by Robert Beames
Most of us hesitate when asked the question, “If you died today, do you know you would wake up in heaven?” To hesitate at a question like that is not entirely a bad thing. We usually balk a bit simply out of humility. How dare we assume we are good enough to make it? We don’t want to seem too confident because we know we are far from perfect. If we could actually comprehend just how distant we are from that mark, it would be more than we could bear.
Humility isn’t a negative quality, in fact, it’s essential for a relationship with Christ. We have to understand we need someone to save us in order to seek out a savior. If we fail to realize we are unable to save ourselves, we are lost. So, doubting our worthiness to enter heaven is natural since we know we are sinners. There’s a point in every Christian’s sanctification process at which we become extremely confident of our unworthiness to be in the presence of Christ.
Like an unforeseen twist in a movie thriller, that’s where the gospel of Christ really gets good. No one could see it coming, but God wrote this unbelievable plot before the foundations of the world were laid. Romans 4:5 unlocks the secret to the mystery of God’s blockbuster, spiritual screenplay, “However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.”
This details one of the central foundations of our faith: justification. It’s a tough concept to believe, and it’s almost impossible to feel. Thankfully for us, God isn’t going to ask, “Why do you feel I should let you into heaven?” If our salvation were based on our feelings, we would all be undone. Justification is not a feeling, but a fact accepted by faith. However, this doesn’t stop our feelings from being used against us. The truth that we are not good enough for God to accept us often becomes a fiery dart headed for a heart unprotected by the shield of faith.
The dilemma becomes clear. We feel unworthy but that’s because we are so. We know sin cannot be unevenly yoked with perfection; no more than filthy rags are sown together with priceless fabric to fashion a royal wardrobe. Deep within our hearts we know we don’t belong at the wedding feast even though we hold an invitation in our hands.
The truth appears to be devastating, but behold the splendor of justification. It’s the primary package of the gospel wrapped up and given to us as a gift. We can only accept it by faith. In a moment, not only are our sins wiped clean, but our simple trust in His completed work suddenly works to our credit. We are given a righteousness we really don’t possess. It truly belongs to us because it’s credited to our spiritual account.
We understand credit in the way we experience it. We go to the store in order to purchase something we desire with our limited financial resources, and after finding out we don’t have enough, we pull out a credit card. If approved we are given credit for the item which we desire. We immediately possess it, and it belongs to us, but we don’t question it much, because we know we’ll pay for it later. We understand we will fully purchase the item at a future date with interest. We don’t have a problem feeling we deserve to walk out with the item we wanted, because we essentially paid for it. Yet, in reality, we didn’t pay one thin dime for it at the time. The credit card company paid for it on our behalf.
This concept partially illustrates the justification piece of the gospel. The payment we justly owed for our sin was paid by Christ on our behalf at the time of His death. But after that the credit card illustration falls short in accurately describing God’s gift of justification to us.
Perhaps a more accurate illustration of this spiritual benefit is not a bank card, but rather a gift card. With a gift card someone else has paid for our desired item in full, and we don’t have to pay it back. In fact, no one ever does—not one cent. It would be insane to try, because the price was paid in full by a friend. Perhaps if Paul wrote about this concept for us today, he would say, “…their faith is an unlimited gift card to purchase all the righteousness they need.” I agree it’s not as catchy.
Justification has been described in many ways, but as Paul explains above, although we are not righteous, we are considered to be. He says our faith is counted as righteousness.
This is where many Christians fail to go deeply enough into the meaning of this vital doctrine. We can’t be considered sort of righteous. The debt cannot be only partially settled. We have to be fully pleasing to God, not just marginal to Him. We are given the righteousness of Christ, or we stand before Him in our own filth. We have absolutely no resources to save ourselves, so God can’t simply give us an advance on something we might later earn. No. It was completely a gift. We either accept it, or we go it alone. We can’t try to buy it or earn it ourselves. Our money’s no good, here. In fact, we have no credit. This makes the gift of justification all that much more priceless to us. It’s something we could never spiritually be approved to buy. It was paid in full by a friend!
(I believe He wanted me to remind you of this.)
by Robert Beames