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by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached on Lord's Day Evening, June 5, 2005
at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles

"The justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Romans 3:26).

You heard a preacher say, last week, that "The purpose of believing in Jesus is not to go to Heaven." I agree with him. The purpose of believing in Jesus is to be justified. That is what our text says, that God is

"The justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Romans 3:26).

It is true that you will go to Heaven if you believe in Jesus, but that is a result, not the purpose. The purpose of believing in Jesus is to be justified. Look at verse 28.

"Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith…" (Romans 3:28).

"Justified" is the translation of the Greek word "dikaioo." W. E. Vine says that justification is "the legal and formal acquittal from guilt by God as Judge, [and] the pronouncement of the sinner as righteous" (An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Revell, 1966, volume II, p. 285).

I think this is the reason so many don't get saved. They want to believe in Jesus so they can go to Heaven, or they want to believe in Him so they can escape from Hell. I have discovered by dealing with lost people that those who come to my office to speak with me about salvation do not get saved if their purpose is to go to Heaven or escape Hell. I have seen many people who were temporarily very afraid of Hell who did not get saved. Why not? Because that is a by-product of salvation, as is going to Heaven. Our eternal destiny in Heaven or Hell is not the focal point, or correct motive,for believing in Jesus. What, then, should be the true motive for believing in Jesus? Justification.

The person who truly wants to be justified will discover that he can only be justified by believing in Jesus, for God is

"The justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Romans 3:26).

The person who wants to be acquitted from guilt and pronounced righteous by God will find that this can only happen by believing in Jesus.

This sounds very simple. You believe in Jesus and God cancels your sin and declares you to be righteous. It sounds simple, and it is - when the heart is prepared for it. But until the human heart is prepared, the seemingly simple fact of justification by faith in Christ utterly confounds people, even those who have very strong minds. The seemingly simple words of our text have befuddled and confused great theologians and philosophers for hundreds of years. The Apostle Paul had that very thought in mind when he said,

"For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness…" (I Corinthians 1:18).

Those who are not awakened to this truth by God's grace, never grasp the significance of justification. They may know that Luther thought it was important. They may know that it was the basis of the Protestant Reformation. But they will never understand the importance of justification in their own case unless the Spirit of God does a work of grace on their hearts.

Though they may never say so, a person who is not awakened by God's grace may consider justification by faith in Christ an interesting doctrine, but he will not think of it as the most vital and important subject in his life - which it certainly is - though he does not see it yet. And by not seeing and feeling the importance of justification by faith in Christ, he misses the whole message of the gospel. And he really remains quite blind to the central message of the New Testament.

"For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness" (I Corinthians 1:18).

The word "foolishness" here is from the Greek word "moria." It means that his concern for the preaching of the cross is "dull, sluggish, stupid, foolish" (Vine, ibid., p. 114).

Now, be honest with yourself. Hasn't justification by faith in Christ been met with a sluggish, dull and even foolish response in your heart so far?

The main thing Jesus came to do was to die on the Cross so you could be justified. That was the main purpose of His suffering. And yet, isn't it true, that you have been very sluggish, dull and unconcerned about it?

Luther said,

Christ did indeed suffer for the whole world; but how many believe and cherish this fact? Therefore, although the work of redemption itself has been accomplished [by Christ], it still cannot help or benefit a man unless he believes it and experiences its saving power in his heart.

Something must happen in your heart before the thought of justification by faith in Christ changes from dull, sluggish indifference to a place of utmost importance. This can only happen through the intervention of God's grace. If God's grace does not intervene in your feelings you, as a natural man, will receive "not the things of the Spirit of God" (I Corinthians 2:14). You will go right on, dull and sluggish and unconcerned, actually stupid and foolish, concerning your need for justification, until the Spirit of God terrifies you, more or less, concerning your terrible, hopeless, condemned condition.

Unless you are convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit you will not feel the need for justification in Christ. Theologian W. G. T. Shedd put it like this,

To the person who [asks], "How am I to obtain the new birth, and what particular thing am I to do respecting it?" the answer is: "Find out that you need it and that your self-enslaved will cannot originate it." And when you have found this out, cry unto God the Holy Spirit, "Create in me a clean heart, and renew within me a right spirit." And this prayer must not cease until the answer comes, as Christ teaches in the parable of the widow and the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8). When men are convicted of sin and utter helplessness they are "a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:17). A sense of guilt and danger is a "preparative" to deliverance from it. A convicted man is a fit subject for the new birth, but an unconvicted man is not (W. G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, P and R Publishing, 2003 reprint, p. 775).

I agree with Shedd. "A sense of guilt…is a 'preparative' to deliverance from it." Only when you feel guilty and helpless will you feel the need to be justified by Christ. Until you feel guilty and helpless the preaching of justification through the atonement of Christ will seem "dull" and "stupid." You will be "sluggish" in your response to it,

"For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness" (I Corinthians 1:18).

Luther put it this way,

It is necessary, if you would be converted, that you become terrified, that is, that you have an alarmed and trembling conscience. Then, after this condition has been created, you must grasp the consolation that comes…from [Christ]. This is the way conversion is brought about; other ways are wrong ways (Martin Luther, Exposition of Psalm 51:13, A.D. 1532).

Thus, both Luther and Shedd correctly tell us that justification through Christ's atonement will not seem vitally important until you have a sense of guilt over your sin, and a sense that you, by yourself, are helpless to get rid of this guilt. When you feel guilty and helpless you are prepared to hear the gospel message of justification in Christ - but not before you feel guilty and helpless,

"For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness" (I Corinthians 1:18).

Let me illustrate it this way. We have many first-time visitors come to our church on Sunday mornings. They come almost exclusively from secular backgrounds. We go out to the colleges and other places and bring them in. What am I to preach to them? I have found over the years that such secularized people are not prepared to consider the deeper truths of justification until they settle the question in their own hearts of whether they want to have anything at all to do with Christianity. So, on Sunday mornings, I focus mostly on ecclesiology, as you will notice by reading most of my Sunday morning sermons. I preach on the local church to meet the need of a lonely, secular society. I also give the gospel, but the main thrust of the sermons is "Save yourselves from this untoward generation" (Acts 2:40) by coming into the local church. The good, old Baptist doctrine of the local church is what they need to hear at the beginning.

Now, when they hear that, and begin to come to the other meetings of the church, then I go into a deeper explanation of salvation, in the sermons on Sunday night and Saturday night. I have found that there is no use of focusing exclusively on salvation to those who have no interest in being in church.

And so it is with justification. How can I preach justification to people who are not prepared to hear it? I can preach it, and I do, but you haven't heard it effectually. It has had no effect on you so far. Why? Because you are not prepared to hear it! Just as a first-time visitor must see his need to be in the local church, so you must see your need to be in Christ!

You can come to these meetings for a long time - without seeing your need for justification in Christ,

"For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness" (I Corinthians 1:18).

Until God creates a longing and hunger in your soul for Christ, you will not see your need for justification in Him. Please turn to Psalm 107:9-14. Let us stand and read these six verses aloud.

"For he satisfieth the longing soul,and filleth the hungry soul with goodness. Such as sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, being bound in affliction and iron; Because they rebelled against the words of God, and contemned the counsel of the most High: Therefore he brought down their heart with labour; they fell down, and there was none to help. Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble,and he saved them out of their distresses. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and brake their bands in sunder" 
      (Psalm 107:9-14).

You may be seated.

You will not feel your need for justification in Christ until you have a "longing soul" (v. 9). You will not feel your need for justification in Christ until you fall down, and feel that there is "none to help" (v. 12). Now read verse thirteen aloud again.

"Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them out of their distresses" (Psalm 107:13).

When you feel overcome by your sin and helplessness, then Christ will appear as the only way of escape from guilt. Then God will be

"The justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Romans 3:26).

This is all very simple, and yet very profound. When you feel the guilt of your sin, and your own inability to do anything about it - then you will feel the need to be justified by Christ Jesus. Then you will be able to say,

And I know, yes, I know, Jesus' blood can make the vilest sinner clean.
And I know, yes, I know, Jesus' blood can make the vilest sinner clean.
   ("Yes, I Know!" by Anna W. Waterman, 1928).

You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Romans 3:23-28.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
"Yes, I Know!" (by Anna W. Waterman, 1928).



by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

"The justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Romans 3:26).

(Romans 3:28; I Corinthians 1:18; 2:14;
Luke 18:1-8; 1:17; Acts 2:40; Psalm 107:9-14)