Day 198

As If You Had Never Sinned

Wisdom Psalm 86:1-10
New Testament Romans 4:1-15
Old Testament Amos 5:1-27


In the years that I practised as a barrister I noticed that, for many people, appearing in a court of law is a terrifying experience – even if they are only appearing as a witness. Being a litigant, a person involved in the lawsuit, or a defendant in a criminal trial is an even more nerve-racking event. I saw the relief when a defendant was acquitted or a litigant was declared by a judge to be ‘in the right’.

In the legal system of Ancient Israel, a dispute put both parties at risk of the judgment of the court. The court’s process had a redemptive role; the judge was meant to help the party in the right to correct the wrong. At the end of the case, one party would be declared righteous and the other in the wrong. Successful performance of this function meant ‘justice’ had been done. The Hebrew word for righteous is tsaddiq, which some versions of the Bible translate as ‘innocent’ or ‘just’ – one whose status is right. This is the Old Testament background to being ‘justified’.

The child’s definition of justified is ‘just as if I’d’ never sinned. Jesus died for our sins. When you put your faith in him you were justified. You were freed. You are declared righteous in his sight. Sin no longer separates you from God. You can live in a right relationship with him and with others. This is ‘justification’.


Psalm 86:1-10

A prayer of David.

1 Hear me, Lord, and answer me,
        for I am poor and needy.
2 Guard my life, for I am faithful to you;
        save your servant who trusts in you.
    You are my God; 3 have mercy on me, Lord,
        for I call to you all day long.
4 Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
        for I put my trust in you.

5 You, Lord, are forgiving and good,
        abounding in love to all who call to you.
6 Hear my prayer, Lord;
        listen to my cry for mercy.
7 When I am in distress, I call to you,
        because you answer me.

8 Among the gods there is none like you, Lord;
        no deeds can compare with yours.
9 All the nations you have made
        will come and worship before you, Lord;
        they will bring glory to your name.
10 For you are great and do marvelous deeds;
        you alone are God.


Rumours of justification

David experienced the blessing of being justified by faith and being a child of God. He says, ‘Pay attention, God, to my prayer; bend down and listen to my cry for help’ (v.6, MSG). Like a parent lovingly bending down so that a child can whisper in their ear, God listens to the prayers of his children: ‘In the day of my trouble I will call to you, for you will answer me’ (v.7).

David did not have the benefit of living under the new covenant. He lived before the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. However, in one sense, the cross is not limited by time. It was effective for those who lived before Jesus, for example for Abraham and David. Indeed, Paul highlights how David had known the wonderful blessings of God’s forgiveness and restoration (Romans 4:6–8; Psalm 32:1–2a).

In some way, Paul is saying David experienced ‘justification by faith’ even though the means by which it was accomplished had not yet occurred.

First, he understood God’s love. He knew that the Lord is ‘abounding in love to all who call to [him]’ (Psalm 86:5b).

Second, he knew that God was merciful and forgiving. ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord… You are forgiving and good… listen to my cry for mercy’ (vv.3a,5a,6b).

Third, although he knew that he did not deserve forgiveness and mercy – he had not earned it – he had the faith to believe that God would save him through his faith in him: ‘You are my God; save your servant who trusts in you’ (v.2b).

In other words, David understood all the elements that make up justification by faith, except for one. The one missing piece was the death of Jesus for our sins.


Lord, thank you for your amazing love for me. Thank you that you save those who put their trust in you.

New Testament

Romans 4:1-15

Abraham Justified by Faith

4What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

4 Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. 5 However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. 6 David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

    7 “Blessed are those
        whose transgressions are forgiven,
        whose sins are covered.
    8 Blessed is the one
        whose sin the Lord will never count against them.”

9 Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. 10 Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! 11 And he received circumcision as a sign, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. 12 And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

13 It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, 15 because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.


Celebration of justification

How can we, deeply flawed human beings, be ‘in the right’ before God? How can you be ‘justified’ in his sight? Is this something you simply have to work hard at all your life and hope for the best?

‘No’, says Paul. Something astonishing happened as a result of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Now you can receive this justification as a free gift. You receive it, not by working really hard, but by an act of faith (vv.1–5).

One of the questions frequently asked on Alpha is: ‘If Jesus died for our sins, what happens to those who lived before Jesus?’

Paul knows that he has to deal with the case of Abraham. His opponents might have argued that Abraham was justified as a result of his good works, giving him something to boast about (v.2). Paul points out that the Scriptures declare, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness’ (v.3, Genesis 15:6). This phrase, Paul argues, implies a gift rather than something earned (Romans 4:5).

‘If you’re a hard worker and do a good job, you deserve your pay; we don’t call your wages a gift. But if you see that the job is too big for you, that it’s something only God can do, and you trust him to do it… that… is what gets you set right with God, by God. Sheer gift’ (vv.4–5, MSG).

Paul’s opponents might argue that this gift is only available for Jews (the circumcised). But Paul points out that circumcision came later on for Abraham (Genesis 17) and therefore, the blessing of justification by faith is for both the circumcised (the Jews) and the uncircumcised (the rest of human kind) (Romans 4:9–10).

Circumcision was not the cause of justification. Rather it was a seal. Abraham ‘underwent circumcision as evidence and confirmation of what God had done long before to bring him into this acceptable standing with himself, an act of God he had embraced with his whole life’ (vv.10–11, MSG).

The story of Abraham makes clear that his being counted righteous was not on the basis of works, circumcision or law, but by God’s grace through faith in Jesus. If Abraham was justified by faith, he is the father of all who have faith (including those who have not been circumcised, vv.11–12).

The cross is effective throughout all time. Through what Jesus did on the cross, those who had never heard about him but put their trust in God were justified by their faith.

Do you need to understand all this in order to be justified by faith? Not at all. Justification is by faith, so you don’t even need a correct understanding of justification by faith to be justified by faith; you simply need faith. ‘This is why the fulfilment of God’s promise depends entirely on trusting God and his way, and then simply embracing him and what he does. God’s promise arrives as pure gift’ (v.16, MSG).


Father, thank you so much for this amazing truth that I am justified and freed through the death of Jesus for me, and by faith in him. Help me to understand this truth more deeply and to explain it more clearly, so that many more know the great blessings of justification by faith.

Old Testament

Amos 5:1-27

A Lament and Call to Repentance

5Hear this word, Israel, this lament I take up concerning you:

    2 “Fallen is Virgin Israel,
        never to rise again,
    deserted in her own land,
        with no one to lift her up. ”

3 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to Israel:

    “Your city that marches out a thousand strong
        will have only a hundred left;
    your town that marches out a hundred strong
        will have only ten left. ”

4 This is what the Lord says to Israel:

    “Seek me and live;
        5 do not seek Bethel,
    do not go to Gilgal,
        do not journey to Beersheba.
    For Gilgal will surely go into exile,
        and Bethel will be reduced to nothing. ”
    6 Seek the Lord and live,
        or he will sweep through the tribes of Joseph like a fire;
    it will devour them,
        and Bethel will have no one to quench it.

    7 There are those who turn justice into bitterness
        and cast righteousness to the ground.

    8 He who made the Pleiades and Orion,
        who turns midnight into dawn
        and darkens day into night,
    who calls for the waters of the sea
        and pours them out over the face of the land—
        the Lord is his name.
    9 With a blinding flash he destroys the stronghold
        and brings the fortified city to ruin.

    10 There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court
        and detest the one who tells the truth.

    11 You levy a straw tax on the poor
        and impose a tax on their grain.
    Therefore, though you have built stone mansions,
        you will not live in them;
    though you have planted lush vineyards,
        you will not drink their wine.
    12 For I know how many are your offenses
        and how great your sins.

    There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes
        and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
    13 Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times,
        for the times are evil.

    14 Seek good, not evil,
        that you may live.
    Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you,
        just as you say he is.
    15 Hate evil, love good;
        maintain justice in the courts.
    Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy
        on the remnant of Joseph.

16 Therefore this is what the Lord, the Lord God Almighty, says:

    “There will be wailing in all the streets
        and cries of anguish in every public square.
    The farmers will be summoned to weep
        and the mourners to wail.
    17 There will be wailing in all the vineyards,
        for I will pass through your midst,”
            says the Lord.

The Day of the Lord

    18 Woe to you who long
        for the day of the Lord!
    Why do you long for the day of the Lord?
        That day will be darkness, not light.
    19 It will be as though a man fled from a lion
        only to meet a bear,
    as though he entered his house
        and rested his hand on the wall
        only to have a snake bite him.
    20 Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light—
        pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?

    21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
        your assemblies are a stench to me.
    22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
        I will not accept them.
    Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
        I will have no regard for them.
    23 Away with the noise of your songs!
        I will not listen to the music of your harps.
    24 But let justice roll on like a river,
        righteousness like a never-failing stream!

    25 “Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings
        forty years in the wilderness, people of Israel?
    26 You have lifted up the shrine of your king,
        the pedestal of your idols,
        the star of your god—
        which you made for yourselves.
    27 Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,”
        says the Lord, whose name is God Almighty.


Communities of justification

God is not interested in how ‘religious’ you are. He is far more concerned about integrity, justice and righteousness. Without that religiosity is sheer hypocrisy. He says:

‘I can’t stand your religious meetings.
        I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
        your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
        your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
        When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
        I want justice – oceans of it.
I want fairness – rivers of it.
        That’s what I want. That’s all I want’ (vv.21–24, MSG).

A central outworking of justification by faith is that God’s people respond by acting with righteousness and justice. John Calvin once said, ‘It is therefore faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone.’ Our natural response to what God has done for us should be to act in line with his will.

Righteousness and justice have a central role in this passage and in the whole book of Amos. God wants justice for the poor and the oppressed. God speaks through the prophet Amos:

‘Because you run roughshod over the poor
         and take the bread right out of their mouths,
You’re never going to move into
        the luxury homes you have built.
You’re never going to drink wine
        from the expensive vineyards you’ve planted.
I know precisely the extent of your violations,
        the enormity of your sins. Appalling!
You bully right-living people,
        taking bribes right and left and kicking the poor when they’re down.
Justice is a lost cause’ (vv.10–13, MSG).

God will not allow human injustice to continue for ever. He will intervene and bring about his justice. God hates injustice.

Issues of justice such as rescuing people from bonded labour or other forms of slavery, fighting against the trafficking of people for sex, racism and other forms of injustice, should be high on our agenda. They certainly seem to be high on God’s agenda: ‘Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!’ (v.24).


Lord, thank you that faith alone justifies, but that faith should never be alone. Help me to live out my faith by acting righteously and seeking justice for all.

Pippa adds

Psalm 86:2

‘Guard my life.’

There are terrible atrocities happening all around the world and hazards of every kind. Even trying to follow Nicky on a bicycle, as he weaves his way (at great speed) through the streets of London, can be very alarming. ‘Guard our lives’ is a great prayer to pray.

Verse of the Day

Psalm 86:6,MSG

‘Pay attention, God, to my prayer; bend down and listen to my cry for help’


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John Calvin, Acts of the Council of Trent with the Antidote Canon 11 (1547)

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

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