If you listened to our program last Sunday, you will remember that we asked the one and only important question. That question is: How can a man be right with God?
We saw from the Word of God that Job in chapter 9:1, 2 asked that question in the midst of all of his sufferings and all of his pains. That was the great question to his soul. The great question was not, Why did God do all of this to me – take away my wealth, my children, and my health? But the question to which his soul yearned to know the answer was, How shall I, a sinner, be righteous with the holy and the living God?
We saw that this is the fundamental question. We saw that it was the fundamental question because we must face it, all must face it, it is unavoidable. We must stand before God. And, further, we saw that it is the fundamental question because everything else depends upon it. If you do not ask and know the answer to that question, then it does not matter what happens in your life, for it is all worthless. It is only when we know how our sins are forgiven in the sight of God; it is only when we know by faith that the righteousness, the perfect work of Christ, is ours (and we know that through faith, the gift of God) – it is only then that we can stand in this world in confidence, in strength, and say with the apostle Paul that there is nothing that can separate us from His love.
So we pressed that question to your conscience last week. And we emphasized that that is the fundamental question that a man must ask and face. He can only do that by grace. God must write the right question upon our hearts. But that is the work of His grace – when you ask the right question: How can I stand before God, God who is God and holy, and I who am a fallen and corrupt sinner?
Today we are going to spend our time answering that question. We are going to speak today of the only answer to the one question.
How can a man be right with God? This is the answer: Only in the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, given to him as his own, by God’s grace, and embraced with a believing and repentant heart.
Now, I know that that said a lot. And perhaps there are certain phrases or words that you did not catch or understand. Read it again. Then we will spend the rest of our time explaining that wonderful truth.
The answer is that we are right with God only on the basis of the work of Christ on the cross. That work of Christ is made, or legally reckoned, to be our own by God’s grace alone, not by anything in ourselves. And we know all of this through the gift of faith, which is also God’s work in us, a faith which reveals itself in a heart that repents of its sins and longs to be holy in God’s sight.
Only the Bible, and only the gospel of Jesus Christ, can answer the question: How can I be right with God? The Bible, you see, is not given to us merely as a solution, as an aid, as a good chance. It is the only answer. For Scripture, specifically salvation in Jesus Christ, is the power of God unto salvation. In Romans 1:16 and 17 the apostle, standing in a world of man’s wisdom, and writing to the church at Rome, writing to a church which stood in the capital of man’s power, could say to that church, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” Why not? Because “it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.” And why is that gospel so glorious? Because, says Paul, in that gospel is revealed the righteousness of faith. So the gospel alone stands as the only answer to our question.
Now before we look further into that answer of the righteousness of Christ given to us by God of grace and embraced in a believing heart, I want to warn you of some false answers to that question. There are two false answers. And I will take the false answers and make a figure of both of them from the Scriptures.
The first false answer I could call fig leaves. Follow carefully. How did Adam and Eve (read your Bible in Genesis 3) try to repair the damage of their sin and the ruptured fellowship with God? We read in Genesis 3:7, “They sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.” How shall a man be right with God? Adam and Eve thought that they could repair the damage themselves by their own handiwork and by their own ingenuity. That is a false answer. That is an answer of a deceptive and fallen heart. So today we are told, “Let him lead a good life. Let him do his best, as good as he can. Let him do a good turn to someone else – go to church now and then, be decent, be respectable.” That is how you are right with God. Your confidence should be that, though you are not as good as some, you are not as bad as most. You are better than the majority of people. If you base your confidence before God in that, you are wearing fig leaves. Can fig leaves protect you from the icy wind and snow? Fig leaves dry up and are burnt up. Not your decency, not your respectability, and not your good life. None of these can make you right with God in themselves. All that is done out of the smugness of pride, saying to God, “I’m going to repair the damage. I can do it myself,” is detestable to God. Your works cannot and do not wash away so much as one sin that you have committed. So fig leaves are a false answer.
When you die and go on to eternity and face God, what are you going to rely upon? What will you say to justify yourself before God? Are you going to say to God, “Well, I haven’t done any harm to anybody. I’ve tried to be good. I’ve tried to live up to my standards. I am better than most.” Is that your secret thought? Cast it away from you as a filthy rag. Job knew that was utterly false. He could say in chapter 9:20, “If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me: if I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse.” That is, the voice of his conscience condemns him. When I say that I can justify myself, when I parade my good works before God, a voice within me condemns me. Does it do that to you too? That’s the work of God’s grace. My own heart tells me it is not true. I cannot satisfy God. There is nothing about me that is good. When I examine myself and my deeds in the light of God’s holy law, which calls me to love the Lord my God with my entire being and my neighbor as myself; when I examine myself in the light of that law by the Spirit of Christ, then I confess ( Ps. 143), “Before Thy holy law, no man is justified.”
So if we were to go to God and say, “Lord, I didn’t do all that bad. Look at what my neighbor did. It was a whole lot worse,” a voice would speak out of our own conscience and say, You are a liar! Your deeds cannot make you right with God.
The second false answer is this: embroidered robes of religious self-righteousness.
These robes are spun in many churches today. The Roman Catholic church did that in Martin Luther’s day. Catholic doctrine teaches that works that are performed by the saints and by Mary have merit. They teach that religious ceremonies are able to earn with God, that garments of righteousness can be made and woven by the works of men and by the ceremonies of the church. That is not exclusively a Roman Catholic idea. You might say that men come by this idea naturally. We, too, begin to think that our prayers and our repentance and our good works, after all, earn something. But the answer of God’s Word is, No! No, your repentance and your prayers and your good works do not add to your salvation. They do not earn. These are gifts of God’s grace in you. This is what God works in you and it is your privilege to perform them. But you cannot earn salvation, even if you were to give everything that you possess and live in a cave. No. We are His workmanship, we read in Ephesians 2:10. We are created in Christ Jesus, unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. So, by saying that we are made right with God by our own works is simply weaving a robe of self-righteousness.
We are justified by the works of Christ. We cannot be cleared in the court of heaven on the basis of our works. We cannot be cleared on the basis even of the works that Christ performs in us. Listen carefully: repentance and love, holiness and kindness – all of these are absolutely crucial. We must walk in all good works. The life of the person who is saved is going to be a life of prayer, repentance, love, kindness, forsaking the sin, doing the good. That is absolutely crucial! But those works do not remove your sin. It is only the work of Christ that does that. The life of prayer and repentance, they are the works that Christ works in us whereby we show our thankfulness for His work.
Besides, all of those works of our repentance and prayers are still covered with sin. They still fail of the perfect standard of God. For the standard of God is not, Do the best you can. The standard of God is perfect. Job 9:32, “For he is not a man, as I am, that I should answer him, and we should come together in judgment.” God is holy and God is light. There is no darkness in Him at all. He requires perfection within. The righteousness that God will accept must be in all points absolutely perfect. The works that we have the privilege of doing in Christ are indeed good. But they are not perfect. Nor do they remove our sins.
What is the answer? The answer is the wonder and the beauty of our Lord Jesus Christ. I John 2:1, 2, We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, who is the propitiation or covering for our sin. Standing over all the wrecks of men and the vain attempts of man throughout time stands the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified. But now the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, say the Scriptures. We are righteous before God in the work of another. Only the perfect work of Jesus Christ makes us righteous. That was the only work in all of history that was perfect. Nothing can be added to it, nor need anything be added to it. The obedience of Jesus Christ hides my sins.
The work of Jesus Christ in suffering for the sins of God’s people was so perfect that nothing can be added to it. It is complete. In the work of Christ, I am justified. That is, God looks upon me as if I had never sinned.
How shall a man be right with God?
What hope do I have when the X-rays of God’s eyes look down into the pit of my heart? How shall I ever stand in the presence of a holy God? There is only one answer. That is: The Redeemer. The Redeemer, Jesus Christ. The Redeemer who, by His mighty hand, takes hold of us. That is what Job says to his friend Bildad in Job 9:33. He speaks there of a daysman, or a redeemer, who lays his hand upon us both. Bildad, you remember, had come to Job in his sufferings and had said, “Job, the Lord punishes you because of what you did.” And Job answers, “I know I am a sinner. But my salvation is not going to be built upon what I am or what I have done. My salvation is in my Redeemer, the Redeemer who, by His mighty hand, takes hold upon me and makes me righteous in His work.” That is the gospel. God has given His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin (Rom. 8:3). Christ condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh but after the spirit. Christ took the guilt of His children, given to Him of the Father, upon Himself. Christ was made accursed for us (Gal. 3:13). God made Him sin for us so that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (II Cor. 5:21). Christ took our sin, our failure, our punishment. Christ called down on Himself the cup of God’s holy wrath which our sin deserved. And all the while, as He stood in our place, He whispered to God the words that we could not say: “I love Thee, O God. I delight to do Thy will.” By His work, Christ clothes me with His righteous. In His righteousness He takes me by the hand and presents me to the Father, and He says to the Father, “Father, these are the ones righteous in My blood.” And the Father responds: “I find no fault in them, no spot, no wrinkle. Come, ye righteous. Enter into the kingdom that is prepared for you.” That is the gospel.
And that is everything!
Is it everything to you? Has the reality of God, as the holy God, the reality of yourself as a sinner, has that come home by the grace of God to your soul? And do you ask the only question: How shall I be right with God? If you had to stand before God of yourself today, what would you say? Would you say, “Well, I’m not so bad.” Is that good enough? Do you trust in your own efforts, in your own righteousness? Take all of that and dash it to pieces. There is no hope in that. There is only one plea: By the grace of God, His Spirit working in us through His Word, whereby we look upon His Son and we say, “Not the labors of my hands could fulfill Thy laws demands. Could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow, all for sin could not atone. Thou must save, and Thou alone!”
We bring nothing in our hands except the plea that God has written in our hearts: Jesus’ blood is shed for me, and His righteousness is given to me. In that righteousness we stand right with God. We stand right with God now and we stand right with Him eternally. How am I right with God? Only through the righteousness of Jesus Christ given to me by faith.
Now that we have the answer to that question, now we go on to question two, the second most important question. Do you know what that is? Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?
Is that your question, too?
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for the holy gospel. Write it upon our hearts. Preserve it in all of its truth in the church. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.