Yesterday, we continued our series through Romans on the Lord’s Day. As we are preparing to enter into chapter 4, I preached a topical sermon on the subject of justification by faith. We just finished the key passage in Romans 3:28 where Paul makes his point clear that a person is saved by faith apart from the works of the Law. In order to prepare us for what we will see in chapter 4, I wanted to establish the fact that the doctrine of justification by faith has been taught from the very beginning.
The book of Romans is the most important book in the Bible. It is the clearest and most robust explanation of man’s guilt and God’s amazing grace in the entire Word of God. At the heart of this previous book is the doctrine of justification by faith alone. If you remove this doctrine from the gospel, you are left with something other than the gospel of Jesus.
Justification by faith alone was taught in the Garden of Eden. After the fall, God came to Adam and Eve and confronted them with their sin. He pronounced their curse — along with the serpent. However, he made another announcement and it’s what we know as the first gospel sermon in the Bible. We find it in Genesis 3:15 where God promised that one day the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. The seed promised is Christ Jesus. Immediately following this announcement, God clothes Adam and Eve in skins which would have served as the first sacrifice pointing to an ultimate fulfillment in Jesus as the Lamb of God (John 1:29).
Justification by faith alone was not invented by Paul, We see it in the salvation of Abraham, a man whom God saved and made a covenant with. Fourteen years before Abraham was circumcised at the age of ninety-nine—he received a covenant from God. This is proof that his salvation was not based on keeping the Law (or the act of circumcision). God’s covenant involved blessing all the families of the earth through Abraham—and this blessing of salvation would come through Jesus Christ.
Justification by faith alone was not something the Reformers invented. It was the whole point of the Law as we see in Galatians 3:24, “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” It was perverted throughout church history by the Jews (see Galatians 1:8) and eventually by groups like the Roman Catholic Church. However, Martin Luther once said, “Justification is the Article by which the church stands or falls.”
Finally, in the New Testament we see the fulfillment of the promises of the Law and the prophets. Every animal sacrifice, every promise of future rest and future victory, and every covenant promise of salvation is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus. In Matthew 5:17, Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” From the sinless life of Jesus (1 Pet. 1:18-19) to the substitutionary death of Jesus (1 John 2:1-2; John 1:29)—Jesus satisfies the holy justice of God as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.
As promised from the beginning, Jesus came to save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). From beginning to end—justification by faith alone in Christ alone is the blueprint of God’s redemptive plan. Any deviation from that equation is to pervert the gospel of Jesus into something other than the good news of God. John Calvin describes us as being, “Condemned, dead, and lost in ourselves, we must in Christ seek righteousness, deliverance, life and salvation.”