[Editor’s note: The following is the author’s sermon introduction for this Sunday published here in an effort to help pastors see one example of how to lead their congregations to the biblical text to be preached.]
We live in a world of people who are trying to justify themselves — whether they know it or not, they are trying to make themselves right before God by saying the right things, doing the right things, feeling the appropriate shame, virtue-signaling enough so that they are declared righteous.
Jesus warns us about this futile effort at self-justification at the end of the Sermon on the Mount:
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:21-23).
On the day of judgment, “self-justifiers” will parade before God all their efforts at self-justification and proudly say, in essence, “You’re welcome, Lord.” But this hubris will be their undoing for they have rejected the Lord Jesus Christ and his finished work on the cross. They’ve deemed the sacrifice of Christ unworthy of their embrace. Therefore, what awaits “self-justifiers” is not the blessing of God, but only wrath and indignation; what the author of Hebrews calls “a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:27).
We need a means of justification, a means of being made right with God, that does not lead to wrath, but blessing. And this we have in the gospel.
The gospel is the good news that “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Indeed, the gospel declares that in Christ and on the basis of his finished work on the cross, God “justifies the ungodly” through faith (Romans 6:4). The gospel is God’s remedy for sin. And no other remedy will do. “Self-justifiers,” however, are in essence taking Advil for cancer when the cure is right before their eyes.
My prayer for this sermon is that we would see the wonder of God’s gift of justification and be more determined than ever to live in this amazing grace. So, if you’re not there already, please turn with me to Romans 5:1-2.