Today you’d scarcely find a person outside of the church who believes that God punishes ordinary people for ordinary sins. In fact, the axiom that ‘nobody is perfect’ leads many to believe that if a God exits, He certainly isn’t going to demand perfection. Our good deeds will hopefully outweigh our bad deeds. Or if God judges at all, He’ll judge us on a curve because that’s what we do, and we imagine God is like us. We judge ourselves according to other people. But notice that in all of these considerations neither the holiness of God, God’s demand for perfection, nor the total corruption of a sinner’s heart is seriously taken into consideration.
That was not the case in the 16th century. At that time, salvation was a frightful affair. Salvation was understood to be a product of one’s faith and works. The Protestant Reformation provided an appropriate rebuttal which transformed the world forever beginning with a monk named Martin Luther. Luther understood that he was an awful sinner and that God was infinitely holy. Luther did all he could to get into heaven by his hard work but never had “comfortable certainty” of his right standing with God.
What was it that Luther was searching for? Peace with God. One night as he was reading through Paul’s Epistle to the Romans he began to understand God’s grace anew. Paul wrote, “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Romans 1:17 ESV) The righteousness of God which had so frightened him now became his delight. Why? Because God’s righteousness is given to those who receive it by faith in Christ.
How can the chasm between sinful man and a holy God be bridged? Only by the work of God in doing what man could never do on his own. When Luther understood this, he wrote that he felt himself “reborn” and even “to have gone through open doors into paradise.” What Luther understood was that sinful people need a righteousness that they cannot produce; a righteousness outside of them. Instead of lifting up unto God all of our works, we must lift up empty hands to receive from God all that we need in order to be rendered acceptable by Him.
Luther would never be the same after learning that “The righteous shall live by faith.” It changed his life, and it can change yours. For the Gospel is not a call to try harder but to behold the supremacy of God magnified over the total inability of the natural man. The Gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ, whereby God pardons sinful rebels on behalf of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Such a gift is graciously bestowed “to everyone that believes” (Romans 1:16). By the perfect righteousness of Christ, God covers our unrighteousness. To some this may sound absurd but, in these words, we are not dealing with the fallible opinions of men, but the very words of God.
My friend, I want to be as plain as possible: You can only be made right with God through faith in Jesus Christ. You can only have peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ. You must trust in Jesus Christ. You must rest and receive Him and His benefits by faith. As Paul writes, “by grace are ye saved through faith; and that is not of yourself: it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8 AV) This may appear too simple to our sensibilities because we want to do something. But we are not the champions of this story; the Lord Jesus is.
Do you have peace with God today? Trust in Christ the Lord. When we do so, we stand before the holiness of God draped in the righteousness of the Lord Jesus, and we are no longer filthy nor vile, but are the precious children of God.
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