How Can We Be Right With God?
No matter which gospel text we turn to, that same question arises. Indeed, it is impossible to understand the gospel at all without first considering the quandary of human fallenness—and candidly acknowledging all the seemingly impossible barriers sin puts between God and the sinner.
If we’re all guilty before God, without any excuse for our sin, how will anyone stand in the judgment? If works of righteousness cannot atone for our evil deeds, how could any sinner ever be saved from the guilt and bondage of sin? If God demands utter perfection and we are already irreparably imperfect, what hope is there for us? Indeed, He expressly says He “will not justify the wicked”; so does that mean our doom is already sealed? How could a just God justify the ungodly?
Sound gospel answers to those questions go decidedly against the mainstream of popular opinion. Every belief system ever concocted by the human mind answers those crucial questions wrongly. In one way or another, all this world’s religions (and all the major political ideologies and social theories, for that matter) teach that people need to earn righteousness for themselves through some kind of merit system.
The means by which they seek to do this are as diverse as the many deities in the world’s pantheon. Some put the emphasis on rites and rituals. Others stress self-denial and asceticism. In the postmodern West, people simply invent an imaginary deity for whom sin is really no big deal—thinking their “good” deeds will be taken into account in the judgment and their sins will simply be ignored. But at the opposite extreme there are large numbers of people advocating jihad or some other outlandish expression of zealotry.
One of the most crystal-clear teachings of the Bible is that no one gains God’s favor by self-effort—least of all those who self-identify as righteous. True believers are united with Christ “through faith,” and therefore they too are “in Christ.” God accepts them and blesses them on that basis. That is how He “justifies the ungodly.”
The very One who gave the law that condemns us also supplies the righteousness needed to save us. And that is the only merit we need to have a right standing before Him.