Entering Paradise Through Open Gates
500 years ago a monk named Martin Luther rediscovered the biblical truth of justification by grace alone through faith alone. After years of wrestling with guilt and longing to be right with God, his eyes were opened to the fact that “one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom. 3:28). Upon discovering this he writes, “Here I felt that I was born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.”
Since then countless Christians, including myself, have discovered that understanding and believing justification by faith alone is a life-altering experience. Why does justification have such power and what difference does it really make in the Christian life?
Justification is the Best Answer to the Most Important Question
Martin Luther was stuck on the question, “How can I be right with God?” He knew he wasn’t perfect, far from it. How could he, a sinner, be accepted and welcomed without reservation by the perfect, holy, righteous God? What he found in the gospel is that the way to this right relationship with God wasn’t by trying to be a good person by following God’s rules. He always fell short. Instead, justification means that God the judge declares sinners like us to be right with him. This legal ruling from God is possible as he assigns our sin to Christ on the cross and assigns Christ’s righteous life to us in a glorious exchange that removes our guilt and shame before God.
Justification Is the Way to Defeat Our Biggest Enemy
As he explains justification by faith, the apostle Paul asks, “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded.” (Rom. 3:27). We can look around and see many difficulties and many difficult people in our lives, but our biggest enemy isn’t “out there,” it is “in here,” it is our self-confidence that lures us into thinking that the good life comes when we believe in ourselves, when we heroically pursue being true to who we really are. We boast when we think, “I am somebody because…”or “I can get through this because…” and we finish the sentence with something located in ourselves. Justification demolishes human boasting by humbling us with the bad news that we don’t have the resources to make ourselves right with God, and then thrills us with the good news that Christ does and gives them to us by faith, and then begins to work in us and through us in every corner of our lives.
When Luther discovered that the righteousness he needed came by faith in Christ, he had his “Aha!” moment and he entered into a joy he’d never before known. I know countless others who have had the same experience. Why? When we abandon hope of saving ourselves, of even contributing to making ourselves right with God, when we place that hope in Christ, we find an identity that is located outside ourselves in God Himself.
Who we are in Christ can’t be blown away by a hurricane, stolen by identity theft, or lost the next time we sin. Our hope is in heaven, in Christ seated at the right hand of God, so we now live with new lives, with clean consciences, with the Spirit working in us to make us day by day more like Christ. We have hope that every person we will encounter today has the same basic problem we do, and can be saved in the same way we have, not through some self-salvation strategy but through faith in Christ. This fuels our joy, our passion for holiness, our hunger to know our great Father, to encourage His people, and to bring this light into a dark world.
Justification is the heart of the gospel, the lifeblood of the church, and the hope of the Christian. May it be yours as well. Through our lives and words may many others enter God’s paradise through the open gates of justification by faith.
 Quoted in Stephen Nichols, The Reformation, p. 31.