Article 23 - Our Righteousness Before God
OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS BEFORE GOD
We believe that our blessedness lies in the forgiveness of our sins for Jesus Christ's sake and that therein our righteousness before God consists, as David and Paul teach us. They pronounce a blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works (Romans 4:6; Psalm 32:1). The apostle also says that we are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:24).
Therefore we always hold to this firm foundation. We give all the glory to God, humble ourselves before Him, and acknowledge ourselves to be what we are. We do not claim anything for ourselves or our merits, but rely and rest on the only obedience of Jesus Christ crucified; His obedience is ours when we believe in Him.
This is sufficient to cover all our iniquities and to give us confidence in drawing near to God, freeing our conscience of fear, terror, and dread, so that we do not follow the example of our first father, Adam, who trembling tried to hide and covered himself with fig leaves. For indeed, if we had to appear before God, relying - be it ever so little - on ourselves or some other creature, (woe be to us!) we would be consumed. Therefore everyone must say with David, O LORD, enter not into judgment with Thy servant, for no man living is righteous before Thee (Psalm 143:2).
RESULT OF JUSTIFICATION
Paul draws out the results of God’s declaration in glorious words. He writes, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). Paul had earlier declared that the law makes every person guilty before God (Romans 3:19) – Paul and his readers included. Such guilt invariably means judgment, experiencing the heavy hand of God’s displeasure eternally. For God is your enemy.
But now Paul dares to say that “we have peace with God.” The relation we had with God in Paradise, then, is restored, and the sins that brought God’s curse upon us are gone. No longer is that angel at the gate of Paradise brandishing his flaming sword to prevent any access to the presence of holy God (Genesis 3:24). No longer does the heavy hand of an offended God crush the life out of us. Instead, there is peace, harmony between holy God and me the sinner. With the peace comes His favor and His blessing. In fact, this God is now my ‘Father’. What glorious, wonderful news for sinners!
It is not, we need to know, that Paul is describing the way he personally felt. Paul, like every other sinner, will have had his moments when he felt that God was very displeased with him on account of his sins, even distant. Feelings, though, can never be the measure of reality simply because our feelings have been warped through the fall into sin. No, when Paul speaks of “peace with God”, he expresses the reality as God declares it to be. That is why every person who is justified through Jesus’ blood may takes Paul’s words on his own lips, and freely state the facts as they are: I have peace with God because of God’s declaration in Christ Jesus. This reality prompted deBres to state so boldly in Article 23, “This (ie, the fact that Christ’s obedience is imputed to us) is sufficient to cover all our iniquities and to give us confidence in drawing near to God, freeing our conscience of fear, terror, and dread, so that we do not follow the example of our first father, Adam, who trembling tried to hide and covered himself with fig leaves.”
Away, then, with all terror of God on account of our sins! Christ’s work means they are forgiven, removed as far as east from west extends (Psalm 103:12), dumped into the irretrievable depths of the sea (Micah 7:19) – and therefore no longer an obstacle in the relation between God and His people. In truth, “there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). DeBres echoed the revelation of God so well: “…our blessedness lies in the forgiveness of our sins for Jesus Christ’s sake.”
FLEEING FROM GOD?
Knowing that deBres was raised as a Roman Catholic helps one to appreciate the wealth of a confession as this. According to Roman Catholic theology, those who sin need to satisfy three steps before they can be received again into God’s favor:
1) One must have a broken heart on account of his wrongdoings;
2) One must confess his sins with the mouth;
3) One must make amends for his wrongs by doing good works.
It is certainly true that every sinner must be contrite of heart on account of his sins, must confess those sins to God, and flee from such sin in the future. But is it really so that one cannot be received into God’s favor unless he satisfy those three requirements? Must the sinner do something himself before he can be assured of reconciliation with God? Such a theology leaves the sinner in cruel bondage! For how does one know whether his heart is sufficiently broken and contrite?! How does one know if he has confessed his sins adequately, or if he has performed enough good works to make amends? What haunted Luther so badly before his conversion from Roman Catholicism was, ‘how can I be just before God?’ No matter how hard he tried, he could not get himself that far that he was assured of God’s favor to him; always, he felt, he should do a little more, try a little harder. And always the peace of God eluded him – until he came to see the gospel of justification as God gave it in Jesus Christ, the gospel of God declaring sinners Not Guilty of their sins for Jesus’ sake. Then, finally, he understood that he no longer had to flee from a righteous God as Adam did!
A theology such as this brings much uncertainty in the hearts of reformed Christians still. Granted, we call this a Roman Catholic theology, but time and again those same fears produce questions and doubts in our hearts. Do we not catch ourselves asking: am I really forgiven, are my sins not too great for forgiveness, have I confessed my sins adequately, is my humility deep enough? We have our moments when we feel that God is far away, that He does not hear us, that we are not forgiven. We feel we have to do something. How greatly, then, does God encourage us: “every (Old Testament) priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” Talk about doing something that ultimately does not help! “But this Man (Christ), after He had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down at the right hand of God.... Now where there is remission of (sins), there is no longer an offering for sin” (Hebrews 10:11,12 & 18). With what confidence may we then repeat after God what He has revealed: we “rely and rest on the only obedience of Jesus Christ crucified; His obedience is ours….” I need no longer flee from God again, though I remain a sinner! Christ atoned for me; His perfect satisfaction paid for my sins, His righteousness covered my unrighteousness, and His holiness covered my unholiness.
A consequence follows. The apostle to the Hebrews continues from the above quote: “Therefore brethren, having boldness to enter the Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:19-22). Instead of running from God on account of our sins, we may enter His presence freely and tell Him all the cares of our hearts. In principle, Paradise is restored! We shall speak more about prayer in Article 26.
Points for Discussion:
- How do I know whether my sins are really forgiven??
- Need I ever be afraid to pray?