Tonight, we will be continuing our series on the Ordo Salutis. Over the past couple of weeks we have covered quite a few topics and I hope that things are making sense for all of you. In Week 1, we talked about Election & Calling, which are preliminary steps taken by God on our behalf. In the eternity past, God elected those He knew would accept His invitation to salvation and then graciously called us to a proper relationship with Him. In Week 2, Matt spoke to you about Regeneration & Conversion. In these steps, we respond, turning from sin and towards God, and in response He breathes life back into our dead spirits. We are a new creation, dead to the old life of sin and alive in Christ!
This week, we are going to look at the next two steps, which are Justification and Adoption. In these two steps, we are dealing with the “legal” side of salvation. While it’s never fun to think about the legal system, tickets, fines, and bureaucratic red tape (unless you’re Isaac Neal, of course!) the reality is that sometimes we have to deal with those things. It’s just a part of life. When it comes to God, who is Himself just and loves justice, it is also a part of our dealings with Him. The good news for us is that these legal steps are actually a great benefit to us! Let’s dig in a little deeper and see how these to processes, Justification & Adoption, work for our benefit.
One of the best definitions of Justification is as follows: “an act of God’s free grace, where He pardons all our sins, and accepts us as righteous in His sight, because of the righteousness of Christ imputed (credited) to us, and received by faith alone.” Now, I know that sounds like a bunch of legal mumbo-jumbo, but if you work through it slowly it starts to make sense.
It is by the grace of God — Romans 3:24 — “Yet God freely and graciously declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.”
It is not by the works of the law — Romans 3:20 — “For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.”
It is by the blood of Christ — Romans 5:9 — “And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation.”
It is by faith alone — Galatians 2:16 — “Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.”
Why is it important that we are justified? Because until our guilt is removed from us and righteousness is received through Christ, we remain criminals under the sentence of death. We cannot experience the new life in Christ until the old debts are erased. So when we are justified by God we actually receive three gifts: 1) we are forgiven of our sins, 2) we are restored to favor with God, and 3) we are credited with the righteousness of Christ. I know that this can all get a little confusing, so let me give you an example of how this works in the real world.
When I was in college, about halfway through the semester, I would have to start working on my big research paper for each class, which could count for as much as 25% of my final grade. I always dreaded this time, because I knew that when I went to check out books and make copies, before I could proceed with this semester’s work, I would have to pay the fines that I had incurred in the previous semester. I don’t know why I always seem to rack up library fines, but I am the king of forgetting to turn my books in on time (and I’m sure none of you model citizens can relate!) In this example, Justification would be like Jesus going to the library and paying all of my fines for me, even though I did not ask for or deserve it (forgiveness of sins). On top of that, Jesus paid more than I owed, giving me a positive credit that I could use to make copies (imputed righteousness), which at 10 cents/page adds up very quickly! Now, I’m not trying to trivialize sin, spiritual death, or salvation, but I hope you understand what we mean when we talk about Justification.
Another necessary step in salvation is the concept of Adoption, which describes the gracious act of God by which He places the believer in Jesus Christ into His family, giving him the full rights and privileges of mature sonship. This intimate relationship firmly connects us to God as our Father, Jesus as our eldest Brother, and all other believers as our siblings. As Christians, we understand that God designed us to belong, both to Him and to each other. That is why the concept of family is so foundational to every society, every culture, and it is why we strive so hard to preserve our families. In Roman adoption, which is what Paul was referring to when he wrote, the adopted child (or even a grown adult!) became, legally, an entirely new person. Old debts were cancelled, old obligations were negated, and the adopted person was entitled to every benefit that a natural born child would receive.
The Bible uses the idea of adoption to illustrate the change in position, rights & privileges that occurs during salvation:
We are delivered from the penalty of the law — Galatians 4:4-5 — “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.”
We receive the Holy Spirit as a pledge of our inheritance — Ephesians 1:13-14 — “And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him.”
We are placed into a family where we do not naturally belong — 1 John 3:1, 10 — “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him…So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the devil. Anyone who does not live righteously and does not love other believers does not belong to God.”
We have an intimate father-child relationship with God — Romans 8:15 — “So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.””
We all know the Skaggs family, and how they adopted little Zola into their family. Although she was too young to know what was going on, her life was radically altered by her adoption into a family other than her biological parents. In her eyes, Luke and Michelle are the only parents she has. In their eyes, she is their daughter, no different than if she had been born to them naturally. And legally, she is entitled to all the rights and privileges a child deserves. This is what God does for each of us!
When I was a child, I didn’t really understand why the older people at my church always referred to each other as “Brother _____” or “Sister _____.” I found it especially silly that someone who was not even related to me, and was 70 years older than me could be my brother. But as I grew older I realized that they weren’t just delusional, but were simply trying to express their unity, with Christ and with each other. They were viewing themselves and those around them in the same light that God Himself looks at them. What an awesome thought!
Next Week: Sanctification & Perseverance