Those who teach works must be added to faith as a condition for salvation can never tell you when you have done enough. This fact alone exposes the reason why you will never find assurance of salvation in their systems. The problems with believing our right standing before God is a result of Christ’s work plus our merit are innumerable and damning, but the inability of its proponents to answer the question, “How much work is enough?” exposes its corrupting effect on the hearts of those that adhere to it.
The reason why I refer to it as a corrupting effect is that there are only two possible responses to imbibing this theology and neither are edifying. The first is bondage to pride. Someone who is blind to their sinfulness will begin to rejoice in their goodness. After all, they are contributing some merit to their salvation. Jesus has not done it all, so there is room for boasting. To do this, they must either under-estimate their sinfulness or lower God’s righteous standard. The second response is bondage to constant anxiety. Anyone awake to his or her corruption will tend in this direction. They will strive and struggle but will never find themselves able to rest in Christ because, as long as they live, Christ’s work will never be sufficient, and their work will never be complete.
Works do play a role in salvation, but they are the result of our salvation in Jesus, not the cause of it. When we stand before the Lord, there is only one to whom we will point for our acceptance before God, and that is Jesus Christ. He fulfilled the law that we could not, he paid our debt on the cross, and he credits his righteousness to us. We will never point to ourselves. Remember, even the Pharisee gave God the credit for his assumed righteousness and all the works he did, yet he walked away unjustified (Luke 18-9-14). When we point to ourselves in any way, we point to our own condemnation. It is only when we beat our breast like the tax collector and look outside of ourselves to Jesus Christ that we find the righteousness we need.
There is no “It is finished” in faith plus works theological systems, and because of that, there is only bondage. If we want to be free in Christ, we must reject the notion that our righteousness is anything other than Christ’s perfect righteousness accounted as ours. We are justified by faith apart from works of the law (Romans 3:28). Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28).”
I recently had the privilege of preaching at First Artesia Christian Reformed Church. In this clip from the sermon, we take a look at how Christ’s righteousness imputed to us is better than the guiltlessness that Adam lost. Below is the transcript of the video with a few edits to better fit this format.
When we talk about justification, the biblical and theological term of justification, we are talking about two imputations. First, as I already mentioned, our sins are imputed to Jesus. He bears our punishment on the cross, but the second part is that his righteousness is imputed to us and, we are counted righteous in Jesus.
Now some may say, “Well, isn’t guiltlessness the same as righteousness? I mean, if I haven’t sinned, am I not righteous? Well, it is much deeper than that. Let me give you an analogy.
Let us say a mom walks into her son’s room, and her son’s room is a mess. It’s been a mess for a week, and she is kind of getting tired of it. It is morning time, and she says, “Son, you will clean this room by five o’clock today. If you have it clean by five o’clock today, I am going to give you movie tickets for you and your two friends so you can go see that movie you have been wanting to see. If you do not have it cleaned, you’ll be grounded for a week.
Get the analogy here. Here is the law. There are blessings if you do it, and cursings if you do not. Now, imagine the mom comes back at five o’clock, and he hasn’t even started on it. The room is still a mess. She would say, “Okay, you are grounded for a week.”
Now imagine a week goes by, and he has paid his penalty. The son comes back to the mom and says, “Mom, I have paid my penalty. You can no longer punish me for this act.” The mom would say, “That is correct, that was the agreement. Imagine the son then saying, “Now give me my movie tickets.” You would say, “Wait a minute, you never did what was required to get the reward. I cannot punish you anymore, but you do not get the reward.”
Now think about Christ on the cross. We are not just in a place where we cannot be punished anymore. Christ lived the perfect life. He fulfilled all the requirements of the law. He has justly received the reward, and his righteousness is now counted as ours. We are co-heirs with him. That is the beauty of the holiness and the righteousness of Christ. Take that to heart. We are declared righteous in Christ as if we have fulfilled the law.
Thomas Brooks, a great Puritan, said this, “Christ provides a better righteousness than Adam lost.
A stranger to the life of faith makes a snuffle at believing, and thinks no work so easy, or so trifling. He wonders why such gentle business should be called the fight of faith, and why the chosen twelve should pray for faith, when, as they believe, every human brain might quickly furnish out a handsome dose.
For my own part, since first my unbelief was felt, I have been praying fifteen years for faith, and praying with some earnestness, and am not yet possessed of more than half a grain. You smile, Sir, I perceive, at the smallness of the quantity; but you would not, if you knew its efficacy. Jesus, who knew it well, assures you that a single grain, and a grain as small as mustard-seed, would remove a mountain; remove a mountain-load of guilt from the conscience, a mountain-lust from the heart, and any mountain-load of trouble from the mind.
The Saviour’s word to his people is, Fear not, stand still, and see the salvation of God. (Exodus 14:13). In quietness and confidence shall be your strength (Isaiah. 30:15). Cast thy burden on the Lord, and he shall support thee (Psalm 55:22). Look to me for salvation, all the ends of the earth (Isaiah 14:22). Call on me in time of trouble, I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me (Psalm 50:15).
Many people believe the punishment of a crime should not be viewed as a penalty the criminal deserves; it should be understood as rehabilitation that works to cure the criminal. These people believe this way is more humane and will keep people from being treated unjustly. However, it is important to remember that if you remove the idea of penalty from the corrective action, you also remove the possibility of justice. In treating criminals as patients, any treatment can be justified, as long as necessary, in the name of a cure provided it is done with the “best interest” of the offender in mind.
Another belief is that this theory tends to be more merciful, but in reality, just as it destroys the concept of justice, it also destroys the possibility of mercy. For if a just penalty was deserved, then an actual pardon or mercy could be given, but if we view the criminal as ill, then it would never be merciful to withhold treatment.
The following quote by C.S. Lewis also provides us with a glimpse of how quickly this theory can spiral downward. “If crimes are diseases, why should diseases be treated any differently from crimes? And who but the experts can define disease? One school of psychology regards my religion as a neurosis. If this neurosis ever becomes inconvenient to Government, what is to prevent my being subjected to a compulsory ‘cure’? It may be painful; treatments sometimes are. But it will be no use asking, ‘what have I done to deserve this?’ The Straightener will reply: ‘But, my dear fellow, no one’s blaming you. We no longer believe in retributive justice. We’re healing you.”
Secular ideas like this rarely stay in the political realm. They either originate from bad theology or find there way there. In denying a just penalty for crime, most people will also deny a just penalty for sin, thus denying the gospel. Jesus was our substitute. On the cross, he bore just penalty for our sins, the wrath of God. Yes, it is true that he also heals us, but the healing of our sin-sick soul is not the basis of our salvation. The atoning work of Christ on the cross is the root, and our new life in Christ is the fruit. Since our Father is a just God, our sanctification would not be possible had his wrath not been satisfied.
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53:5
When He comes, He will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment! – John 16:8
The Holy Spirit is the only effectual reformer of the world! If He is absent, legislators may make laws against crime; philosophers may reason against vice; ministers may preach against sin; conscience may remonstrate against evil; the divine law may prescribe, and threaten Hell; the gospel may invite, and allure to Heaven; but all will be in vain!
The strongest arguments, the most melting entreaties, the most alarming denunciations from God and man, enforced with the highest authority, or the most compassionate tears, all will have no effect, all will not effectually reclaim one sinner, nor gain one sincere convert to righteousness!
Paul, Apollos, and Peter, with all their apostolic abilities, can do nothing, without the Holy Spirit. Paul may plant the seed, and Apollos may water it; but God alone can make it grow! “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow!” (1 Corinthians 3:6, 7)
Never will peace and harmony be established in this jangling world until this Divine Agent takes the work in hand. It is He alone, who can melt down the obstinate hearts of men into love and peace! It is He alone, who can soften their rugged and savage tempers, and transform them into mutual benevolence!
It is He alone, who can quench those lusts that set the world on fire, and implant the opposite virtues and graces. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, are mentioned by Paul, as the fruit of the Spirit, because the Spirit alone is the author of them. And if these dispositions were predominant in the world, what a serene, calm, peaceful region would it be, undisturbed with the hurricanes of human passions!
Oh, how much do we need the influence of the blessed Spirit to break the heart of stone, to enlighten the dark mind, and to comfort the desponding soul!
Many people think they have peace with God, but their lack of concern about their standing with him is a deception of their spiritually dead soul. There is a peace that passes all understanding, and in times like we were living in now, it is one of the most blessed aspects of the Christian life. The foundation of this peace is the cross of Jesus, where our sins found forgiveness, and the wrath of God is satisfied. The moment we trust in the atoning work of Christ, we are at peace with God objectively. From there, that truth begins to give us peace subjectively as God sheds his love abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5).
The problem is, many people believe they are at peace with God, but because of their sins, they are still at enmity with him. Though they experience no distress at the thought of the holiness of God, it is not the peace of Christ they are experiencing; it is a dead calm. Scripture tells us to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith. There are signs that manifest if what we are experiencing is not the peace of Christ but is, in reality, the stillness of a spiritually dead soul. Here are six telltale signs of a dead calm.
1. Peace Without Heavenly Joy
One of the first signs that the peace we are experiencing is not the peace of Christ is that it is not accompanied by heavenly joy. The person who is alive in Christ and has experienced the conviction of sin, knows that there is no more significant dilemma in life. Once we have been awakened to the fact that hell is the only proper punishment for our sins and we find salvation in the cross of Jesus, all other problems in life pale in comparison. From there flows joy unspeakable and full of glory (1 Pet. 1:8), and that joy of the Lord will be our strength. If you find yourself unconcerned with your spiritual state before the Lord, but there is no joy in Christ Jesus, you may be experiencing the ease of a deceitful heart.
2. Peace That Rests on Our Own Merit
The second evidence that we do not have the peace of Christ can be seen when we consider our good-standing with God, and we base his favor on our character; when we think of all we do for the church, how we help the community, and think, “Of course, I have peace with God, look at all the good I do.” To further deceive ourselves, we often try to convince ourselves of our worthiness by looking around at the sins of others and see how we have avoided many vices that others have embraced. It is this comparison to other people that causes us to take comfort while we are still in our sins. This confidence in our goodness is a sure sign that we are experiencing the calm of a spiritually dead soul. Even if we claim the merits of the blood of Jesus, but believe our justification in Christ is a mixture of his death and our works, scripture says we are lost. We are saved by faith apart from works (Rom. 3:28); it is entirely the merit of Christ that brings us into a right relationship with him. If we add righteousness of our own, we condemn ourselves because our righteousness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).
3. The Things of God are Barren and Dry
The third sign that our peace is not of God is exposed if we find the things of God barren and dry. This is when we have no hunger for the word of God, and when we try to feed upon it, it is like ashes in our mouth. If we can find more joy in an obscene Netflix series, than a time of prayer and Bible reading, something is seriously amiss with our spiritual condition.
4. Peace That is Easily Disturbed by Life’s Troubles
The fourth indicator deals with our response to trials. When life is going smoothly, our calm continues, but when troubles arise, so does the desperation of our heart. If life’s calamities have sent us into a tailspin of despair, the peace we are experiencing may not have been born of God.
Peace born of the flesh trembles when the things of the flesh tremble. Peace born of the Spirit of God looks to God himself who does not move, even when the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the sea (Psalm 46:2). There will be times of lament, sorrow, grief, and distress in the life of the Christian, but though we may be perplexed, we will not despair (2 Cor. 4:8).
5. Death Will Be Fierce
If we are reading this, we have not yet experienced this last one, but if worldly peace is not replaced with true peace with God, our deathbed will be a harrowing experience. Only the believer strengthened by the Holy Spirit is able to say, “Death, where is your sting. Grave, where is your victory. (1 Cor. 15:55)” A peace founded on the things of the world and confidence in the flesh will die when the flesh begins to perish.
As you went through this list, was any of this true of you? If so, it can only mean one of two things. 1. We are not a child of God, and we need to confess our sinfulness to the Lord, and trust entirely in the merits of Jesus, and the work he did on our behalf. Or 2. We are a believer, but our heart is still trying to find its hope and peace in this life. We must grow to be more spiritually-minded. If we do not, we may be saved, but we will suffer great loss as our carnal works are burned up on the day of judgment. We will be saved, but as one through fire (1. Corinthians 3: 15).
None of us are without sin. It is time for all of us to draw up under the wings of our Savior, and find joy in our salvation as the Holy Spirit works in our hearts. The revived joy will make the things of God more precious to us than anything this world can offer, and life’s storms will not be able to take our peace. Finally, on the day we die, death will not have its sting, and the grave will not have its victory.
Your frequent afflictions are His sweet lessons. It is the proper work of the grace of Jesus to humble the proud sinner, to make him and to keep him sensible of his needs, convinced always that he has not any good of his own and cannot possibly of himself obtain any but what he must be receiving every moment out of the fullness of Jesus.
All providences, sicknesses, losses, successes, are only so far blessings, as they lead us more out of ourselves, into the fullness of Jesus.
The Lord having appointed you for His heavenly kingdom, has also appointed all the steps which are to lead you there. Your every affliction is in the covenant. Your sicknesses, your failings, your disappointments, there is not one thing that thwarts your will, that is not in God’s will. Nothing can befall you but what is divinely ordered, contrived for you by infinite wisdom, brought upon you by infinite love!
Oh, for eyes to see, for a heart to receive all God’s dealings with you in this covenant view. How sweet would be your many trials, if you found them all appointed and managed for you by the best of friends! Learn to receive them thus.
To the care of His dear loving heart I commend you and yours,
Today is a gift from God, and you marred it with sin. It was not your intention. You planned to bring God glory in all that you did, and for a portion of the day, you were on track. You started the morning with scripture; you spent time in prayer, then you were off to handle the pressures of the day, but somewhere along the way you lost focus. The world threw so many curveballs, you forgot about your Savior, and focused all your attention on issues at hand.
As you successfully navigated the first several obstacles, you began to grow confident. You believed that whatever was going to come your way would be no problem for you. You even started to feel good about yourself, thinking that what you were doing was impressive. If people knew how well you were handling it all, they would most likely applaud you.
You knew the afternoon would have more that would need your attention, but you had already handled quite a bit today, so you thought you would give yourself a short break. You knew you should be doing something else, but you deserved it. Then you came back to handle the rest of the day.
As the hours progressed, something in your spirit started to long for more. The short break was not quite enough. There was a mild dissatisfaction that wanted to be filled, an itch that needed to be scratched. Before you knew it, temptation had presented itself robed as relief, and you had given in to that old familiar sin. You did not see it coming. You were not vigilant, and the enemy caught you off guard. He sent you to the ground bleeding and cloaked your day with darkness.
As you lay there, you remember the old saying, “The strength of sin is death, and sin is the death of strength.” Now more than ever, you know that to be true. It feels like something inside you has died. The spiritual vitality that moved you in the morning, now seems to be on life support.
As you lay there wounded, the enemy hides in the darkness whispering “failure” in your direction. “You might as well hang it up,” he hisses. “You have ruined this day; you are ruined” You feel like a lost cause; you wonder if you should give up, but then something starts to stir within you. The realization of your weakness and the humility it produced turns your eyes away from yourself and the issues at hand back to the one who can wash you clean and give you new strength.
Once again, you learn to trust yourself less, and your Savior more. You remember that you do not have what it takes to run this race, yet somehow, you do not despair because you know the one who can lives within you, and greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world.
The Spirit reminds you that the wrath you deserve for the sin that so easily entangled you received its full punishment on the cross. He stands you to your feet, brushes you off, points you in the right direction, and empowers you to continue pressing toward the goal.
As you walk entirely dependent upon him, he does not leave you. He walks with you and reminds you that a soldier often wins the day after a fall; soldiers can win the battle after being wounded. Some battles in the Christian life are short-lived, but the struggle with yourself will last a lifetime. Remember this, however, life is short, and when the battle is done, comes an eternity of triumph in Christ Jesus.
Press on in the strength of the Lord. You may have fallen, but you are not foiled.
The past several days have been heart-wrenching. Not only are we dealing with COVID-19 and the restrictions and fallout related to it, but we have also witnessed what is clearly the wrongful death of a man at the hands of police officers. To compound that, we have had six days of violent protest across the United States as many have turned to rioting, vandalism, and theft. If we were not awake to the fact that we are living in a fallen world before this, we should be awake now.
If we spend too much time focused on the news or following social media feeds, we will soon be defeated and worn. If we spend too much time focused on this world without turning our eyes heavenward, we will quickly be hopeless because this world is unable to satisfy. The emptiness of this world is why scripture is continually calling us to turn our eyes away from the waves and turn them towards Jesus.
We see a perfect example of this when Jesus offers living water to the Samaritan woman at the well in John chapter four. What is especially relevant about this passage is we see racial tension at work in these verses as well.
Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem when he stopped to rest at the well in Samaria. The significance of this is that Jews and Samaritans, in general, did not like each other. Each group claimed the other group looked down on and mistreated them. The Samaritans were people who had married during Israel’s captivity, so the Jews did not believe they were genuinely Jewish. They were two or more ethnicities.
Adding to their racial differences, though the Samaritans believed in the God of Jacob, they merged their worship of him with pagan ideas. Some Bible scholars believe they worshiped him as a local deity who was only one among many. Due to these issues, the animosity between Jews and Samaritans went deep and cut both ways.
In walks Jesus, a Jew, and he engages the Samaritan woman in conversation by asking her for a drink of water from the well. Her response was to question why he was talking to her because Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Her question could have been honest, but most likely, her own prejudiced was starting to show. To put it in today’s vernacular, she could have been saying, “You Jews are usually too arrogant to talk to Samaritans. Take the hint; I am not interested in helping you.”
Jesus responds by saying, “If you knew who was speaking to you, you would have asked, and he would have given you living water.” What Jesus is doing, despite her disregard of him, is preparing to bless her. The first thing we need to notice about Jesus is that he does not play our culture’s race, gender, and class games. He simply treats this woman as a person made in the image of God regardless of society’s sins. The biggest problem is not this woman’s gender or race or even the mistreatment she has experienced at the hands of others; those are symptoms of a deeper issue. The real problem is her spiritual blindness, which becomes evident in her response to Jesus.
She says, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep.” Her exaggerated focus on the physical exposes her inability to see spiritually. All she can think about is physical water. This is the state of many people today. You talk to them about God, and all they want to do is require evidence and the only evidence they will allow must use the scientific method. Their blindness, often willful, has so reduced their world to the physical that they cannot see past it, and they try to find all their satisfaction in it because, for them, it is all that exists.
This blindness, however, is not merely a problem for some people. We are all born with this blindness. Every believer alive today was once just as blind, but Jesus did for us what he is doing for the Samaritan woman in the passage. He restored our spiritual sight and offered us living water.
When all you can see is the physical world around you, you will do everything you can to find your hope in it, because you know of nothing else. As Jesus continues to speak to this woman gently, he brings to light the fact that she has had five husbands, and the man she is living with now is not her husband. Whether it was by death, divorce, or adultery, this woman had tried to find fulfillment in men, and she was left empty, and Jesus had exposed her sinfulness. He did not need to condemn her. He simply opened her eyes, and she saw it. When we focus only on the things of this world, ultimately, all we will find is disappointment that will leave us weary and worn. In our attempts to address our weary souls without looking to Jesus, we will walk deeper and deeper into sin.
Despite the woman’s sin, because of the sacrifice Jesus knew he was going to make on the cross, he knew her sins could be washed clean, and she, a sinner, could be in a right relationship with the holy God. In light of the atonement he would make, He offers her living water and says, “Whoever drinks of this water will never be thirsty again, and the water he gives will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The water he is speaking of is ultimately the Holy Spirit who opens our blind eyes, points us to Jesus and the cross, makes our spiritually dead hearts beat again, and causes us to rejoice in our God of mercy. He took our sinful hearts and made us whole, he calls us his children, and his banner over us is love. Instead of the wrath we deserve, we find forgiveness and peace in his presence, and this river of living water is eternal. It will never run dry.
I am not sure where you are right now spiritually, but if you have spent too much time focused on the things of this world, I am sure 2020 has left you discouraged and broken. Even we as believers can experience this when we take our eyes off Jesus and focus on our surroundings. This is what we see happening to Peter when he was walking on water, and he began to sink. The more we focus on the waves, the further we will descend until we find this world overwhelming us. Our society at large is undoubtedly sinking right now. This spiritual blindness so permeates our culture that it is attacking itself trying to find its happiness and hope in a world that cannot deliver.
What the world needs now more than anything is the living water that Christ offers, but we will only find it by being spiritually-minded and spending time with Jesus in his word and in prayer. As Christians, Christ is with us no matter what we face in this life. Sickness, racial injustice, and even riots cannot separate us from his love: even when injustice is directed toward us and at our front door.
The living water is a spring overflowing with joy, joy in the Lord. Joy in knowing he has forgiven us of our sins and healed us of our spiritual blindness. Joy in knowing no matter how bad this world may get, he will will not lose us and eventually return to set it all right. My question for you is, do you have this joy, or is your heart overwhelmed by the troubles of 2020? It is proper for us to have hearts filled with lament at times like these, but that lament can coexist in the full confidence in our great Savior.
How do we navigate these turbulent waters? How do we express our lament and reveal our hope? We cannot do it in our own strength, it is only through the Living Water himself, the Holy Spirit. If you are weak and unable to shine forth the light of your Savior, then turn to your eyes to him, he will restore your joy, and the joy of the Lord will be your strength. Did you catch that? The joy of the Lord will be your strength.
If there is anything Christians need now more than ever, it is strength. We need strength to be who Christ has called us to be, strength to be a city on a hill, strength to have hope during a pandemic and the resulting economic collapse, and power to model Christ’s example of the way past racial prejudice, violence, and anger. He broke down the racial wall when he broke down the wall between Jew and Gentile. In Christ, He destroys the artificial categories of class. All are one in Christ Jesus.
It is only in Christ that we will be able to love our enemies and return good for evil. It will only be in knowing our sinfulness and the grace we have received that we will be able to show mercy to those who mistreat us. As the world works to build higher and stronger walls of separation, Jesus has called us to break them down with the love of God, and there will be nothing easy about it. Others will mistreat us in the process, and as our scars begin to show, may the Spirit use them to draw people to the nail-scared hands, the only hands that can heal our world. We will only be able to live a life like that if we make sure our eyes are on Jesus, and we are drinking deeply of the living water.
When the Spirit would glorify Jesus, He humbles you.
When He would glorify His fullness, He makes you feel your emptiness.
When He would bring you to rely on His strength, He convinces you of your weakness.
When He would magnify the comforts of Jesus, He makes you sensible of your misery.
When He would fix your heart on His Heaven, He makes you feel your deserved Hell.
When He would exalt His righteousness, you find that you are a poor, miserable sinner.
My friend, let nothing keep you from Jesus. Whatever you need, whatever you feel is wrong with you, may it bring you to the Savior’s fullness! Oh, that all things may help forward your acquaintance with Him, I except nothing, neither sin nor sorrow! I would carry all to Him as one great lump of sin, and receive all from Him, as the only storehouse of good for wretched sinners.
In this communion I desire to grow; for this I desire to live. Oh, that you and I may learn it more, and every day get nearer fellowship with our sweet Jesus, growing up into Him in all things.