Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Clothed in Righteousness

One of the key teachings of the Protestant Reformation was justification by faith, that God declares guilty sinners righteous based on the sacrifice of Christ.  This was not just a key truth then, but it still is today. The ordinary way of understanding how we come to God is that it is through our good deeds. But Scripture says that we are sinners (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6) and are unable to save ourselves by our own works (Romans 3:19,20; 7:14-25; Galatians 3:10-14). Therefore, Christ came to pay the price for our sins (1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21). As a result of this, we are declared righteous before God by faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9; Galatians 3:6-9), apart from anything we can do to earn it (Galatians 2:21; Titus 3:5,6; Romans 11:6). Now justification is a judicial term. It refers to the verdict of a court (Exodus 23:7; Deuteronomy 25:1; 1 Kings 8:32). Normally it refers to justifying the innocent. But God justifies the guilty. Now one of the results of this justification is that God sends His Spirit into our lives to transform us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 1:29) out of our love of God for what He has done for us (Titus 2:11-14; 1 John 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15). But this is the result of justification, not the cause of justification.

As a result, we have assurance before God (1 John 5:11-13; Romans 8:37-39; John 10:27-30). Based on that, we can correctly deal with guilt (Romans 8:33,34; Galatians 4:4-7; John 3:18). Now there is a place for appropriate guilt in the life of the believer, guilt that leads to repentance of one's sin and returning to follow God  (2 Corinthians 7:10; Proverbs 28:13; 1 John 1:8-10). But there is a guilt which dredges up the past or claims we have sinned so badly that God has rejected us. It is against this type of guilt that we should take our stand based on the fact that God has declared us righteous before Him. Therefore, we can go forth with confidence. A confidence not based on our accomplishments or goodness, but on the fact that we are declared righteous in Christ.

But it also undercuts self-righteousness. We stand before God, not based on our superior accomplishments, but on God's mercy (Luke 18:9-14; 7:36-50; Matthew 9:9-13). This results in reaching out to others with love, offering them the forgiveness that we have received (1 Peter 3:15; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; Colossians 4:6). We also forgive others based on the fact that we have been forgiven (Colossians 3:12-14; Ephesians 4:31,32; Matthew 18:23-35). Therefore, being declared righteous by faith avoids the brittle self-righteousness which looks down on and rejects others, particularly those who do not measure up to its standards.

The right attitude toward God and man, the one that enables us to be confident without being puffed-up, flows from justification by faith.

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