God focusses on things that we never even think about, and is able to continue His relationship with us when we think we have broken the relationship. In Christ, it is not about our sin – our relationship, in God’s eyes, is all about Christ’s perfect life, obedience and righteousness. As His children, at our worst moments when we have failed or sinned, God looks at Christ’s righteousness. When we feel at our best, when we feel godly, holy and deserving of His love – He looks at Christ’s righteousness.
Our relationship with God is not founded on our sin, our goodness, our obedience, our religious devotion, or our inconsistency – it is founded on Christ’s righteousness. Therefore, our security is Christ’s righteousness. Our right standing with God is predicated or based on Jesus and His righteousness – our faith links us to Him. It is our faith that justifies us in God’s eyes, but not faith in God, but our faith in Christ and all He has accomplished on our behalf. This is known as Justification by Faith.
Romans 1:16-17, ‘For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. 17This Good News tells us how God makes us right in His sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”’
Romans 3:21-26, ‘But now God has shown us a way to be made right [righteous] with Him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. 22We are made right [righteous] with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.
23For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24Yet God, in His grace, freely makes us right [righteous or just] in His sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when He freed us from the penalty for our sins. 25For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right [righteous or just] with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed His life, shedding His blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when He held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, 26for He was looking ahead and including them in what He would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate His righteousness, for He Himself is fair and just, and He makes sinners right[eous] in His sight when they believe in Jesus’
These are two wonderful passages. I will explore Romans 1 a little more below. However, I need to state a few things about Romans 3:
- God’s plan of salvation included those who were non-Jews as well as His Jewish people
- It is faith in Christ that makes us right with God
- No-one is exempt from the need to be saved – all have sinned and fallen short of God’s just requirements for righteous living
- It is God’s grace in Christ that enables us to have a right standing with Him
- Christ sets people free from condemnation
- Jesus’ ministry and death on the cross was a sacrifice or offering to atone or pay the penalty for sin
- The Cross of Jesus is the means for the salvation of all people. Those born before, during Old Testament times, who believed in God are saved by Christ’s Cross, God was willing to cover their sin until Jesus came and died. It is only Jesus’ blood that can cleanse sin removing its stain completely in God’s eyes. The Cross is the pivot for history – the only place where a perfect sacrifice has been made which can atone for sin
- God is always just – He could not overlook sin. The just requirements of His word had to be fully met; only Jesus could do this – and He did it through his perfect life, ministry, suffering and death
- We are only made right or righteous in God’s eyes by faith in Christ
Secure in Christ
When the German Augustinian monk, priest, theologian, Bible translator and Reformer, Martin Luther rediscovered the doctrine of Justification by Faith – he set in motion a series of events which turned Europe upside down. The words he wrote and spoke were of such weight and importance that within a few decades the very nature of society in Europe had begun to change. Three things resulted:
- The Roman Catholic Church lost its place as the most important institution in Christendom – up to this point it had focussed on religious observance and many things which were not based in what the Bible said; after this point, the Protestant Churches began to emerge – from which us Pentecostals developed
- A Reformation of religion, culture and society began which led to the teachings of the Bible coming into the heart of the homes of the peasants, the poor and everyone else. This brought a new freedom and liberty allowing society to develop in new and unexpected ways
- A new era of Church history began which led to the development of new styles and forms of Christian worship. At the heart of this were a number of doctrines: Scripture Alone – Justification by Faith – the Priesthood of all Believers – Glory to God alone
- Scripture Alone – As the Bible was translated into the language of the people – up to this point in Western Europe, it had been written in Latin, the Vulgate, people’s lives began to be impacted by the power of God’s word. God’s word in the minds and hearts of the people is a powerful force for salvation, building God’s Kingdom in people’s lives, and thereby glorifying Christ
- Justification by Faith – God’s revelation to Luther, as he studied the Bible, especially Romans 1, led to biblically formed faith being understood to be the main basis for salvation. The truth he discovered was that believers are saved by faith, not by good works which we have done, or anybody else on our behalf has done; our faith is in Christ and all He already has achieved on our behalf. The just shall live by his or her faith.
Jesus was perfect, sinless, and completely righteous before God. When we believe, our sin is cleansed away, in God’s eyes, because Jesus has already defeated the power of sin; in fact, our sin is accounted to Him and He already has paid the price demanded for it – death.
Therefore, a transaction takes place, Jesus removes my failures, disobedience and sin – He cleanses them from God’s written account of my life, and freely gives me the merits of His righteousness. This is a gracious act, ‘for by grace have you been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works lest anyone should boast’ (Ephesians 2:8-9). Jesus paid the debt to God – a debt that I could not pay; and freely transfers to me His righteousness so I stand complete, in Father’s eyes, in Him dressed in His righteousness.
- The Priesthood of all Believers – This again recognised that all believers stand equal before God because they are saved in Christ. This standing grants us all open and unlimited access to God in prayer. I do not require a priest or saint to intercede for me, I can pray directly to God through Christ. God has poured out His Spirit on His people and thus the Spirit enables us to live to please God.
- The ultimate expression of human love for God is worship. This truth simply states that God is the only One worthy of our worship. Only through Christ are we able to glorify God through our worship, witness and lives. Only the Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit should be worshipped and glorified.
When Luther meditated on Romans 1:16-17, these two verses became the bedrock for all that he came to believe and teach. Luther was no saint – his views on the Jewish people were abhorrent. Yet, what he taught about Justification by faith is the foundation for a biblical Christianity.
As he meditated on these verses, the Holy Spirit ignited his mind and gave Luther revelation, and he was born again trusting completely in Christ by faith – thus passing from death to life. Luther himself lectured on theology at the University of Wittenberg throughout his life. As he lectured he came to see the importance of all that Christ accomplished for our salvation through His life, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension and ongoing heavenly ministry.
He rediscovered the centrality of God’s grace in Christ – in other words, God was reaching out to sinners in Christ willing to forgive, cleanse and save anyone who believes in Jesus. Instead of salvation depending on the ministry and teachings of the Church, and the works of the faithful, Luther taught that the Bible clearly revealed that salvation hinged on God’s grace in Christ and the response of saving faith turning the sinner into a believer and saint. This doctrine became known as Justification by Faith.
This truth has the power to revolutionise our lives as believers. Once we recognise that our relationship is rooted in Christ, standing on His righteousness – the seesaw of one day feeling unworthy of God’s love and the next day feeling worthy of God’s help begins to be overcome by a firm, ongoing recognition that we are loved by God because of Christ. My humanity, and its ongoing propensity to get it wrong and sin, does not affect my standing before God.
When I get it continually wrong – His Spirit and word will discipline me as a son our daughter; this is so that I will be conformed to Christ and His will, not so that I am shown to be illegitimate. God has no children who should feel illegitimate. Satan portrays God’s harshness to make us feel unworthy and unloved – God emphasises His commitment to us in Christ and by covenant, we are His sons and daughters by saving faith.
This Christmas, when all is said and done, in Christ, we stand in His righteousness. Therefore, we are secure in our identity in Christ – He will not disown us. Our faith unites us to Him – even faith as small as a mustard seed. These great biblical truths have the power to transform our lives. It is possible to live in such a way that Christ is exalted by our attitude to life.
Father, may each one of us have a revelation of Your commitment to us in Christ. We pray that many will come to this place of resting by faith in Jesus’ righteousness, and in His victory on the Cross. We give thanks, praise and worship to You – Father, Son and Spirit. Amen