Continuing from part 1 last week, what really gets to people about the gospel message are two things. The first of the two is “forgiveness of sins” in Acts 13:38 (covered in part 1), which is followed immediately in verse 39 by the second thing, that “Through Jesus everyone who believes is justified.”
“Justified” means being totally acceptable to God. But what made that so shocking – and what really got to those people listening to Paul – was Paul’s next statement that they were all justified “from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.”
To the Jews in the audience that must have been the most shocking news they’d ever heard, because the backbone of their beliefs was the law of Moses. How could anyone dare suggest, therefore, that the law of Moses wasn’t enough to justify them?
But Paul said it was “through Jesus” and belief in him, and not Moses, that made them acceptable to God, because the law of Moses never justified them in the first place. It was never meant to. It was meant instead to make sin more real, or as Paul phrased it in Romans 3:20, “through the law we became conscious of sin.” Paul knew that in his own experience too, because he would “never have known what it was to covet if the law had not said, ‘Do not covet’” (Romans 7:7).
So all their attempting to live up to the Ten Commandments hadn’t made them acceptable to God. But they kept on trying to obey the law of Moses anyway, because what else could they do to get themselves right with God? Paul even said that his efforts at “legalistic righteousness” were “faultless” (Philippians 3:6). So he couldn’t have tried any harder to please God, but the pressure to keep that up had been so demanding and relentless that it reduced him to crying out, “What a wretched man I am. Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). Try as hard as he could, he knew it was never enough, and he hated himself for it.
He was like a child who so desperately wants to be acceptable in his Dad’s eyes by living up to his Dad’s high hopes and dreams for him. It’s an awful pressure on the child, though, because he keeps on failing.
But then he hears his Dad say, “Why are you trying so hard to seek my acceptance, son, when you’ve already got it?” And if the child wonders how on earth that’s possible, it’s because his Dad understands justification. His Dad got the gospel message, that we don’t have to make ourselves acceptable to God, because Jesus did that for us. It was Jesus’ great gift to us – well actually his second great gift to us, forgiveness being the first. But what a gift that becomes for a Dad to pass on to his children, because he can watch with joy what happens to them when they believe it.
It was this same great gift that Paul passed on in his first sermon as an apostle in Acts 13. And it shocked his listeners back then just as it does today, because how can it be possible for God to accept us when even as mature Christians we keep on failing him so miserably too?
But what keeps us going and “pressing on,” as Paul phrased it in Philippians 3:14, is knowing God has already made us acceptable to him no matter how much we dither and doubt and fall short of his standards. Why? Because of Jesus, who justified us when there was nothing we did – or can do – to make us right with God. He made us right with God, all day and every day, so live with that and see what it does for us, and for our kids….