A cartoon in a French-language farm paper forty years ago has remained embedded in my mind. The cartoon showed a row of flowers in a garden. The flowers were tall, with healthy leaves and symmetrically arranged petals. Except for one. This flower was shorter than the others, the stalk was crooked, the leaves rather bedraggled and the flower had only a few petals, haphazardly arranged. A neighbouring flower asked, “What happened to you?” The little flower responded, rather defiantly, “Nothing! It’s only that I have not permitted the Master Gardener to help me. I AM A SELF-MADE FLOWER!”
The doctrine of justification by faith is a simple doctrine, I’ll try not to make it complicated. The word just, and all its derivatives, come from French. Juste in French means righteous, justice means righteousness, and so on. To be justified by faith is to be made righteous by faith. Is there any other way? How could an unrighteous person make himself righteous by his own efforts?
In the Old Testament, the priests were required to wear linen undergarments when they were offering sacrifices on the altar. Ezekiel 44:18 reveals the significance: “They shall have linen bonnets upon their heads, and shall have linen breeches upon their loins; they shall not gird themselves with any thing that causeth sweat.” There was to be no sweat upon the body of the priests when they made the blood offerings, because sweat is evidence of the work of man.
“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isaiah 64:6). The Louis Segond French translation says that all our righteousness is as a filthy garment, which appears to be closer to the original meaning in Hebrew. Why is the garment filthy? We may think we have produced something pure and clean as an offering to God, but in God’s eyes it is soiled with the sweat produced by our self-made works of righteousness.
The apostle Paul, in his letter to the believers at Galatia said: “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith” (Galatians 3:11). Nevertheless, Paul believed that one cannot be a Christian without good works: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). This verse, and others, shows that while good works are necessary, they must be God’s workmanship, not our own. The fruit of the Spirit does not produce sweat.
May God preserve me from working up a sweat in trying to make myself into a self-made Christian!