I said something in my sermon this past Sunday that raised some questions from a couple of individuals in our congregation. Let me give some context before I repeat the controversial part of what I said.
I had asked what a true Christian sees when he looks at God? I suggested that what he sees is God the way He is described at the end of verse 4:
He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
Now here’s the controversial part: I said that the true Christian sees that God “is not the God for whom I must do something in order to be accepted. If we believed that, we would not worry so much over our sin. The true Christian does not have to do anything to be acceptable to God… It’s because Jesus made us acceptable to God… we don’t have to do anything.”
I think some people find this a bit upsetting because it seems to treat our sin too lightly. But really it’s the other way around: any other view than the one I’ve given here treats our sin too lightly! I’ll explain that in a minute, but first consider with me what the alternative is.
If I, as a Christian, subsequently come to God worried over my own sin and fearing that it makes me unacceptable to Him, convicted that I need to do something good in order to appease Him, then I am treating sin very seriously, yes, but I am also treating Christ’s sacrifice too lightly! I am making my sin out to be bigger than Christ’s sacrifice on the cross can cover. That’s the alternative to the position I took on Sunday that raised this bit of controversy.
Let me give the Scriptures I used on Sunday to make this clear.
Psalm 143:2 2 Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.
David pleads with God not to judge him on his own merits because “no one living is righteous”.
Psalm 14:2-3 2 The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. 3 They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.
“They have all turned aside”… one thing that unites all humanity, Christian and non-Christian, is our sin. “Together” we have “become corrupt… [no one]… does good, not even one”. Again, “no one living is righteous”. But righteousness is exactly what God does require from us. On Sunday I said, “So in order to save anyone from the penalty of sin, God had to give His people what they did not have.”
Romans 5:18-19 18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
One act of righteousness made it possible for anyone to be “justified”, i.e., counted righteous legally. The “one act of righteousness” was the perfect obedience of Jesus culminating in His substitutionary death on the cross for sinners. By taking the punishment for our sin on Himself, He made it possible, justly, for God to still be just while crediting Jesus’ righteousness to whoever puts their trust in what Jesus did.
So when we, who are already saved by faith in Christ, come to God worried about our sin and whether we are still acceptable to Him, it is the same as a lack of faith in Jesus. Is Jesus’ sacrifice not enough to cover some of our sins? Is His blood insufficient to pay the penalty completely? Romans 4:4-8 makes this point clearly: that believers must not feel the need to “do something”, in addition to what Jesus already did by His death, in order to be acceptable to God.
Romans 4:4-8 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
So, a Christian who refuses to believe that all of his sins, past, present and future, “are covered” (v 7), is acting like a non-Christian: he is failing to “trust him who justifies the ungodly” (v 5). This is not the joy that Christ purchased for His people! This is fear and bondage. What does verse 7 say a Christian should feel in his heart? The word “blessed” means, “happy”! A Christian should experience the joy of forgiveness! What does verse 8 say a Christian should feel in his heart? Happiness that God will never count the justified sinners sins against him.
So, now why did I say earlier that it is actually treating sin as too lightly to “worry over our sin”? Because in reality, if Jesus’ death did not cover all of our sin and if His righteousness did not completely justify us who believe in Him, then we would still be damned. Let’s say I had 100 sins. And let’s say Jesus’ death covered 99 of them and I was left to try and atone for only 1. Romans 6:23 says, “…the wages of sin is death…” Even one sin is damnable. If I truly believe that sin is so serious that there is nothing I can do to make up for even one sin, to earn forgiveness for only one transgression, then I would be a fool to try. So yes, I’m saying that Christians who think that their sins might make them unacceptable to God even though they believe in Christ are acting like fools. The only sane course of action is the one all people are commended to in the Gospel: to throw themselves on the mercy of God, trusting in the substitutionary death of the Son of God for sinners in order that we might be justified by His grace as a gift, through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.
For those who worry that grace so rich and free treats sin to lightly; that so high a view of the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning death for all sin minimizes the responsibility of Christians to live rightly and strive for moral purity, keep in mind that Paul did not see it as you do. He saw that true Christian faith in the complete justification and forgiveness of those who have faith in Jesus must lead not to a life of sinful carelessness and license, but to a fruitful life leading to sanctification and personal holiness. This sanctification is not perfect and total! Rather the fruit of faith “leads” to sanctification progressively but irresistibly for the one who has true faith in Jesus:
Romans 6:22-23 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.