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TEXT: I Corinthians 6:9-11
SUBJECT: Before and After #4: You were Justified
For the last month or so, we've been looking at I Corinthians 6:9-11 to remind us of what we used to be, what we are now, and how the change took place.
We used to be unrighteous, by which I mean, people who lived for themselves or others, but not for God. Some live notorious lives-adulterers, homosexuals, or thieves. Others live more decently, but they're still covetous-living for money or what money buys, but not for God. Such people-Paul is at pains to tell us-
Will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Even if they go to church. Do unrighteous people go to church? They do-a lot of them do, and we need to be sure we are not those people. To whom much is given-our Lord says-much will be required. Because I have gone to church all my life, my judgment will be far stricter than the man who has never heard the Gospel, been under the waters of baptism, or received the Lord's body. There is a sobering message here for everyone who calls Christ his Savior, but it is not what Paul is saying in this place.
Here, he is saying, 'We are not unrighteous'. Immature? Yes; silly, and prone to sin, of course. But not unrighteous. Unlike others, we will inherit the Kingdom of God. In fact, we already have, though not fully, for it has not come in its full power and glory. But when the Kingdom comes in all its fullness, no disciple of Christ will be left out!
Read I Corinthians and you'll see the church was a royal mess, but they were God's mess! For all their faults and shortcomings, they were-
Washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
What was true in Corinth way back when is also true of us here and now. We're a mess at the moment, but the Lord loved us from eternity, and in His own good time, He has washed us; He has sanctified us; and He has justified us.
Last week we sang the hymn-
We have not known Thee as we ought.
It is full of terribly convicting things. We haven't Known God or Served Him or Feared Him or Bowed beneath His awful eye. But what choked me up was another line; I had sung it for years but I hadn't really thought about till last Sunday-
Nor cared that we were loved by Thee.
It came to me that most of my problems: my worries, my resentments, my insecurities, and the things I do to relieve them, are the direct result of not caring that God loves me! I know He does, but, most of the time, I only know it in the same way I know Sacramento is the capital of California. I know it in my head, but I don't feel it in my heart. If we could only live in the certainty of God's favor, our lives and witness would be so much better than they are.
This is what our text is about! It is God who washed, sanctified, and justified us, and He did it all because He loves us, loves us with a love as powerful, eternal, and unchanging as He is Himself.
'Justification' is one fruit of His love, and that's what we'll look at today. Near the end of v.11, Paul says-
But you were justified.
To justify means 'to declare righteous'. It is used in a court of law and is pronounced by the judge. In a civil case, both sides say they're right and the other is wrong, but the ruling is not theirs to make: it belongs to the judge. Whatever they say for themselves or against the other, his word is final. This is why judges must not be crooked or incompetent men, for God has called them to-
Justify the righteous and condemn the wicked.
Not the other way around. This is true in every place and time, but especially in Israel because its judges were not ruling for themselves or in name of the people, but for the Lord, Deuteronomy 1:18-
You shall not show partiality in judgment: you shall hear the small as well as the great; you shall not be afraid in any man's presence, for the judgment is God's.
THE CUSTOMARY USE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
In the Old Testament, most court cases were of this kind-men suing men. This explains the verses that make us squirm, Psalms 35 and 96, for example-
Judge me, O God, according to your righteousness.
Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad.for He is coming to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with His truth.
In this model, God's judgment was a cause of keen anticipation and great joy. Do we feel this way? Are we as eager for a true and righteous judgment as they were? Have you ever begged the Lord to judge you? I sure haven't.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF JUDGMENT
Why don't we feel this way? Because, we're thinking of a different kind of trial. When we think of the Day of Judgment, we don't think of us on one side and our enemies on the other.
What we think of is us on one side and God on the other. This idea is not prominent in the Old Testament, but it's there. The two verses I think of first are Psalms 130:3 and 143:2-
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who would stand?
Do not enter into judgment with your servant, for in your sight no one living is righteous.
The Psalmist is none too keen for this kind of court date! Against false friends and pagan kings he feels he is in the right. But standing before a holy God, nobody's in the right! Not even the Seraphim can look Him in the eye.
It is this kind of trial that carries over to the New Testament, and informs our passage. The Corinthians were not innocent men abused by guilty men, and appealing to God to set things right. No, they themselves were the guilty men standing before a God who knows what they are and has ever right to punish them for the lives they have lived.
But, instead of doing that, He justified them. He ruled in their favor; He said they're 'not guilty', and not subject to the penalties of the Law.
A LEGAL FICTION?
How could God do this? If you don't know the Lord's character, you might say He doesn't care about the truth, that His love swallows up His justice, and it doesn't really matter that the Corinthians were-and we are-guilty; He can pretend we're not.
This view is completely at odds with the teaching of the Bible, and of our Lord Jesus in particular. We all know parents who start off strict with their children and grow lax over the years. Our Father in Heaven is not one of these parents!
If you don't know yourself, you might say God says you're not guilty because you are not guilty. Before you became a Christian you sinned, but now you don't-or maybe you do, but you don't really mean it.
There's a pinch of truth in this, but only a pinch. In this life, sinners are changed into saints, but even the saints-in this life-are not always saintly. And some of our sins are not accidental or trifling.
Some people, facing the facts of God's justice and our guilt, have re-defined 'justification'. They say it cannot mean 'to declare righteous'; it has to mean, 'to make righteous', and-since no one is really righteous in this life, no one is really justified either! We will be-thank God!-but not now.
I feel for people who think this way, but I cannot agree with them because the Bible says, we are justified. Our verse says-
But you were justified. Not 'will be some day', but 'have been'.
Other verses say the same thing. Romans 5:1, for instance, says-
Having, therefore, been justified.
This leaves us with a real knot between our ears. God is just and true, we are guilty, and He says we are righteous.
Affirming God's justice, the Medieval Church denied our righteousness. Affirming our righteousness, the Modern Church denied God's justice.
The Gospel denies neither and affirms both.
It says God is just, and that His holiness and wrath are every bit as weighty as His love and mercy. It says we are guilty, every one of us is, without exception. And it says, God has declared guilty people are righteous because.
A Righteous Man stood in our place, suffered and died for our sins on the cross, and, on the third day was.justified by God. The whole world said Jesus was guilty, and for a time, it seemed God agreed with their assessment. But only for a time. As the sun rose on that Sunday morning, God reversed their judgment, and said by His actions, the Man is 100% in the right!
By faith, we come into union with Christ, and the judgment God passed on Him becomes the judgment He passes on us.
In Christ, we are justified, declared righteous-and not by ourselves or other people-but by the Judge Himself who has the final say-
Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.
Like the Corinthians, we used to be unrighteous and were not qualified to inherit the Kingdom of God. But then God did something for us: He justified us-He said we're not guilty, He said we are fit for the Kingdom-and not because we cleaned up our act, but because Jesus died for us, rose from the dead, and became the first member of a New Human Race, a race that is righteous in the sight of God.
THE HOPE OF ISRAEL
This is what Israel hoped for, that God would break into history, condemn the guilty, justify the righteous, and make a world fit for the dwelling of a Righteous God. All this would happen-they knew-on the Last Day.
What they didn't know is, Jesus brought the Last Days with Him. His death condemned the guilty; His resurrection justified the righteous; and by the outpouring of His Spirit, God is making the world a fit place for Him to live. His work is not yet finished, but what is done cannot be undone, and at the Second Coming of Christ, the people declared 'righteous' in heaven, will be justified in heaven, on earth, and in their own hearts.
God has ruled in our favor, and His decision cannot be overturned. Let us, therefore, celebrate our justification by praising God for it and being content with what we have. And let us announce the Good News of what God has done in Christ so that others can join the party!
Before and After. This is what Paul gives us in I Corinthians 6:9-11.
On the left side is what we were-fornicators, adulterers, sodomites, thieves, covetous.
On the right side is what we are-washed, sanctified and justified.
It wasn't a miracle product that did the trick, it was God in Christ by the Holy Spirit. For-
Of Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To whom be glory now and forever. Amen.
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