atoning work that satisfies the justice of God, hence it implies the perfect righteousness of Christ.

  • “… to be received by faith”

What is received by faith? The gift of justification because of Christ’s redemption. “Sinners are justified by his grace as a gift to be received by faith.” And that’s the main argument of Paul for justification by faith alone: Since all have sinned, since all are sinners, then there’s no other way for us to be right with God and reconciled to him except through faith. There’s no way we can work it out ourselves. It must be only through faith.

  • V. 25 — “… This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Because God’s justice is now satisfied, he can declare a sinner as righteous. He provided the means for justification, and he’s the one who declares people right before him.

Marami pong pwedeng ma-consider sa passage na ‘to, but we consider two things here which our catechism also explains:

A. First, we see faith as the instrumental cause of justification

Although in this passage, Paul used “justification through faith,” he also uses the phrase “justified by faith.” This word “by” suggests that justification is “caused” by faith. And that raises the question: “Paanong tayo ay nagiging matuwid sa pamamagitan ng pananampalataya?”

One helpful way to look at it is through the “law of causality” according to Aristotle. Si Aristotle po ay isang ancient Greek philosopher who influenced much of the Western way of thinking and explaining truths. At ito rin po yung ginamit ng mga Reformers to explain justification by faith alone.

Imagine a sculpture or miniature as an example.

According to Aristotle, for something to exist, there must be 4 or 5 causes.

  • Material cause — The piece of wood or chunk of paper
  • Efficient cause — The person who does the act, the one driving the whole process
  • Formal cause — The plan or blueprint, the basis or the ground of the whole work
  • Instrumental cause — The chisel and hammer. There’s nothing inherently special in the instrument. It is still the choice of the person which instrument to choose, and how to use it according to the plan.

Now, according to the Reformers, the moving cause or the efficient cause of our justification is the grace and mercy of God.

What drives God to fulfill the entire redemptive plan is his will and pleasure. Hindi Siya na-”motivate” na iligtas tayo kasi mabuti tayo at kaligtas-ligtas tayo. Kundi dahil lang sa Kanyang grasya at awa, ninais Niya tayo’y iligtas, patawarin, at ituring na matuwid.

So the efficient cause is the grace of God. But how does that salvation become actually ours? The Reformers explained that the instrumental cause of our justification is faith.

As Paul also said in Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.”

It is the means of our salvation. Ang pananampalataya ang kaparaanan ng Diyos kung papaanong ang lahat ng benepisyo ng kaligtasan na natamo ni Cristo ay napapa-sa-atin. God can use other instruments or means, but he designed salvation to be through faith. We don’t earn and work for it. Not by penance or other sacraments (As Roman Catholic puts it). It is only through faith: by repenting and believing in the person and work of Jesus Christ. By not just knowing Christ, but also believing and appropriating Christ to ourselves.

To clarify, even faith itself is a gift from God. It is not by our own efforts to believe. In Lord’s Days 25, Q. 65, the catechism states that “The Spirit works [faith] in our hearts…” It is the fruit of our regeneration. Kaya nga po kapag tayo o ang isang tao ay tunay na sumampalataya, it only proves na kumilos na ang Diyos. Walang taong pinili, binuhay, at pinagkilusan ng Diyos na hindi sasampalataya.

So in justification by faith… in respect to God, he applies the righteousness and benefits of Christ to us and declares it to us. In respect to us, we simply believe it and accept it to be true, that in Jesus Christ, we are already forgiven and righteous before God—we realize it and apply it to ourselves by faith.

So faith is the instrumental cause, the means of our justification.

Now, the next question is, “How is it possible that we can be justified by simply believing?” “On what basis that we are justified?” Jesus Christ and his perfect righteousness.

B. Second, we see Jesus Christ’s righteousness as the ground of our justification

According to the Reformers, the formal cause—the basis and ground—upon which God brings about justification is the satisfaction that Christ fulfilled.

As Paul said, the gift of justification is brought about by the redemption that is in Jesus Christ. Kung hindi nabuhay si Cristo nang perpekto, at kung hindi siya namatay para sa ating mga kasalanan—then there’s no reason that God will forgive us and declare us righteous. But because God’s justice is already fully satisfied by the perfect righteousness of Christ—his active and passive obedience—then forgiveness and justification is now possible and given to us.

And that’s what makes the gospel the gospel—the good news. Our righteousness does not depend on our righteousness (which is actually unrighteousness). Our righteousness depends on the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. And God imputes it to us through faith.

Pag sinabi po nating “imputation,” ibinintang. Pag pinag-bintangan ka para sa isang malaking problema, kahit hindi naman ikaw ang gumawa nun—lalabas na ikaw na yung gumawa nun. So in our salvation, the Bible explains (e.g., 2 Corinthians 5:21), that our sin was imputed to Christ. Kahit hindi naman talaga Siya ang nagkasala, Siya ang umako nun at nagbayad nun para sa’tin. 

And in the same way, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us. Kahit hindi naman tayo ang naging matuwid talaga sa mata ng Diyos, itinuturing tayong matuwid ng Diyos alang-alang kay Cristo. God counts and attributes to us Christ’s merit and righteousness.

This happens while we are still sinners. In our justification, we are not miraculously changed into sinless people. Tayo’y mga makasalanan pa rin, at patuloy na nakikipaglaban sa kasalanan habang tayo’y binabago ng Banal na Espiritu patungo sa wangis ni Cristo. But God does not demand that we be actually righteous ourselves in order to consider us as righteous in his sight.

Yun po kasi yung ginigiit ng Roman Catholic eh. Kailangan mo maging perpektong matuwid para maging matuwid talaga sa mata ng Diyos.

But as R.C. Sproul puts it:

“The good news of the gospel is that we don’t have to wait until we become perfectly righteous in ourselves [i.e., actually righteous]… before God will consider us and declare us righteous or accept us in His sight as justified people. God makes a provision for justification whereby people who are sinners, while they are still sinners, can be reconciled to Him and declared just in His sight.”

If God will look at us, in and of ourselves… if God will consider us in our naked humanity… he will see nothing but a sinner. But when we believe in Christ, God looks at us and he sees Christ and his perfect righteousness in us. That is the basis, the ground, the reason why we are forgiven and justified as righteous in God’s sight.

So when we consider both faith and the righteousness of Christ—we are saved through faith, but not on account of our faith. And although our act or level of faith is imperfect, we are saved because the object of our faith (Jesus Christ) is perfect.

So justification is that legal act of God by which he declares and considers the sinner as righteous through faith on the basis of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Now, upon understanding our justification by the grace of God, through faith alone in Jesus Christ—what should be our response.

C. Now, Our Response to Our Justification

First, for those who have not yet believed in Jesus Christ but you hope that when you die God will accept you in heaven—let me tell you this, do not think that you are “good enough” to stand before God.

Maraming po sa ating mga tao ngayon, iniisip natin, “Naging mabuti naman ako na anak, naging mabuti naman ako na magulang, naging mabuti naman ako na tao. Wala naman ako kaaway.”

Ang tanong, “Naging mabuti nga ba talaga tayo?”

You may think na wala ka namang “tinatapakan” na tao. But friend, that is not the demands of God’s justice. God’s justice is not based on our standards, but based on the perfect righteousness of God. If you consider God’s law, he demands that we “love God with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our strength.”

At kung susuriin po natin ang ating mga sarili—we never truly loved God. In our nature, we hate God and always loved ourselves, our sins, and this world.

Kaya nga po sabi sa Psalm 130:1, “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities… who could stand?” WALA! All of us are guilty!

And do not think that you can work it on your own. Mayabang po kasi tayo. Kahit sa ibang tao, minsan o madalas ayaw natin yung may utang na loob sa iba. Gusto natin yung pinaghihirapan natin. Yung pinagtatrabahuhan natin.

But friends, you can’t! You simply can’t be righteous on your own. By ourselves, we are nothing but sinners in the sight of God, helpless, hopeless, wretched, despicable, and worthy of hell!

Nevertheless, though we are never “good enough” in the sight of God, there’s one and only person whose righteousness is all sufficient before God’s judgment throne—Jesus Christ. Bagama’t tayo’y makasalanan, si Cristo ay naging matuwid alang-alang sa atin, at Siya ang pinako sa krus para pagbayaran ang ating mga kasalanan at tayo’y maligtas. At pangako ng Diyos na ang biyaya na ito ay mapapasa-atin kung tayo ay magsisisi at mananalig lamang kay Cristo.

You don’t need to do the same thing Christ did. You don’t need to pay for it. Christ already did everything; You just believe. That’s the good news! Believe that you are a sinner and that Christ is your perfect Savior—and you shall be saved.

At kung iisipin mo, “Eh paano yun, hirap pa nga ako maka-gets sa mga tinuturo sa theology… Ambilis ko panghinaan ng loob… Ang babaw pa ng pananampalataya ko. Etc. etc.”

Well, friend, here’s the good news: Your salvation does not rest on the perfection of your faith, but in the perfection of Jesus Christ. As long as Christ is the object of your faith—not yourself, not anything else—God declares you righteous in his sight. 

So if you think your faith is weak or shallow (“mahina” o |mababaw”), pray to God, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” Believe in the Lord Jesus, and in his perfect righteousness, and you shall be saved.

And now for us who believe in Jesus Christ. Let this be a reminder of the immeasurable greatness of God’s salvation and a call for humility and gratitude. As Paul says in Romans 3:27 – “Our boasting is excluded.” Ephesians 2:9 – “we are saved not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Consider the words of our Catechism:

“God grants and credits to me
The perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ,
     as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner,
     and as if I had been as perfectly obedient
          as Christ was obedient for me.”

How could we boast in this? How could we not be grateful in this?

Imagine at work, may kailangan kayong tapusin na mga projects. And there’s this one person who messed up, at dahil dun sa’yo na lang binigay yung project. So you did it, you finished it. But on the day of recognition, the boss gives all of you a reward, and he also gives that other person the same reward for what you did. 

Anong maiisip mo ‘nun? It unfair! He never deserves it!

You see, brother and sisters, we are that other person. Christ is the one who satisfied God’s justice. And when God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us, we receive something that we never deserve. But what is essentially unfair to Christ is actually a demonstration of God’s perfect grace to us. OUR SALVATION IS PURELY BY GRACE.

It is “without any merit of our own, it is out of sheer grace.” And because it is grace, we have no reason to boast, but to give thanks and be joyful!

It is not even because we are Reformed. Yes, having a deeper knowledge and understanding of God’s truth leads to a greater enjoyment of God’s salvation. But our faith is not the basis of our standing before God. Our growth in faith is never a reason for pride, but for humility and even patience to others. The more we know God’s Word, the more we see how undeserving we are and how amazing God’s grace is.

Consider and meditate on this: While we still struggle with sin, while we still experience doubts and weakness of faith—God looks at us now as forgiven, righteous, and acceptable in his sight… all because of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Oh, may it cause us believers to live in deep gratitude, joy, comfort, and peace, and give all praises and glory to God alone. Let us pray.

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