How Are We Justified?
Life is so often about what we must do in order to gain entry or acceptance. “What do I have to do to get into that school? To gain acceptance by that social circle? To reach executive status?” By nature, humans therefore wonder the same thing about spiritual realities: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18, emphasis added).
We often rely on our activities—attendance at church, prayer, Bible reading. We feel confident when we do them and condemned when we don’t. We see God’s law as a ladder up which we climb to His acceptance of us.
In the passage leading up to this verse, Paul has just rehearsed all the earthly “gain” in his life, both inherited and achieved, from his privileged birth to his elite education. The purity of his pedigree was never in question from the day of his birth. Paul essentially says, If these factors achieve acceptance with God, you can see I had them all. Did I dot all the spiritual i’s and cross all the religious t’s? Absolutely.
Paul had once thought he was a spiritual millionaire. He had thought he was advancing in holiness. Then one day it all changed. In one journey from Jerusalem to Damascus, Paul came to realize he was spiritually bankrupt—that he wasn’t even on the path of holiness.
What gave Paul hope? On that same journey, he met the risen, crucified Jesus (Acts 9:1-19), and he grasped the doctrine of justification: that God declares the sinner to be righteous on the basis of His Son’s finished work.
Far from being a ladder, God’s law is more like a mirror that shows us we’re in the wrong and we can’t put ourselves in the right. Like Paul, every advantage we previously considered a gain is now seen to be a loss, a failure.
How can you know that Christ accepts you? Not because you come to Him with a righteousness of your own; rather, because your sin has been transferred to the account of Christ, who knew no sin but became sin for you so that you might receive His perfect righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). You cannot add anything to being justified with God. You cannot subtract anything from being justified with God. Justification is full because God gives believers Christ’s righteousness, and it is final because it depends solely on God’s gift of His Son.
Once you know you cannot lose your entry into eternal life, you are ready to give up everything else for the sake of the one who has gained you entry: reputation, wealth, prominence, status, possessions. Whatever you once thought gain, you can joyfully now count loss. You are willing to lose your life for Christ for you know that through Christ you have gained true life. What do you struggle to give up for Jesus? Let your justification be the engine of your wholehearted obedience.
Paul's Defense Before Agrippa
1So Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense:
2“I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, 3especially because you are familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.
4“My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. 5They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee. 6And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, 7to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! 8Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?
9“I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. 11And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.
Paul Tells of His Conversion
12“In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. 14And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language,1 ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
19“Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. 21For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. 22To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”
24And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” 25But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. 26For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. 27King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” 28And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?”2 29And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”
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