How are we made right with God? It’s an extremely important question. What it really comes down to is a right relationship with God. When that relationship is lacking or missing, we lack the true peace and real joy God offers, either here in our time or in eternity. But as important as this relationship is, there is a lot of confusion over what this exactly means. We fall into the trap of believing that we have to earn our relationship through works, where God offers it freely through faith.
Let’s start at the beginning so we can get a full understanding. Genesis tells us that God created Adam and Eve, placed them in the garden, and commanded them to not eat of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. At this point they were free from sin, enjoying a life of perfect peace and joy with God. But they disobeyed God, ate the fruit, and at that moment died spiritually and were separated from God. When our souls are separated from God, the giver of life, they cease to have the life that God intends for us. That sinful separation has been the inheritance of all humanity. All of us from birth have been spiritually dead in sin. But God loves us enough that he sent his son, Jesus, to take on our death and rise to new life. Our justification, our new life, comes through Jesus. Through him God restores our dead souls to spiritual life.
Now that restoration does not mean that we are made right as way of our will and actions. God continues to work in us after our souls are restored – it’s a process we call sanctification. Justification is what God does for us through Jesus; sanctification is what God does in us through the Holy Spirit. What Justification does do for us is free us from the bondage to sin and death that we inherited. We are free from the accusations of Satan. We are cleared of the indictment brought against us by the law. Our transgressions, those actions that we have done against God’s will, are no longer held against us. We are, in essence, pardoned from the sentence of eternal death, separation from God, that we deserve for our sin.
Now this doesn’t mean that God is deceived about us. He knows we are not worthy of such freedom. We have done nothing to earn it. It is only through the sacrifice of Jesus, who took on our sin and our death, that we have any standing before God. God doesn’t justify the godly, but the ungodly. It is only those that know and understand that they are sinners in need of pardon that God can free. We cannot earn it and, in fact, our actions to try and earn it keep us from experiencing the freedom that God offers. We cannot make ourselves worthy of God’s love. We can only love God because He loves us first and gives us the grace to have faith in Jesus. We may do good things before we are saved, but they will never match the true good that God will do in and through us when we relinquish ourselves to the grace of Christ and allow God to save us and change us.
Our justification, our being free from sin and restored to spiritual life, is not a result of any human action, but only God’s work. In fact, God alone gives us the grace to have faith in Jesus! When we turn to God, accept his grace, trust in Jesus alone for salvation, then we are made right with God. It is then that God can begin to work in us to change our lives and bring us true joy and peace. Faith, then, is the only necessary condition to justification. We may have everything else – good morality and loving action – but without faith we are not justified. We can have no pride in our salvation because we do nothing to earn it. It is an unmerited gift. We can bring nothing to God but ungodliness.
So, what then, can we do to be saved? We must stop trying to earn our place with God and seek instead the grace of God that will free us and restore us. We must turn away from pride that lies to us and tells us that can earn our salvation. Our justification comes through Christ alone. And it is through Him alone that we are made alive again.
This is the 5th in a series of posts based on the Standard Sermons of John Wesley. These 53 sermons are required reading for every Methodist preacher and form the basis of Methodist theology.