Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How Can a Man Be Righteous Before God?

In the Bible, we find comments like this (Habakkuk 1:13): "You are of purer eyes than to see evil, and cannot look at wrong." Or Job 13:16: "The godless shall not come before Him." And Isaiah 59:2: "Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear." Or the hardest of all (Hebrews 12:14): "Strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord" [emphasis mine].

Any person who hasn't completely hardened his conscience should tremble at those verses, "for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). How can any of us stand before God, knowing in our hearts that "all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment" (Isaiah 64:6)? If the best I can do is a filthy rag by the standards of God's righteousness, how can I have any hope for more than His just judgment?

Thank God that He has given us an undeserved solution for our sin natures. Just before the verse above from Romans, the Apostle Paul tells us (Rom. 3:21-22), "The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the Law, although the Law and Prophets bear witness to it - the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe." Ah, here is hope! Here is the holiness that we do not have in ourselves!

In theology, this is called "imputed righteousness," i. e., a righteousness, a holiness, that is outside
ourselves, but is considered ours in God's eyes, by the means of faith. "With the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved, for, the Scripture says, 'Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame'" (Romans 10:10-11). Even the Patriarch Abraham needed this holiness: "If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness'" (Romans 4:2-3).

The Catholic Church tries to steal our assurance in this righteousness by quoting James 2:24, "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone." She claims that this verse means that we receive eternal life only by a mixture of faith and good works. I ask, how can a person be saved, even in part, by offering God a "polluted garment" (Isaiah 64:6)? But they make their case only by ignoring the rest of what James says. In the same paragraph (James 2:18), that brother of Jesus tells us, "Show me your faith apart from works and I will show you my faith by my works." So, where Paul is talking about our justification before God, James is talking about our justification before men. And he is correct: a faith that justifies us before God will necessarily result in a changed life that demonstrates our justification before the people around us. 

In contrast, the Westminster Confession of Faith (XVIII:1) says, "such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love him in sincerity, endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before him, may in this life be certainly assured that they are in a state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God: which hope shall never make them ashamed." I take great comfort in that. And I find this, alone, to be sufficient grounds to be a Presbyterian.

And knowing that Satan will throw other doubts in our path, the Confession continues correctly (paragraph 4): "True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it; by falling into some special sin, which woundeth the conscience, and grieveth the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation; by God's withdrawing the light of his countenance and suffering even such as fear him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may in due time be revived, and by the which, in the meantime, they are supported from utter despair."

No comments: