We will return to looking at “Things to Come” in the near future, but I first wanted to discuss something of tremendous importance: Our great salvation! God has given Himself to us freely in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ. The responsibility that we now have is to believe this truth – to believe that God really is for us, and has undertaken to accomplish everything needed for us to receive eternal life, and to have a relationship with Him.
The Apostle Paul stated: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Romans 3:28, NASB). This is no small matter! Paul also illustrates his point by looking at Abraham, of whom it was said “ ‘ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS” (Romans 4:3, NASB). Paul goes on to state:
Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favour, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness… (Romans 4:4 – 5, NASB).
In another place, again with Abraham in view, Paul writes:
Therefore IT WAS ALSO CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. Now, not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification. (Romans 4:22 – 25, NASB).
The issue here is how is one justified before God? That is, how does a sinner – which is what all of us are (Romans 3:23) – become truly righteous in God’s sight and be assured His relationship with God, and of going to heaven? The answer is found not in ourselves, but in Christ alone! It is Christ Himself that makes the difference, not any “goodness” or merit on our part.
So what is the issue here? What is it about faith in Christ that makes such a difference? Obviously, we cannot know everything about why God does things, and the mysteries of His purposes. But some things can be said. First of all, we need to understand that justification before God (that is, the declaration that we are righteous in God’s eyes) is not something that occurs gradually throughout the course of one’s life, as if it depended on our works. Justification is not a promise that hangs over our lives, as if to say “if you make it through life, avoid certain sins, remain faithful, and do good, then when you come to the end of your life, you will be justified.” This is not the Gospel! Rather, the justification of a sinner occurs at a moment in time, and comes to the person when they believe in Christ. Again the words of Paul: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.” Paul also writes:
21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21 – 26, NASB).
Notice that justification comes to a person “as a gift by His grace…”. One does not earn, pay for, deserve, or by a gift. They can only receive a gift! It cost somebody something, but for the recipient, it is free. The only proper response is to receive it, and be thankful for it. In the case of our salvation, God is the giver of the gift. He loves us, and demonstrates this love in giving us the gift of salvation through His Son. The cost was His own Son, who Himself laid down His life for us. We are the recipients, and we receive the gift by faith. Our response should be to receive this gift with gratitude and thankfulness. In case there was any doubt as to where our justification lies, consider Romans 5:9: “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.” (NASB).
It is the shed blood of Christ that justifies us, not our actions or inactions. All of us as sinners deserve the wrath of God, and that wrath is an abiding wrath (John 3:36).
God is infinite, and thus, His wrath is infinite. When we sin, we sin against an infinite God. Now, God cannot be “parcelled out” or divided. We cannot say He is infinite, but His wrath is not. He and His wrath are one. Thus, God’s infinity means that His wrath is infinite. Now, if our sin has merited the wrath of an infinite being (which it has), then how is it that we can suggest our finite works – no matter how good they are – can appease infinite wrath? “Infinite” carries the meaning of immeasurable. God’s wrath cannot be measured. It cannot be quantified. We cannot say that His wrath is of “such and such size”, and then offer a work or sacrifice to Him of “such and such a size” to match His wrath. Nothing we do or offer Him can satisfy His wrath. Furthermore, all of us share in this problem of sin (Romans 5:12 – 20), so none of us can make an offer to God absolutely free from the taint of sin. And in any case, God has stated that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). That is, the penalty that God has decreed for sin is death. Death is the payment for sin. But since we ourselves are finite and sinful, our own death cannot atone for our sin and satisfy God’s wrath. Thus, the sinner who dies outside of God’s forgivness must suffer the wrath of God eternally.
A crude example of this might help: If I commit a crime that requires a payment of $1,100,000.00 to satisfy the judge, and all I have is $2.50 cents, it does not matter how genuine, real, and “valuable” that $2.50 is – it cannot satisfy the judge. God’s wrath at sin is infinite, and thus, theologically speaking, a payment of infinite value is required to satisfy that wrath. It appears that this is related to why eternal punishment in the Lake of fire (Revelation 20:14 – 15) for those who die outside of God’s forgiveness is indeed eternal (Revelation 14:10 – 11). Infinite wrath can never be exhausted by finite creatures. I could give all of my money to the poor, crawl on my knees in penitence, promise to do better, turn my life around, give up that which is evil, and even become a monk, priest, pastor, missionary, Pope, evangelist or all of those things combined – thinking they are appeasing God’s wrath at my sin. None of those things can satisfy infinite wrath. Or, I can die – thinking that my death will be enough and that God will either annihilate me completely, or grant me mercy at some point after death. The problem with my own death is that me being finite and sinful cannot atone for my own sin against an infiinte God. My own death would simply transition me into and eternity under His wrath. What is needed is for someone to come to my rescue who can offer to God on my behalf that which is pure and infinite in value, and thus, satisfy God’s righteous justice – which requires death for sin. Furthermore, this someone must Himself be sinless, otherwise He would have to suffer for His own sin.
Enter Christ Jesus! Jesus Christ is both God (John 1:1, 14-18) and man (1 Timothy 2:5). He is in fact that God-Man. He also lived a sinless life (2 Corinthians 5:21). As a sinless human being, Christ can take our place and suffer the punishment for sin that we human beings deserve, which is death (Romans 6:23). And He did exactly that (1 Peter 3:18; Romans 5:6-8; Hebrews 2:9). And as God, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is of infinite value to pay for the sins of the world (John 1:29). Using our illustration above, Christ has “paid the $1,100,000.00” on our behalf if you like! Why try to convince the judge to accept our $2.50 when someone else has freely paid the full amount on our behalf? Of course, the example is not perfect, as we cannot quantify the wrath of God nor the value of Christ’s sacrifice, but I trust you understand the point. When Christ died, it was not an ordinary man that died, but rather a divine-man, fully human in every way, yet also fully God. He shared our humanity, and the Father’s deity. As God, the being of Christ is infinite, and thus, His death is of infinite value. Therefore, justification for all sinners before God, can only be found in Christ, for only He satisfied the just demands of an infinite God! He lived a perfect sinless life, and then died as a sacrificial, substitutional payment for sin on our behalf. Paul writes that we have “now been justified by His blood…”. Notice that justification lies not in us, but in the blood of Christ. That is, the justifying element is not what we bring to God, but rather, what Christ has done for us. Thus, salvation is a free gift to us (Romans 3:24, 5:15 – 19, 6:23; John 4:10). Christ’s resurrection from the dead was possible because the infinite wrath of God was fully satisfied through Christ’s sacrifice for us. Christ was raised “because of our justification” (Romans 4:25). There is no waiting period! There is no purgatory! For the one who believes in Jesus, justification is not pending, but a present possession. If Christ took the sin of the world upon Himself, and is no longer dead (death is the wages of sin), then the sin of the world has been paid for! God extends mercy and love to His creation. We simply need to accept it!
Here is an interesting illustration of the free-ness and immediate-ness of salvation. In Acts 10:24 – 48, Peter preaches to a group of Gentiles who are not yet saved. In verse 43, Peter states of Christ: “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” Right as this point, after Peter says these words, we are then told: “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those were listening to the message.” Shortly after, Peter then says in verse 47: “ ‘ Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?’” This is very important. In Ephesians 4:30, Paul teaches that it is with the Holy Spirit that we are sealed for the day of redemption. And in Acts 11:15-17, Peter, recounting the experience with these same Gentiles from Acts 10, states: “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” What is crucial to note here is that these people received the Holy Spirit “after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ.” It was while Peter was preaching that we are told that the Holy Spirit fell on them. Since it is with the Holy Spirit that we are sealed for the day of redemption, as Paul teaches in Ephesians, it is clear that these people received salvation and justification upon believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. Whoever does not have the Spirit does not have Christ (Romans 8:9), so the fact that these believers received the Spirit after believing means that all that was necessary for their salvation and justification was to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. They simply believed the message Peter was proclaiming. Interestingly, it was after verse 43 (Acts 10) that we are told that the Holy Spirit fell on them. Verse 43 is where Peter mentions that everyone who believes in Christ receives forgiveness of sins. We are NOT told that these Gentiles prayed a sinner’s prayer, or a prayer of surrender, or did such and such a work, or responded to an altar call. They were not even yet baptized in water! All we are told is that they believed in Christ.
This is what the Christian faith is about – coming to realize that Christ Jesus has taken our place before the just wrath of God. This “realization” is the discovery – given by the Spirit of God – that I indeed am a sinner worthy of God’s just judgement (and under God’s wrath), but that God in His mercy and love has met that judgement Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. My response is not to berate myself, or engage in some holy work to try and appease God, but to believe in Christ as my Saviour from this very judgement and wrath, and to believe God’s promise that whoever believes in Jesus “shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). To believe in Christ means to have faith in Him and to trust Him. It includes us entrusting our eternal salvation to Him in view of what He has done on the cross for us. Obviously, there is more here than simply acknowledging that a person named Jesus existed in history. We must trust Him, and accept what the Bible says about Him, and His work on our behalf, as true (1 John 5:9 – 13). We must trust Christ alone for our salvation, not ourselves! The jailer in Acts 16:29 – 31 asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” The response?: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…”