The Truth About You
What we have to face is the fact that our problem of sin and the predicament it causes for us and for God is far, far more serious than perhaps we have ever thought before. This is not a case of being merely “sick” spiritually, and recovering by getting better and better. In fact, the Bible says that before experiencing redemption in Christ we are actually dead, spiritually, because of sin.(14)
We can understand our spiritual problem better by comparing it with a physical parallel. For instance, we can not say, after having died of a fatal dose of strychnine, “Well, I’ll just take less and less strychnine each day until finally I won’t be taking any at all and I’ll be alive again.”
To gain spiritual life by trying to sin less and less and “doing good” more and more, is no less ludicrous an idea than regaining physical life after death by “taking less and less poison”—it is just as impossible. We don’t like facing it, but when it comes to “spiritual strychnine,” just one sin is a fatal dose. We’ve all sinned(15) —so we’re all dead, naturally.
The fact is, everything that we can possibly do as dead men, however good it may appear, however religious, is in fact a dead work. No act or work is intrinsically, inherently, of itself, spiritually good or alive. Its spiritual life and goodness depend upon its connection with pure and proper motives, springing from the proper point of origin, and carried forth by the right power.
Spiritually dead men cannot originate truly pure and proper motivation within themselves, nor do they have or act by the right power, the life of God. They are spiritually dead, and they cannot breathe into their works spiritual life they don’t have in themselves. A bitter fountain simply cannot bring forth sweet water. Nor can they bring themselves to life by doing dead works. Dead men are just dead! They are helpless! They cannot bring themselves to life. They must be given spiritual life by God, who alone can give it, before they can do any spiritually alive or good work.
In the words of Jesus, men must be “born again”—that is, “born of the Spirit.”(16) The Holy Spirit comes into a man and dwells there, becoming, as Jesus said, “a well of water springing up to eternal life.”(17)
However, the Holy Spirit of God cannot dwell in unclean temples. Since we are not only spiritually unclean, but dead, we can not clean ourselves to become a fit habitation for the Holy Spirit. We must look to God, and depend wholly upon Him for cleansing and righteousness.
The Truth About God
(What You Need Now)
And so finally we come to the real Gospel, the good news. It is good news about God. God is not waiting, demanding that we climb up to perfection before He will forgive us of our sins! In fact, it’s not even that He’s helping us to climb up to perfection, as if we have to reach it before He can forgive us.
No, the good news is that while we were dead and helpless, unable to do any climbing at all, spiritually,(18) and instead were actually moving away from God, He has pursued us, running out to meet us, to throw His arms around us in love and clothe us in His own righteousness!(19) This is why He is called, “The Lord our righteousness!”(20)
Because we could not clean or help ourselves, and because of His great love for us, God decided to clean us Himself! “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”(21)
Because we could not qualify ourselves for a share in His kingdom, God decided to qualify us himself! “...the Father...has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins”(22) “and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus.”(23)
Because we could not make ourselves spiritually alive, God decided to make us alive Himself! “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)”(24) “And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him...”(25) “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(26)
Because we could not pay our debt of sin, He decided to cancel it—to forgive us! (Forgiveness means “canceling the debt”—not, “closing the books after the debtor has paid his debt.”) “...having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”(27)
But How Can He Do That?
Questions that naturally arise at this point are, “How can God just cancel our debt of sin, without canceling justice? Does God not really hate sin?”
As we have seen, the scriptures teach that man’s natural state, spiritually, is that he is dead.(28) He is born in this state,(29) and he is utterly incapable of doing anything whatever to extricate himself from it.(30) That leaves God with just two choices: leave men spiritually dead, or, give men spiritual life as a free gift. The message of this booklet is that He has chosen men and given them that spiritual life, which is eternal life—His life, communicated to them by Him dwelling in them.
God was able to freely give us that life, justly, by sending Jesus into the world to live a perfect life undeserving of any punishment for sin, and then voluntarily suffering the just penalty of our sin for us, in place of us, by sacrificing that life on the cross. On the cross, Jesus suffered not only physical death, but also the ultimate penalty of sin, the spiritual death of being cut off from the Father, as He cried out, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”(31)
Jesus’ death on the cross, physically and spiritually, fully paid the penalty of our sin in our behalf, canceling that debt completely.(32) God’s wrath against sin was fully exercised and carried out, His justice met and fully satisfied. God offering us eternal life with Himself as an absolutely free gift is not a case of “mercy robbing justice.”(33) Justice has been served! Justice is satisfied, now!
Jesus did not die on the cross so that He could take over your account of debt and collect it Himself. He died to pay your debt so that with respect to you, it could be canceled! He died so that in forgiving you God could be both just and merciful, both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.(34) Some people refuse to accept God unless He is only loving and merciful. Others imagine only a severe, stern God who is rigidly righteous and heartlessly holy. Only the true God was wise enough to be perfectly loving and merciful and perfectly holy and righteous, all at the same time. He demonstrated all that at the cross.
Not Only Forgiven, But Righteous In His Sight
Having justly canceled your debt of sin, Jesus has made it possible for God to equally justly, equally freely, give you a completely right standing with Himself. If you believe it and accept it as a completely free gift, then not only is the death of Christ counted as your own, fully paying your debt of sin, but also the perfect, completely God-pleasing, God-satisfying righteousness of Jesus is credited to you, giving you perfect, right standing in God’s eyes.
“But to the one that does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works:”(35) Who is doing the reckoning here? God is. What is righteousness, to God? It is nothing less than His own perfect character. He says He will reckon (account, regard) something as righteousness (perfection). What is it He reckons that way? A man’s faith.
But what faith? Faith that Jesus was a real historical character? that He was really God the Son? or even that He died for you, (with no understanding of, or trusting in, all which that death accomplished)?
No, the verse speaks of the one who “believes in Him who justifies the ungodly.” Will you acknowledge from your heart that you are ungodly, give up trying to justify yourself, and trust God to justify ungodly you? That is the trust, the faith, Paul says God will count as righteousness. Trust in the one who justifies the ungodly, and “apart from works” He will credit His own perfection to you—the righteousness He revealed in Jesus Christ.
The Gift of Righteousness
“For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”(36) “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.”(37) Paul calls this obedience of the One a “gift of righteousness,”(38) and says it is reckoned, credited, given to us freely, when we trust God to save us by that means.(39)
It is this righteousness of Jesus Himself, credited to us, of which Paul speaks to the Romans: “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested...even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”(40)
It was because of this gift of righteousness, the righteousness of Jesus credited to him, that Paul wrote to the Philippians, “I count all things [he had just recounted the list of all his own righteousness] to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, [including his own righteousness as being anything before God] and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law [from commandment keeping], but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”(41)
Having paid our debt of sin through the death of Jesus, and having given us a completely right standing with Himself through the “obedience of the One,” (Jesus), God is free to live in us in the person of the Holy Spirit,(42) enable us for His service,(43) and give us Eternal Life with Himself, all as a free gift.(44)
(14) Romans 7:9-11; Ephesians 2:1-5; Colossians 2:13.
(15) Romans 3:23; Ecclesiastes 7:20; 1 John 1:8,10.
(16) John 3:3-8; cƒ. John 1:12-13; 2 Corinthians 5:17; 1 Peter 1:23; John 6:63.
(17) John 4:14; cƒ. John 7:38.
(18) Romans 8:7.
(19) Isaiah 61:10.
(20) Jeremiah 23:6.
(21) Titus 3:5-7 (emphasis added).
(22) Colossians 1:12-14 (emphasis added).
(23) Ephesians 2:6.
(24) Ephesians 2:4-5 (emphasis added).
(25) Colossians 2:13 (emphasis added).
(26) Romans 6:23 (emphasis added).
(27) Colossians 2:13c-14.
(28) Ephesians 2:1-3, 5a; Colossians 2:13a.
(29) Romans 5:19; Psalms 51:5.
(30) Romans 5:6; 8:3a; Hebrews 10:1.
(31) Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34.
(32) Colossians 2:14.
(33) Contrary to thought suggested by, Kimball, op. cit. p. 249.
(34) Romans 3:25-26.
(35) Romans 4:5-6 (emphasis added).
(36) Romans 5:10 (emphasis added).
(37) Romans 5:19 (emphasis added).
(38) Romans 5:17.
(39) Romans 4:4-11, 22-25.
(40) Romans 3:21-24 (emphasis added).
(41) Philippians 3:8-9 (emphasis and bracketed words added).
(42) Ephesians 1:13-14, 30.
(43) Colossians 2:10; Philippians 4:13.
(44) Romans 3:24; 6:23.