Franco Maggiotto (1937-2006) was one of the most memorable men I’ve ever met. At one point in his life, he’d been a Roman Catholic priest in Italy. The papal hierarchy saw potential in Franco and he became involved with the Vatican. One day, Father Franco was saying mass at a basilica. In the process, he happened to read to the congregation from Hebrews 10:11-12:
“And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God…”
When Franco read this, the Holy Spirit suddenly opened his eyes to the reality of the gospel. He told the congregation, “I’m fired! You should go home now. It’s all done. I’m fired. Jesus has done it all!”
That was a message Franco loved to preach from that day forward. He became a Reformed pastor, historically an exceptionally unusual figure in Italy. In 2003, Franco visited with us in Fort Babine, the tiny British Columbia village where I was serving as a missionary. As even Protestant pastors do in Italy, Franco was dressed in clerical garb, a black suit with a white tab collar. For the nominal Roman Catholics in our village, it appeared a Roman Catholic priest had come for a rare visit. That created some excitement and interest. We successfully invited some 20 villagers to come and listen to “Father” Franco.
With his charming Italian accent, Franco passionately preached the completed work of Jesus Christ on the cross. He used the illustration of a man who takes his friends to a restaurant. Being a good friend, he pays for the meals of everyone. Would it then be right for the owner of the restaurant to demand that each diner pay for the meal all over again? Or even to ask the generous friend to pay again? No, he said, it’s been paid once and for all. The bill is no longer outstanding. So it is with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the payment for our sins. It was a fantastic gospel presentation for a largely Roman Catholic crowd.
Sadly, even some Protestants don’t seem to get this. There are some who teach that justification is a life-long process, something which has to be renewed daily. In this thinking, God’s declaration of righteousness (justification) is something which expires at the end of each day. Each day again the individual has to go to God as Judge and again plead for the verdict of “righteous” in Christ.
That’s an unbiblical way to think about justification. This is clear from several verses in Romans. Take Romans 5:1, for example: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Here justification is described as a completed action which has addressed all our sins, past, present and future. The consequence is abiding peace with God through our Saviour.
Thus, a little further in the letter, Paul writes, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). If you are in Christ Jesus, if you are united to him and therefore accounted righteous (justified), there is no condemnation. The verdict has been rendered and it’s in your favour — permanently. If the Judge has spoken once, the matter is finished. There are no appeals and there’s no reopening of your case.
Christians can now relate every day to God as their Father. Through our justification once accomplished, we’re in a relationship of fellowship with God and nothing can change that. This isn’t to say that there’s no longer any place for repentance, confession, and seeking forgiveness from God. But it is to say that these things now take place in the context of a living relationship where God is our Father and we’re his justified children through Christ.
Why would you want it to be otherwise? Why would you want to have the insecurity and discomfort of a tenuous relationship with God, one which always depends on daily renewal of your justification? Franco Maggiotto had it right. When it comes to the work of our salvation, when it’s done it’s done. That’s why we say the gospel is good news.