(part 1)

A judge who had three cases scheduled for the day called his court room to order. The first case involved mean-spirited, destructive vandalism. The judge handled the case in highly questionable manner. He looked at the broken, grieving defendant and immediately declared, "I wish to see the defendant and the plaintiff in my chambers without counsel." In chambers the defendant remorsefully acknowledged his guilt and his sorrow. The judge mediated a resolution. Then the judge reentered the courtroom and declared, "I rule that this alleged crime never occurred. Case dismissed."

The second case involved a violent act of hatred. Again, the judge saw the broken, grieving defendant. Again he declared that he wanted to see the defendant and the plaintiff in chambers without counsel. Again the defendant remorsefully acknowledged his guilt and expressed his sorrow. Again the judge mediated a resolution. Then the judge reentered the court room and declared, "I rule that this alleged crime never occurred. Case dismissed."

The third case involved a wanton act of disregard for human life. Again, the judge saw the broken, grieving defendant. Again, he declared that he wanted to see the defendant and the plaintiff in chambers without counsel. Again, the defendant remorsefully acknowledged his guilt and expressed his sorrow. Again, the judge mediated a solution. Then for a third time the judge entered the court room and declared, "I rule that this alleged crime never occurred. Case dismissed."

The immediate outcry was loud and furious. How dare the judge ignore the law! How dare he disregard the rights of the victims! How dare he bypass the judicial process! How dare he conduct himself in such an outrageous manner! His behavior was inexcusable and indefensible! He was unfit to be a judge and should be removed from the bench at once!

And we joined in the outrage that demanded the judge be removed from the bench.

  1. How can we become "right" in God's eyes?
    1. If you think about that seriously, it seems an impossibility.
      1. God is perfect; we are imperfect.
      2. God is sinless; we are sinful.
      3. Evil has never been a part of God; evil is always a part of us.
    2. How can the God who sees all deeds and knows all hearts ever look at us as though we were "right?"
      1. God knows everything each of us does.
      2. God knows everything each of us thinks.
      3. God sees and knows all evil in every person--even when we don't!
      4. How can we be made "right" in God's sight when we are powerless to eliminate all evil from our lives and our hearts?
    3. We are "made right" in God's eyes when God justifies us.
      1. When God justifies us, God makes us right.
      2. God will justify any person who:
        1. Believes that Jesus is God's Son.
        2. Trusts what God did through Jesus' death and resurrection.
        3. In that faith responds to God by allowing God to place him or her in Christ.
      3. Incredibly, when God justifies us, He not only makes us right, but He also declares us to be right.

  2. One of the common failures of religious people is found in the fact that we want to make ourselves "right before God. "
    1. We do not want to trust God to make us right; we want to make ourselves right.
      1. We want to be confident of our salvation because we are "right;" we did the "right things;" and we made ourselves "right."
      2. Ask a person who believes that he or she is right before God this question: "Why are you confident that you are 'right before God?'"
        1. "I am right before God because of the commandments that I obeyed--obedience made me right."
        2. "I am right before God because of my accurate knowledge and understanding--knowledge made me right before God."
        3. "I am right before God because of the terrible sins that I do not commit--refusing to do terrible, evil things makes me right."
        4. "I am right before God because I live a good life--a good life makes me right."
      3. Are those things important? Absolutely! If I am a Christian:
        1. I must obey God.
        2. I must grow in my knowledge.
        3. I must refuse to do evil things.
        4. I must live a good life.
    2. But do those things--obedience, knowledge, avoiding terrible evil, and living a good life--make me "right before God?"
      1. No.
      2. Why? For this reason: when I am the most obedient me, the most knowledgeable me, best me that I can be, I still am not perfect, I still have evil in my heart, mind, and life.
      3. Only God can make me right; only God can justify me.

  3. Consider three examples that involve justification in the gospel of Luke.
    1. The first example is the incident that caused Jesus to give the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)
      1. An expert in the teachings we call the Old Testament came to test Jesus--this egotistical know-it-all came to prove that Jesus was a fraud.
      2. So he asked Jesus, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
      3. Jesus answered by asking, "You are the expert--you tell me."
      4. Being a know-it-all, the expert could not keep his mouth shut.
        1. He answered, "Love God with all your being and love your neighbor as yourself."
        2. Jesus said, "You are correct. Do that and you will have eternal life."
      5. Now the know-it-all was in a terrible situation--he just condemned himself.
        1. He had not loved his neighbor as himself.
        2. He put himself "on the hook" and needed to get himself "off the hook."
        3. He wanted to justify himself--he wanted to make himself right.
        4. He was certain that he could use his knowledge to do that; ask Jesus for an answer that he could reject by using his knowledge.
        5. He asked, "Who is my neighbor?" He implied that he could not obey that commandment because the word "neighbor" could not be defined.
      6. That is when Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan.
        1. A man who was despised by the Jews saved the life of a Jew who had been robbed and beaten.
        2. This Samaritan made personal sacrifices to take care of the Jew.
        3. That was after two important Jewish religious leaders walked by the injured Jew and did nothing.
      7. Jesus asked the expert, "Which of these three people was his neighbor?"
        1. The expert said, "The man who showed him mercy."
        2. Jesus said, "If you want to love your neighbor, go do what he did."
      8. The expert tried to use his knowledge to justify himself, and he failed miserably.
    2. The second example is found in Luke 16:14,15 and involved the Pharisees.
      1. Jesus had given an unusual lesson on the necessity of using material things to achieve eternal purposes.
      2. It says that the Pharisees who loved money ridiculed Jesus.
      3. Jesus then made this statement: You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.
        1. Just like the religious expert, these Pharisees tried to justify themselves.
        2. They tried to make themselves right by using the opinions and conclusions of people.
          1. If the judgment and consensus of people said that they were right, that made them right.
          2. Religious human approval made people right.
          3. So, if I win the religious approval of other people, that makes me right.
        3. But Jesus said there is a deadly flaw in that reasoning: the things that religiously impress people are the things that God despises.
        4. Commonly, that which wins people's approval is offensive to God.
      4. Their attempt to justify themselves also miserably failed.
    3. The third example is found in Luke 18:9-14 and involved a guilty, greedy, dishonest Jew who collected taxes for the Romans.
      1. The parable was given to a specific group: people who trusted in themselves.
        1. These were religious people who were certain that they were right because they made themselves right.
        2. They also had zero respect for people who failed, who made mistakes.
        3. They looked with contempt at people who failed to measure up to their standards.
      2. This is what Jesus said to them:
        1. Two men went to the temple to pray, one was a Pharisee and one was a guilty, greedy, dishonest tax collector.
          1. Fact one: the temple was the holiest place on earth to pray, the place that let you come directly into God's presence.
          2. Fact two: Jewish society considered the Pharisee to be the finest example of knowledge and devotion to God.
          3. Fact three: greedy, dishonest tax collectors were regarded to be among the most evil people in the nation.
        2. The Pharisee was sure that he was right--he thanked God that he was not like swindlers, unjust people, adulterers, or this tax collector.
          1. He recited his religious virtues.
          2. To express humility before God, he did not eat two days a week.
          3. He continually gave ten percent of everything he had to God.
        3. The guilty, greedy, dishonest tax collect was ashamed to raise his head.
          1. Filled with a sense of unworthiness, he stood back.
          2. He beat on his chest.
          3. All he prayed was, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner."
        4. Jesus said one of these men left the temple area justified.
          1. God made the tax collector right because he humbled himself.
          2. The person who believes that he makes himself right is arrogant.
          3. God rejects the arrogant and exalts the humble.

Does that seem right to you? Does it seem wrong that God refused to look at the classic religious type as "right" and that He made someone guilty of awful things to be "right?"

Did God do that because the religious people had knowledge, obeyed, and showed commitment to religious practices? No. Did God do that because a man was guilty of greed and dishonesty? No.

Any person who trusts in himself and believes that he makes himself right will not be justified. Any person who sees and acknowledges his own wickedness and turns to God, trusting God and not himself, will be justified.

How? God justifies a person by redeeming and forgiving. He frees the person from Satan and destroys the sin. Only because God redeems and forgives can the person be right. Our efforts to make ourselves right always fail. Faith in what God does for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus always succeeds.

This is what happens. When a believing, repentant sinner turns to God in the faith of surrender, the Great Judge takes the person with his or her guilt into his chambers. He uses the blood of Jesus to mediate a solution. Then he declares, "I rule that the evil never occurred. This person is now my child. Case dismissed."

Why are you right?
      I would have you obey God.
      I would have you grow in your knowledge of the Bible.
      I would have you refuse to do evil things.
      I would have you live as good as you can live.

But always remember that you are [or can be] right before God
      . . . only because of the Cross.
      . . . only because of the blood of Christ.
      . . . only because God cleansed you.
You will never be right because of what you have done.

Let God make you righteous before Him.
Let us know if we can help.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 15 March 1998

This sermon is also available in French.

 Link to next sermon

 Link to other Writings of David Chadwell