Jump directly to the Content
Jump directly to the Content

Sermon Illustrations

Home > Sermon Illustrations

How Justification by Faith Transforms Lives and Communities

One day theologian Miroslav Volf was visiting a friend who pastors a church in Sandtown, a desperately poor and dangerous neighborhood in Baltimore. As Volf's friend was explaining the blight of inner city life, the friend pointed out a powerful but largely untapped resource for renewing places like Sandtown—the biblical doctrine of justification by faith.

Volf was shocked because, as a professor of theology at Yale, he knew that many in the church had jettisoned the doctrine of justification by faith. Even people who defended it rarely applied it to social problems like poverty, violence, and hopelessness. As Volf walked with his friend, he thought, How could the dead streets receive life from a [seemingly] dead doctrine?

But after thinking about it, Volf reflected:

Imagine that you have no job, no money, you live cut off from the rest of society in a world ruled by poverty and violence, your skin is the "wrong" color—and you have no hope that any of this will change.
Around you is a society governed by the iron law of achievement. Its gilded goods are flaunted before your eyes on TV screens, and in a thousand ways society tells you every day that you are worthless because you have no achievement. You are a failure, and you know that you will continue to be a failure because there is no way to achieve tomorrow what you have not managed to achieve today. Your dignity is shattered and your soul is enveloped in the darkness of despair. But the gospel tells you that you are not defined by outside forces. It tells you that you count; even more that you are loved unconditionally and infinitely, irrespective of anything you have achieved or failed to achieve.
Imagine now this gospel not simply proclaimed but embodied in a community. Justified by sheer grace, it seeks to "justify" by grace those declared "unjust" by a society's implacable law of achievement. Imagine, furthermore, this community determined to infuse the wider culture, along with its political and economic institutions, with the message that it seeks to embody and proclaim. This is justification by grace, proclaimed and practiced. A dead doctrine? Hardly!

Related Sermon Illustrations

Looking for Jesus in the Eyes of the Homeless

In Portland, Oregon, the homeless gather under the Burnside Bridge. For more than three years, carloads of Christians from Bridgetown Ministries have shown up on Friday nights and ...

[Read More]

Former Prisoner Ministers to the Imprisoned

By the time of his 22nd arrest—following a dramatic chase through Miami [that involved] many police cars and much shooting—John Sala had reached the end of the line. Guilty ...

[Read More]