Susan dropped to her knees and rested her elbows on the sofa. “Oh, God!” she wept. “I’ve done it again. A whole box of chocolates! And all at one time! How can You ever forgive me?”
Michael sat by the desk in his small home office, rubbing his forehead. “God, I promised Kathy I’d hold my temper. You know I meant it. I love her, and I hate myself for yelling at her this evening. If I can’t stop, I’m afraid she’ll leave me.” He paused. “And You? Well, I don’t see how You can accept me.”
The old man tugged on the weathered church door. Once inside, he stumbled down the aisle. At the altar, he threw himself on the floor and beat the boards with his hands. “Jesus, Son of God!” he cried. “That cursed tavern! Another drink. How can I call myself a Christian!”
It happens thousands of times a day to people all over the world. It has happened to me before. It has happened to you. Maybe just today. We vow to overcome our temptations, but they get the best of us. And we feel horribly condemned and unacceptable to God.
If you’re honest, this is your story.
So what’s the answer. Is there an answer? In our worst moments we fear it’s No.
I have good news for you. Once you’ve confessed your sin, the answer is Yes! Listen to what Paul said, “If God is for us, who can be against us? . . . It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns?” (Romans 8:31–34).
God is on your side!
“But look what I’ve done,” you protest. “How can God be on my side?”
That question might make sense if you read only the first sentence in that text just quoted. But look at the next two sentences: “It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns?” Do you feel condemned? Paul said, “It is God who justifies”—and that’s the solution to all the condemnation that Susan, Michael, the old man, and you and I experience from time to time.
The Greek word for justification means “to declare righteous.” A good example is the prisoner who receives a pardon from the governor. He’s now righteous in the eyes of the law, not because he never violated the law, but because the state has declared him to be innocent of his crime. Similarly, God has declared you and me to be righteous, free of all sin in His eyes. Read what Paul said: “No-one will be declared righteous in [God’s] sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known” (Romans 3:20, 21).
Two thoughts stand out in these verses. The first is that you and I cannot be justified or declared righteous in God’s sight by our obedience. Regardless of how faithfully we try to keep the law—which in the broadest sense is all the moral instruction in the Bible—we can’t make ourselves good enough to be acceptable to God.
So what’s God’s solution? That’s the second thought: He provides the righteousness we need to stand innocent in His presence. Paul explained this even more clearly in Philippians 3:9. He said he wanted to be found in Christ, “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (emphasis added).
In another place Paul said, “I know that nothing good lives in me” (Romans 7:18). He meant that he couldn’t possibly keep the law well enough to make himself acceptable to God. The only possible solution was for God to give him His own righteousness, what Paul called “the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”
Jesus illustrated this in His parable of the prodigal son. The young man demanded his share of the inheritance, and when he received it, he went off to a distant country and spent it on wild living. His money ran out one day, though, and he was forced to herd pigs for a living. At this point he realised what a fool he’d been. He resolved to return to his father and ask to be taken in as a hired servant.
However, his father ran to meet him, put the family’s best robe over his shoulders and threw a huge party for him. And the Bible doesn’t say that the father asked his son to take a bath before putting on the family’s best robe. No! The robe went right over the dirty clothes.
That’s how God treats you and me when we come to Him. He gives us His righteousness to cover our sinfulness. We can say that He covers us with “the robe of His righteousness.” And when He does this, in His sight, you and I are innocent of all wrongdoing.
living by faith
“For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’ ” (Romans 1:17). This was probably the verse that started what is now known as the Protestant Reformation.
By 1517, Martin Luther, a German priest and theology professor at the University of Wittenberg, had become uncomfortable with the Catholic Church’s practice of selling indulgences, which it claimed helped a person avoid punishment by God for sins they committed.
On October 31, 1517, Luther posted the Ninety-Five Theses, which he had composed in Latin, on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg. The theses objected to many of the church’s teachings, specifically regarding baptism, the validity of indulgences and forgiveness of sin.
Luther would later write, “The first and chief article is this: Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification (Romans 3:24, 25). . . . All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works and merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood (Romans 3:23–25).”
The Ninety-Five Theses were translated, copied and widely distributed around Europe, initiating the Protestant Reformation.
In both Romans and Philippians, Paul said this righteousness comes “from God” (Romans 3:21; Philippians 3:9). It’s His righteousness attributed to you and me as though it were our own!
I propose, however, that God actually gives us Christ’s righteousness. Note the italicised words in 1 Corinthians 1:30: “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness.” Jesus lived a perfect life while on this earth (2 Corinthians 5:21), and now He takes our sins and gives us His righteousness. States Nineteenth century Bible writer Ellen White stated it succinctly: “Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves. He was condemned for our sins, in which He had no share, that we might be justified by His righteousness, in which we had no share.”
By His perfect life on earth, Jesus earned merit—righteousness, goodness, if you please—that’s available to you and me right now. His holy life becomes your holy life when you accept Him as your Saviour.
And here’s the good news: this righteousness is for bad people. Good people wouldn’t need it. So the more sinful you are, the more you qualify to receive Christ’s righteousness. All you have to do is ask for it. Say this prayer the next time you feel guilty over something you just did: “God, I just sinned, but You’ve offered to give me Christ’s righteousness as if it were my own. Thank You for this gift. I accept it.”
When you say this prayer, you stand perfectly innocent in God’s sight—just as if you’d never sinned. You don’t need to feel condemned a moment longer, because God can’t condemn someone whom He views as having never sinned. And remember, the more sinful you are, the more you qualify to receive this gift.
That’s the solution to the condemnation that Susan and Michael and the old man felt. It’s the solution to the condemnation and guilt you feel when you sin.
So claim it!