This week we enter a four-week stretch in the One Word devotional readings where we focus on the nature of salvation. These four themes are Justification, Propitiation, Redemption, and Atonement.
Tomorrow we’ll study the first of those–Justification–by using a story Jesus once told about two men who went to the temple to pray. One pleased God, and one didn’t.
The punch line is verse 14: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” That would’ve been scandalous to Jesus’ audience, of course, because he was commending a despised tax collector and condemning a well-respected Pharisee. But it reflects an oft-repeated theme in Jesus’ ministry and teaching: being right with God is based first on our recognizing that we don’t deserve it and that we’re hopeless on our own to obtain it.
Lots of first-century religious folks had that confused, thinking that if they did and said the right things, they would secure right standing with God. Justification, Jesus said, depends instead on admitting your own sinfulness and throwing yourself down at God’s feet in submission.
This is a hard lesson, isn’t it? Maybe we fear that believing this view of justification will lead to moral laxity, creating an environment where obedience is denigrated. But Jesus never deemphasized obedience . . . he just wanted it to be clear that obedience comes from a grateful heart, not one that’s trying to earn God’s favor.