Justification By Faith
July 23rd, 1972 @ 10:50 AM
JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-23-72 10:50 a.m.
You are fortunate if you are listening on radio and television, worshiping with us in the First Baptist Church here in Dallas. We welcome you, and humbly pray that God shall make this service an encouragement, a blessing to your soul. This is the pastor bringing the sermon from the Book of Galatians. In these morning hours, we are preaching through Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia. And the title of the message is the theme of the book, Justification By Faith. If there was any key to the gospel preached by the apostle Paul, that is it: that we are saved by grace and not by works.
He wrote that gospel in this letter to the churches of Galatia, the churches that he founded on his first missionary journey, he wrote it in a white heat, and the very composition of the book is a thunderbolt. He wrote the same treatise, the same gospel message, in his letter to the church at Rome. The difference lies in the letter to the churches of Galatia. He is a fury; it is a fire in his bones! He has been greatly disturbed. The letter that he wrote to Rome concerning the same thing is studied. It is like a theological treatise, but both letters are alike.
Now, having preached three sermons from the first chapter of Galatians, we have come to the second chapter, and I read beginning at the first verse: “Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas,” and with a heathen, pagan Greek named Titus, who had been converted directly out of his idolatry and paganism to the Christian faith. Fourteen years later, that is fourteen years after the conversion of the apostle, he went unto Jerusalem and there faced the Judaizers who said that a man cannot be converted and saved just by trusting the Lord, but he had also to keep certain rites and rituals and ceremonies and be obedient to certain laws.
Now the gospel of Paul was that a man could be saved just by trusting the Lord, nothing else; not trusting Christ and keeping a ritual; not believing in the Lord and obeying certain precepts and commandments; but a man could be saved of idolatry or out of heathenism or out of paganism just by trusting Christ, looking to Him for forgiveness and salvation.
Well, so violently was such a gospel received by some of those who felt that you also had to keep laws and commandments and precepts and rituals that the church called a conference of its leaders in Jerusalem, and that conference is delineated and described in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts. This happened after Paul’s first missionary journey; it happened after the founding of these churches in Galatia. So when he says: “Fourteen years after I went up to Jerusalem,” he is referring to that time in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts. And Barnabas accompanied him who was also a Hellenistic Jewish convert to Christ; and Titus, a pagan heathen Greek who had been saved just by looking to Jesus.
Now, in that doctrinal confrontation in Jerusalem, the apostle says in the fourth verse that:
There were false brethren brought in unawares, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us again into bondage, unto the yoke of all those ceremonies and rites and laws.
To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; we never withdrew an inch, not a millimeter.
Then in the ninth verse he says:
And when James, the Lord’s brother, the pastor of the church at Jerusalem, when James and Cephas, that is Simon Peter, and John, the beloved disciple, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the Gentiles, and they unto the Jews.
They divided the ministry of the church right there. And you heard me make this comment, just a Sunday or two ago, that when people lament over denominations, I think they don’t know the mind of Christ. If denominations were so bad and so vile the Spirit of God might be trying to war against it. I don’t sense any Spirit of God trying to war against it. Here in the beginning, it was decided that they were going to have two denominations, one would be Hebreonic; it would be Hebrew; it would be Jewish. And the Christians in that church were to keep the law to their heart’s content; worship in the temple, circumcise their children, observe the feasts of the Jews, be a Jew in and out, worship like a Jew and yet be a Christian. And they would have James, the Lord’s brother, as their pastor. They’d have Simon Peter as their great exponent, and John, the beloved disciple, as one of their fellow workers and compeers. That is just fine.
But it was decided that Barnabas and Saul of Tarsus, later called Paul, should go to the heathen. While these other disciples worked with the Jews, they, Barnabas, and Paul, and Silas, and the rest of them, would work with the Gentiles. And that was perfectly all right.
I don’t see anything in the earth wrong with the Episcopalians meeting over there in the Church of the Incarnation, and I meeting here in the First Baptist Church in Dallas. I don’t see a thing in the world wrong. If they love the beautiful ritual, and it is beautiful, by which they serve God, and I stand here in this pulpit and thunder so loud that people’s ears hurt, I don’t see anything wrong with that, not a thing in the world.
So when you hear people lamenting denominations as though they were vile evil, forget it! Forget it! It’s going to be that way as long as men are free to express themselves. There are some people who like to hear Royce Reed sing from Handel’s “Messiah;” and there are some people who like to sing Pentecostal songs, “Farther Along”, and clap their hands, and clap their hands, and pat their feet; and I think that’s all right. Now, you remember that, and don’t let people get you off balance about denominations. That’s fine. That’s fine. Maybe we can win more people to God like that. I just want the privilege of being down here where I like it, preaching like I like to preach, which is loud and furious. Well, what in the earth got me off on all that?
“But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed” [Galatians 2:11]. Because he had, in Antioch, where the people were Gentile Christians, he lived and acted and ate and washed his hands or didn’t wash his hands, just according to the Gentiles. But when the brethren from James came from Jerusalem, why, Simon Peter dissembled, and went back into those Jewish practices, and sided with the ceremonial party by which they sought to make these Gentiles keep all of those same ordinances.
Then he starts into the doctrine,
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of the Lord, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
I do not frustrate the grace of God, for if righteousness comes by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.
[Galatians 2:16, 21]
Now, he was vigorously that, and he was energetically that. If I could define the ministry of Paul, the gospel that he preached, in a sentence, I would choose it in Ephesians 2, verses 8 and 9, “For by grace are we saved through faith; and that not of ourselves: it is a gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” Saying, “I did it.”
All the reaction of Paul was vigorous and polemical in defense of the gospel that he said he received by revelation from Jesus Christ in heaven. And he gave place no, not for an hour, he says, to those who sought to bring these Gentile Christians under the bondage of the ceremonies and yokes of an ancient law. They were free! And the defense of that liberty in Christ is this letter to the churches in Galatia. As the apostle speaks, he seeks to keep even the thin edge of a wedge from being insinuated into the churches.
I cannot help, and I don’t think you can either, I cannot help but as I read these verses, be, oh, so impressed with the courage and the vocal, outspoken denunciation and apology and defense of the apostle as he speaks of his gospel that he got from Christ Himself. I tell you, you don’t find in him “any one religion just as good as another.” You don’t find in him any “you could just be a Mohammedan, or you could be a Buddhist, or you could be Shintoist, or you could be a Zoroastrian; just as well as you could be a Christian.” You don’t find that in him. You don’t find, in him any lukewarm, half-way, half-convinced commitment at all. He’s just all out, and is bold in it!
Why, I can hardly believe when I read this passage: “When Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood to the face, because he was to be blamed,” siding with that ceremonial party. Why, Simon Peter was the chief of the apostles. And how is it that Paul could stand to confront him, and to denounce him to his face? Where did Paul get that authority? Did he have certificates and letters from a hierarchy or from a church or from a senate or from a convention or from a presbytery? No! Where he got that courage, came from the conviction of truth in the revelation of Jesus Christ Himself! And may I say, in a passing observation, I do not know of a real emissary from heaven, a prophet of God, but who has that same spirit: fearless, bold, uncompromising and committed!
Do you remember the story of Amos? He was an ignorant farmer, a herdsman and a gatherer of sycamore fruit. He pinched the little buds in the sycamore trees in order that they might be more prolific in bearing fruit. That’s what he did. And the Lord God sent him up to Bethel to preach, where Jeroboam had built those golden calves. And Amos stood there and denounced the idolatry of the land and the heathenism of the Israelite king Jeroboam II.
And Amaziah, the prelate of the king, the high priest of the chapel, when Amaziah heard Amos, he went to Jeroboam and said, “The man must be hushed. The land cannot bear his words. You shut him up!” And Jeroboam II said: “You shut him up! You try it!” So Amaziah stood before Amos, the prophet of God, and said to Amos, “You ignoramus, you a herdsman, you sheepkeeper, you farmer, you sycamore pincher! You go back down to Tekoah and there you preach and prophesy, but not here; for this is the king’s chapel, and this is the king’s court!” [Amos 7:10-13] And then Amos said those famous words,
It is true that I am no prophet, neither am I the son of a prophet; – that is, it is true I am no graduate of a seminary nor did my father graduate from a seminary. – I am no prophet, neither am I the son of a prophet; but I was a herdsman, and a gatherer of sycamore fruit.
And the Lord God took me from following the herd and said, Go, prophesy to my people Israel.
And then his thundering sentence, “The lion hath roared, who can but fear? The Lord hath spoken, who can but prophesy?!” [Amos 3:8]
That’s the spirit of the prophet of God! You find that same thing in Athanasius, as he stood before Arias. You find that same spirit in Savonarola, as he stood before the people’s legate. You find that same spirit in Martin Luther, as he stood before the Diet of Worms. You find that same spirit in John Knox, as he stood before Mary, Queen of Scots. You find that same spirit in Obadiah Holmes, our great Baptist deacon and preacher, as he stood before Governor Winthrop of Massachusetts, when they beat him until the blood ran down into his shoes. This is the spirit of the messenger from heaven: bold and courageous, unafraid, fearless.
So the apostle Paul stands and condemns Simon Peter to his face, and then writes to the churches of Galatia: “For these emissaries that were disturbing the churches of Galatia were from, supposedly from, the church at Jerusalem and from Simon Peter.”
Then his gospel, “knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even as we have believed in Christ Jesus, for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. I do not frustrate the grace of God, for if righteousness comes by the law, then Christ is dead in vain” [Galatians 2:16-17].
Why is it that the gospel of justification by works, that is, salvation by self-merit, salvation by self-righteousness, why is that such a persistent doctrine through the ages? And however you destroy it or war against it, it is hydra-headed; it rises up again and again. It will in your own heart and life; it will in the denominations; it does in all Christendom. Why is that?
Well, here’s one reason: It is personally attractive; it has an appeal to it; it ministers to our pride. There’s a weakness that never departs, never fails to be present in our fallen humanity; and that is we like to think well of ourselves. And when we can think that it is our goodnesses and our righteousnesses, it is our self-merit that saves us: it ministers to our pride and our egotism.
So, persistent through the years is that persuasion on the part of people, that if I do so and so, I will merit thus and so: if I observe this ritual, if I obey this commandment, if make this sacrifice, if I suffer this, if I give up this, if I mortify my body or afflict my flesh or persecute my soul, then, in that flagellation and such mortifications, I will commend myself to God.
I want to take an extreme instance of that and show it to you. I copied this article and glued on this little white piece of paper, so I wouldn’t lose it. I copied this little article out of the newspaper; and I want to read it to you. It’s from the United Press:
A mother of seven children burned herself at the stake in the hope of becoming a saint, police reported Wednesday. Officers said that Angelide Borsan , 48, piled up straw and soaked it and herself with gasoline. Then she tied and gagged herself and set fire to the straw.
“I shall die,” she said in a note, “like Joan of Arc, and my soul will be received in the kingdom of heaven.” Mrs. Borsan, afflicted with cancer, got up every night at her farm home to pray. She read the Bible constantly and became convinced her illness stemmed from her sins, her family said.
Relatives said apparently she hoped that by dying in a terrible fashion, her sins would be atoned.
The doctrine of justification by self-righteousness, by self-merit: “If I do these things; if I suffer these things; if I obey these things, then I will commend myself to God and I can be saved. I can do it!”
Not only is that a persistent and appealing and attractive doctrine to our fallen human nature, but it is plausible, most plausible. Why, you could say it’s almost axiomatic. And if you are an empiricist you could say it has great practical value; for these people must be taught and encouraged to be good, and to be righteous, and to seek after all of those things, keep all of those commandments, that are pleasing to God. It is plausible!
And then a third thing about it, why it persists and why it is everywhere, why it’s universal, a third thing: it is the common denominator of all false religions. However religions may differ in a thousand categories, they all have this one thing in common; namely, that we save ourselves by doing good, by keeping commandments, by observing rituals, by doing things, the works that commend us to God.
Now, we must hasten. Why is it that that, Paul says, is a denial of the gospel of the Son of God? There are three reasons. First, if we believe that we can save ourselves, that we are meritorious, and virtuous, and self-commendable in ourselves, then there is no need for the grace and the mercy of God, none at all.
I want to illustrate that to you. Here is a man who stands before the bar of a court down here, say, in the federal courthouse. Here’s a man who stands before the bar, and he is innocent. He is not guilty of anything of which he’s been accused; he is innocent. So he stands before the judge and he says, “I am innocent, and I am not guilty. I’m innocent!”
And the judge replies, “I know that; and this court will show you mercy and grace.”
And the man replies, “Mercy? Judge, your Honor, what do you mean by mercy? I don’t want mercy. I am innocent! I am not guilty! And all that I ask of this court is justice! I want my rights because I am not a culprit or a criminal. I am innocent! I don’t want mercy.”
For if a man pleads mercy from the judge that means he’s convicted, he’s guilty, he’s done wrong, and he casts himself upon the mercy of the court. “May the court be lenient; may the court be forgiving; may the court be thoughtful; may the court be sympathetic; may the court be understanding: I cast myself upon the sympathies of the court, and I ask for mercy!” That would be if a man had done wrong.
Now, it is the same thing exactly, standing in the presence of God, if a man can stand in the presence of God and say to the Lord, “I am innocent! I have never sinned! There’s never been evil in my heart; there’s never been wrong in my life! I am no transgressor. I have obeyed perfectly all that God is required of me from the day that I was born. And I stand here in this court asking for justice, that’s all, just give me my rights!”
And the Lord can say, “How excellent! There has never been evil in your heart in life, walk perfect, walk glorious, you, perfect you, walk into the presence of my kingdom. Welcome, perfect you!”
That’s like the Pharisee who stood by himself and said, “Lord, I thank thee that I am not like other men, sinners. Why, I fast twice in the week; and I keep all the commandments and I’m perfect in all of my ways!” [Luke 18:10-12] And when he went to bed at night, he congratulated himself on having attained such marvelous virtue and purity. And when he got up, the next morning, he rubbed his hands together and went abroad in his pride and self-righteousness.
That’s the doctrine of justification by works, by self-merit. But when a man stands in the presence of the mighty God, you, I, what would you say before Him in the presence of whom the very heavens are not pure, and who charges the angels themselves with folly? We’re all alike. “Lord, I confess to thee that I am a lost, dying man.”
In my pastorate, there was a young fellow so gifted and brilliant who was accused of embezzlement at the bank. He was a smart, brilliant boy, and he thought by juggling those books he could take money out of the bank. He took thousands of dollars out of the bank, but you’re never that smart. They found it and accused him, and he was tried before the federal judge. The mother and the father of the boy said, “Would you stand by him? Would you stand by him?”
I said, “I will.”
So he went to the big city, and that boy stood before the bar, and the judge seated behind the bar, and the judge looked at him and asked a simple question, “Guilty or not guilty?”
And the boy replied humbly and simply, “Guilty.”
I was standing by his side. “Guilty.” And you know, I had the feeling then that I represented all humanity when I stood by that lad and the judge asked, “Guilty, or not guilty?” And he replied, “Guilty.” Aaw. And if you’re not guilty, and can save yourself, then the grace and mercy of God is superfluous, there’s no need. But if you’re a sinner, and if you’re a dying man, all of us alike are like that lad. We look back into the face of the judge and say, “Sir, your Honor, I cast myself upon the mercy of the court.” And in that instance, God was so merciful to the boy; he gave him a sentence, and then probated it. And I helped him live out that probation in the years that followed.
First, the gospel of justification by works negates the grace and mercy of God, you don’t need it. All right, second: the gospel of justification by works, that we could save ourselves by what we’re able to do, makes superfluous, unnecessary, in vain, he uses a word translated here, the atonement of Christ. You don’t need it. You don’t need it. Look at the words that Paul uses here: “I do not frustrate the grace of God,” athetō, nullify, regard as useless. If righteousness comes by the law then Christ is dead dōrean , adverb: without cause, groundlessly, translated here “in vain.” [Galatians 3:21]
If a man can save himself in self-righteousness and self-merit, there’s no need for the death of Christ, He died as Paul writes it: dōrean, translated here, “in vain,” needlessly, groundlessly. There’s no need for the new covenant. Let’s just keep the old covenant, and do these works and live. There’s no need for the suffering of Christ; there’s no need for Calvary; there’s no need for blood atonement; there’s no need for the cross, we can save ourselves.
Third, not only does the gospel of justification by works, by self-merit, that we can save ourselves, not only does it negate the grace and mercy of God, and not only does it negate the necessity for the cross of Christ, but third: did you know, if we can save ourselves, it shuts up, it hushes, all of the hallelujahs that you will read in the Book of the Revelation about glory?
What do they sing in glory? What are those praises and hallelujahs in heaven? Without exception, without exception, they’re like this: in the first chapter of the Apocalypse: “Unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, to Him be glory and dominion forever and forever.” Or as in the fifth chapter of the Apocalypse: “Worthy, worthy, worthy is the Lamb that was slain.” Man, you ought to get that out on the sign and sing it. “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive honor, and glory, and dominion, and power.” For Thou hast redeemed us by Thy blood out of every nation, and tribe, and family under the sun; and hath made us kings and priests unto God: and we shall reign forever and ever! Hallelujah! Amen! [Verses 9-10]
That is the praise of heaven. You will not find in the Book, nor will you find in glory, anyone standing with the redeemed and saying, “Unto me, I did it, unto me be praise and glory. I kept the commandments. I observed the ceremonies and the rituals. I never transgressed. I never failed. I never sinned. I’m here because I did it!” The whole spirit of heaven is in some other world, it’s always unto Him; unto Him; unto Him! For I was lost and undone and dying, and He lifted me out of the miry clay, from the depths of the horrible pit, and placed my feet on the rock. His blood washed me clean and white. These are they who washed their robes, and make them white in the blood of the Lamb.
How do you like this suit? Is that all right? That’s the reason I like to wear a white suit when we have the Lord’s Supper. “These are they who washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Unto Him be glory and honor and dominion forever and ever; for He has redeemed us by His blood, out of every nation, and tribe, and family under the sun.” And that is the spirit of the true servant of Christ, always, always.
As Job, who vindicated his own righteousness and polemically, volitively, quarrelingly, debatingly, forensically, spoke of his own good deeds. He did that through the forty-first chapter of the Book of Job. But, when he came to the forty-second chapter, the last one, look at him; bowed down before the great high God, Job says, “I had heard of Thee Lord by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eyes seeth Thee, wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Why, man, for forty-one chapters in that book, Job had been defending his integrity and the righteous merit of his life. But when he came to the forty-second one: “Lord, I just heard about You; and now that I’ve seen You, I abhor myself, and I repent in dust and ashes.”
That is the spirit of the true child, and disciple, and servant of God. Lord, it is not my worth it is His worthiness. It’s not my strength, it is His; loving us when we’re unlovely: compassionate, and sympathetic, and pitiful toward us. And when we come before Him with the humble petition, “Lord, remember me.” God does it! He saves us! He forgives us! That’s why Jesus came. That’s the gospel of Paul; it’s the gospel of Christ; it’s the gospel of that blessed Book. And it’s our hope now and in the eternity to come.
In a moment, we shall stand to sing our appeal, and while we sing it, publicly, openly, before men and angels, to give yourself to God, would you come and stand by me? A family you, to put your life in the fellowship of this dear church; a couple you, or just you, one somebody you. As the Spirit of Christ shall press the appeal to your heart, make the decision now, and on the first note of that first stanza, down one of these stairways, or into the aisle and to the front: “Pastor, I made that decision, and I’m coming now.” Do it. Do it, while we stand and while we sing.
JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. The whole energies of Paul’s life given to salvation by grace through faith and not by works of the law (Ephesians 2:8-9)
B. Paul’s gospelso violently received the church called a conference (Acts 15)
1. He never yields to the subtle, seductive doctrine(Galatians 2:4-5)
2. The three “pillars” divided the ministry of the church, giving Paul the right hand of fellowship(Galatians 2:9)
a. Decided that Barnabas and Paul should go to the heathen, while the others worked with the Jews
C. Paul confronts Simon Peter(Galatians 2:11)II. The courage of this brave apostle
A. Bold, vocal, outspoken
B. Standing to confront Peter – courage came from the conviction of truth
C. Spirit of a prophet of God – fearless, uncompromising, committed
1. Amos(Amos 3:8, 7:14-15)
D. His gospel (Galatians 2:16-17)III. Why is the idea of justification by works so persistent through the ages?
A. Exceedingly attractive, appealing – ministers to our pride
1. Mother of seven burned herself at the stake
B. It is plausible
C. A common denominator in all false religionsIV. Why the doctrine of self-justification is not of God
A. If we can be saved by our merit, there is no need for God(Luke 18:10-12)
B. If we can save ourselves, it makes the sacrifice of Jesus superfluous(Galatians 3:21)
C. Doctrine of salvation by works silences the hallelujahs of heaven(Revelation 1:5-6, 5:9-10)
D. Spirit of the true child, disciple of God(Job 42)