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God’s Word for You

Acts 13:38-39 Justification: He saved me

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, June 3, 2020

38 Therefore let it be known to you, my brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and from everything that you could not be justified from by the law of Moses, 39 by this Jesus everyone who believes has been justified.

The doctrine of justification is the pillar upon which the church stands or falls. It is a doctrine with two sides, but it is not divided into two doctrines. The two sides simply show the same saving work of Jesus from two points of view. In July 1983, my Dad’s paint store caught fire along with the upstairs apartment where his parents (my grandparents) lived. While neighbors watched in grief and horror from across Main Street, one new neighbor, the town Pharmacist, ran up the side stairway and called out for my grandparents: “Frank! Rose! Are you here? Are you all right?” That man carried my Grandma and my Grandpa, one at a time, over his shoulder, down that wooden staircase, and saved their lives. Looking back in time almost forty years now, he saved them. But in the moment, in the black, billowing smoke with flames all around and paint cans exploding in the store below, each of them could (and did) say, “He saved me.” This is the same action shown from two points of view, just like the doctrine of justification, and using the very same language. In objective or universal justification, we are told the verdict of God’s judgment: Christ atoned for the sins of the whole world by his suffering and death. But we can also express this in terms of individual or personal (subjective) justification: “Christ atoned for my sins; He saved me.”

This work of Jesus is not merely a potential act. It is not justification that might happen for people if they believe someday. When Paul described this in the classic proof passage, he said: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). And to this he added: “And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” God gave to us, his church, this message to proclaim.

We must also consider Paul’s words: “You could not be justified by the law of Moses. By Jesus, everyone who believes has been justified.” Paul does not mean that the law of Moses cleared up some sins but not everything, and that Jesus is merely a better solution, like a more powerful vacuum or a newer mop. No, he means that the law of Moses is broken again and again, and the atonement of the sacrifices would have to go on and on, and even the Jews have given up making sacrifices for sin for twenty centuries now, going on twenty-one. The law can and will only condemn sinners; it cannot save anyone. But Christ died to save us all. Your salvation is not something yet to be worked out, but it is a judgment spoken by the Father long ago: Sinner! You are not guilty of your sin! Believe in Jesus, and you will never be removed from my forgiveness!

Philip Melanchthon said (Loci xiii): “This is the definition of the Gospel in which we lay hold on three Gospel blessings: (1) that for the sake of Christ our sins are freely remitted; (2) that we are freely pronounced righteous, that is, reconciled or accepted by God; (3) that we are made heirs of eternal life… Keep this in mind, that these blessings belong to the Gospel and are otherwise summed up in the one word, ‘Justification.’”

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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