The Doctrine of Justification Made Easy

Taken and adapted from, “Illustrations of Bible Truth” Moody Press, 1945

e8a6c913b008aba146a31fcbe0122375Some years ago…

…H.A. Ironside had a little school for young Indian [Native American] men and women, who came to his home in Oakland, California, from the various tribes in northern Arizona. One of these was a Navajo young man of unusually keen intelligence. One Sunday evening Ironside tells, that this student went with him to his young people’s meeting. They were talking about the epistle to the Galatians, and the special subject was law and grace. They were not very clear about it, and finally one turned to the Indian and said, “I wonder whether our Indian friend has anything to say about this.”

He rose to his feet and said, “Well, my friends, I have been listening very carefully, because I am here to learn all I can in order to take it back to my people. I do not understand all that you are talking about, and I do not think you do yourselves. But concerning this law and grace business, let me see if I can make it clear. I think it is like this. When Mr. Ironside brought me from my home we took the longest railroad journey I ever took. We got out at Barstow, and there I saw the most beautiful railroad station and hotel I have ever seen. I walked all around and saw at one end a sign, ‘Do not spit here.’ I looked at that sign and then looked down at the ground and saw many had spitted there, and before I think what I am doing I have spitted myself. Isn’t that strange when the sign say, ‘Do not spit here’?

“I come to Oakland and go to the home of the lady who invited me to dinner today and I am in the nicest home I have been in. Such beautiful furniture and carpets, I hate to step on them. I sank into a comfortable chair, and the lady said, ‘Now, John, you sit there while I go out and see whether the maid has dinner ready.’ I look around at the beautiful pictures, at the grand piano, and I walk all around those rooms. I am looking for a sign; and the sign I am looking for is, ‘Do not spit here,’ but I look around those two beautiful drawing rooms, and cannot find a sign like this. I think ‘What a pity when this is such a beautiful home to have people spitting all over it — too bad they don’t put up a sign!’ So I look all over that carpet, but cannot find that anybody have spitted there. What a queer thing! Where the sign says, ‘Do not spit,’ a lot of people spitted. Where there was no sign at all, in that beautiful home, nobody spitted. Now I understand! That sign is law, but inside the home it is grace. They love their beautiful home, and they want to keep it clean. They do not need a sign to tell them so. I think that explains the law and grace business.” 

As he sat down, a murmur of approval went round the room and the leader exclaimed, “I think that is the best illustration of law and grace I have ever heard.”

Let me confirm this thought by something I remember reading about when a student had confronted Martin Luther, upon the Reformer’s rediscovery of the biblical doctrine of justification. The student challenged Luther with the remark, “If this is true, a person could simply live as he pleased!” “Indeed!” answered Luther. “Now, what pleases you?”

Augustine was the great preacher of grace during the fourth and fifth centuries. Although his understanding of the doctrine of justification did not have the fine-tuned precision of the Reformers, Augustine’s response on this point was similar to Luther’s. He said that the doctrine of justification led to the maxim, “Love God and do as you please.” Because we have misunderstood one of the gospel’s most basic themes, Augustine’s statement looks to many like a license to indulge one’s sinful nature, but in reality it touches upon the motivation the Christian has for his actions.

The person who has been justified by God’s grace has a new, higher, and nobler motivation for holiness than the shallow, hypocritical self-righteousness or fear that seems to motivate so may religious people today.

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