Right with God alone
Right with God Alone (Romans 1:17)
How can a mere human know with certainty that at the last he will be right with God? In that certain judgment that begins the life beyond, who can stand in the presence of a holy God? That is the central question of our faith. Martin Luther, John Wesley, and many lesser lights have discovered the amazing truth of our text. The gospel proclaimed reveals a right status which is God's gift, altogether by faith. Your assurance and happiness in Christian life depends on understanding this truth.
Right Status with God Comes as a Divine Donation
Righteousness is an attribute of God. In everything that He does, God is just, virtuous, and conforms to a perfect norm of moral and ethical behavior. This is foundational to all we believe. But there is no hope for you and me in that. For habitual sinners to stand in the presence of a perfectly righteous God yields no encouragement.
Righteousness is an activity of God. God's righteousness is not still or static, it "goes forth." It is active, energizing, and influencing all things. It diffuses itself as an active force in the world. It impels God to make men and women like Himself. In that regard, God's righteousness is like radioactivity—it transfers its energy to everything that comes in contact with it.
Righteousness is an announcement of God. This is the heart of the matter. God announces or declares that you are righteous when in fact you are not so at all. He does not do this for "good people." He is "the God who justifies the wicked" (Rom. 4:5). He is the author, the imparter, and the imputer of a right status that meets all His demands. What He requires of you, He freely gives to you.
This means that God remits all of your punishment for sin. He acquits you. He says, "Not guilty!" How? On Calvary, Christ secured a new trial for those already condemned as guilty. Christ had no sin in Him but He took our sin on Him. We have sin in us, but because of Christ we have no sin on us in God's sight. But God not only remits our punishment, He restores us to favor. A criminal may be discharged, but he is not a citizen; he cannot vote, etc. In Christ, God restores us to full favor. He does this instantly, completely, and irrevocably.
Right Status with God Conies Through a Divine Revelation
Your first reaction to this is probably, "It's too good to be true." The adversary then whispers, "Therefore it is not true." It is true, but only those who receive the revelation know it.
Right status by faith is exclusively a revelation of God. Men could never have known it, conceived it, or invented it. In the twenty-six times the New Testament uses the verb "revealed," it refers every time to that which only God could disclose, what man could never discover. The glorious fact that God freely announces you to be right with Him as a gift could never be invented.
Right status by faith is continuously a revelation of God. Every time the gospel is preached, God reveals this great truth to someone listening. It is happening to some here this morning. Martin Luther said that he "beat the Wittenbergers over the head with a Bible" until God revealed this truth to them. But only God can disclose it. Mere man can never discover it.
Right Status with God Requires a Human Appropriation
There are two ways of having a right status with God: human achievement or divine gift. Most seek to achieve a right status with God by human effort. "They did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own" (Rom. 10:3). Paul himself worked half a lifetime to achieve rightness with God. He frankly stated that if he could not do it by human effort, neither could anyone else (Phil. 3).
The Christian receives a right status with God through faith. A right status with God is "by faith from first to last." This expression means that faith is the grounds and goal of the whole process. It emphasizes the growing quality of saving faith. What is that faith? It is the "YES" of the soul to the central proposition of Christianity—Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah and Son of God.
Warning! Faith does not merit salvation. Faith is not a work that earns salvation. Faith is the hand of a beggar reaching out for a gift. Faith is the hand of drowning man reaching out for a life preserver. Faith is itself a gift of God.
Paul wants us to understand that God has always worked this way. He quotes Habakkuk 2:4, "the righteous by faith shall be preserved alive." When the Babylonians were about to invade tiny Judah, the prophet reminded individuals that those who trusted Jehovah would be preserved alive through the ordeal. Faith alone secured the favor of God. The God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New. When we stand in His presence, our only cry will be, "Faith alone, Christ alone."
"My faith has found a resting place, Not in device nor creed; I trust the Ever-living One, His wounds for me shall plead."