"This is his name whereby he shall be called, The Lord our Righteousness.—Jeremiah 23:6.
There seems to be much confusion among the followers of Christ today about what it means for the believer to be justified (declared not guilty, and declared righteous.). As I think about this great doctrine of the Scriptures, this confusion is not limited to just today, but all throughout the history of the church there has been confusion and misunderstanding concerning this cardinal doctrine of the Scriptures.
At the heart of the debate is the question: Is there anything that a man can do to be made right with God? Or is being made right with God an act that God does apart from any human will or work? Let me state, I'm not a theologian, pastor, or a university professor of the Bible, no, I'm none of those things; but what I'm is a sinner saved by grace.
When I came to Christ as a young teenager in the 1970's the weight and enormity of my sin and offense toward God was so great that in front of my high school's guidance counselor I humbly bowed my head to receive the Savior. Now to note, I was not in the guidance counselor's office getting a list of colleges to attend, or any such advice. By the middle of my freshmen year I had earned for myself the high honors of getting kicked out of school.
The Holy Spirit in such a forceful way showed me my personal sin before a holy and righteous God. I'm always reminded of my conversion experience when I read Pilgrims Progress by John Bunyan. I can feel what Christian experienced when the burden of sin rolled of his back when he looked at the cross. Let me refresh you on this scene in the book:
He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a Cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulchre. So I saw in my dream, that just as CHRISTIAN came up to the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble; and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.
Then was CHRISTIAN glad and lightsome, and said, with a merry heart,
"He hath given me rest by his sorrow,Then he stood still awhile to look and wonder; for it was very surprising to him, that the sight of the cross should thus ease him of his burden. He looked therefore, and looked again, even till the springs that were in his head sent the waters down his cheeks.
And life by his death."
And life by his death."
Martin Luther that great German monk, priest, professor of theology and reformer was spiritually awakened to his lack of righteousness before a holy God. Luther began to climb the hierarchical ladder in the Church of Rome. It is noted in Luther's biography's and autobiography's that he became profoundly aware of his own personal sin. Hans Hillerbrand paints this picture of Luther's inner struggle:"The Church called upon him [Luther] to mobilize his own efforts, but he failed to see anything in his life which might be found acceptable in the sight of God. He faced God and his righteousness empty-handedly."
Luther noted that he entered the monastery after a close friend of his died and because of a lightening storm that scared him terribly. Luther tried to propitiate God by saying mass and trying to earn his salvation through monastic holiness.
And who can forget that guy who was circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.
The great Apostle Paul who exclaimed that whatever was to his profit he would consider loss for the sake of Christ.
The Apostle's cry was to be found in Jesus, not having a righteousness of his own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.
Let me get back to my original question: How can a man be justified before God? The only answer to that question has to be that, "God must declare the sinner righteous." The sinner is declared righteous by an act of God based on the perfect life that Jesus lived. Jesus fulfilled all of the requirements of the divine law of God.
Think of Justification as a forensic term. Legally and in the courtroom of God you stand tried and convicted, and your sentence is eternal separation from God. You and I failed to keep God's moral holy law, and the law and the justice of God cry out that justice be served.
But Jesus steps in and offers you (the guilty one) his very righteous life that he lived; that life that was lived in total compliance with all of God's laws and decrees.
And on that basis God can declare the guilty sinner justified based on the righteousness of His Son.
So the sinner can sing aloud, "Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe."