Reformation Day 2007: The Sinner’s Justification

Today, we don’t hear as much about sin from the pulpit as was once popular. I’m not talking about just preaching hellfire and damnation either. I’m talking about our actual biblical stance as a sinner before a holy God. I know it’s not PC to talk about sin in such a way because it’s not peaceful, welcoming nor comforting to the unbelieving world. As the world listens we must tell them we are sinners just as they are while pointing to the cross. And there is nothing good in any of us to earn favor with God, but they, like us, must come to Jesus Christ by grace through faith relying only on His righteousness imputed to us that we may be just with God.

It is probably even more important that the faithful get back to preaching this doctrine of justification in light of our sinfulness. Not only preaching it, but living it out in our local churches. This must be done before we can be honest with the unbelieving world. How humbled our local fellowships would be as we’d have no choice but to focus on the cross of Christ with a total reliance on the Gospel.

In closing, I offer a couple of quotations from the 1866 lectures of James Buchanan.

The best preparation for the study of this doctrine is-neither great intellectual ability, nor much scholastic learning, -but a conscience impressed with a sense of our actual condition as sinners in the sight of God. A deep conviction of sin is the one thing needful in such an inquiry, -a conviction of the fact of sin, as an awful reality in our own personal experience, -of the power of sin, as an inveterate evil cleaving to us continually, and having its roots deep in the innermost recesses of our hearts, -and of the guilt of sin, past as well as present, as an offence against God, which, once committed, can never cease to be true of us individually, and which, however, He may be pleased to deal with it, has deserved His wrath and righteous condemnation. Without some such conviction of sin, we may speculate on this, as on any other, part of divine truth, and bring all the resources of our intellect and learning to beat upon it, but can have no suitable sense of our actual danger, and no serious desire for deliverance from it. To study the subject with advantage, we must have a heartfelt interest in it, as one that bears directly on the salvation of our own souls; and this interest can only be felt in proportion as we realize our guilt, and misery, and danger, as transgressors of God’s Law. The Law is still, as it was to the Jewish Church, ‘a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith;’ and the law must be applied to the conscience, so as to quicken and arouse it, before we can feel our need of salvation, or make any serious effort to attain it. It is the convinced, and not the careless, sinner, who alone will lay to heart, with some sense of its real meaning and momentous importance, the solemn question

-‘How shall a man be just with God?’1

No change is more striking or more instructive than that which is often produced instantaneously on all a man’s views of the method of salvation, when from being a careless, he becomes a convinced, sinner. As a careless sinner, he presumed on mercy; as a convinced sinner, he can scarcely dare to hope for it: once he reckoned on pardon, or rather on impunity; now ‘his heart condemns him,’ and he knows that ‘God is greater than his heart:’ formerly he imagined that reformation of life would be sufficient to secure his welfare; now he feels that a radical heart-change is necessary, such as he is altogether unable to work in himself, -and immediately on this change of his views in regard to sin, there follows a change in all his views of salvation, and those very doctrines of free and efficacious grace, which he once despised or rejected as ‘foolishness,’ are found to be the ‘wisdom of God.’2

Amen and Amen!


1. James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification: An Outline of Its History in the Church and of Its Exposition from Scripture (Birmingham: Solid Ground Classic Reprints, 2006), 222-223.

2. ibid., 224-225.

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