Of Being Righteous Before God
Jesus said: "He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God," (John 3:18).
By these words Jesus teaches us not only that unbelievers shall be condemned but that they by their sin and unbelief stand already under the judgment of God. Man is a guilty sinner. In such a state of sin and unbelief he is born. But Jesus also teaches that through faith in Jesus Christ a man is freed from condemnation. Likewise Jesus said, "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him" (John 3:36).
Jesus teaches that unbelieving sinners are in fact dead, under the wrath of God, and shall never have true life in communion with God. God's wrath rests and abides upon them. Such is the state of man's sin and guilt, but through faith a man is free from condemnation and has life eternal. Faith is the instrument or means by which we are declared righteous before God's judgment seat. This blessing is found only in Jesus Christ. We are not delivered from condemnation unto righteousness because we believe. Faith could never be the ground for this deliverance because faith itself is the work of grace. Of Simon Peter's confession of faith, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God," Jesus says, "Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven," (Matthew 16:17). To teach that we are forgiven because we believe, have made a decision for Christ, or do good works, is to teach the doctrine of salvation and forgiveness by works, whether of man's will or man's activity or man's believing.
Rather Jesus teaches us by the prayer of the publican (Luke 18:9-14), that it is in God's mercy that we are justified or righteous. God's mercy is the source of forgiveness. As He says, the publican prayed, "God be merciful to me a sinner," Jesus explains, "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified," (Luke 18:13, 14). It was God's mercy which forgave the debt of his sins. Out of that mercy God gave Jesus Christ to "...save his people form their sins" and called His name Jesus, Savior (Matthew 1:21).
God does not set aside His justice. Payment for the sins of His people must be made, justice satisfied, and God's wrath against sin taken away. Therefore Jesus testifies of His blood, set forth in the cup of communion, "For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matt. 26:28). Jesus bears the wrath of God, pays the debt, in the place of His people that they might be declared righteous before God. Jesus alone is the ground or cause of our righteousness. He does not merely provide righteousness, but he is the righteousness of His people before God. He cried out on the cross, "It is finished," (John 19:30); not, "It is provided." Through faith in His name, God imparts that blessing unto His people. This blessing is without any works or righteousness found in man. Faith stands without works; it is a trust in Christ. Such trust can never itself merit anything. It is by its very nature a trust in the person, works and merits of another, namely Jesus and His payment and obedience. God through that saving trust in Christ imputes righteousness without works, (Rom. 4:6). God justifies those who in themselves are ungodly (Rom. 5).
In what are you trusting in your standing before God? Are you righteous in this complete Saviour without works of your own? He that believeth on Jesus Christ "is not condemned" (John 3:18). Do you?
By Rev. Thomas Miersma, Missionary Pastor
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