The message of the Gospel is so different from every man made attempt at religion that it is hard for even Christians to fully grasp its truth. Even for those who read their Bibles diligently there is a tendency to receive the inspired, inerrant, God breathed information through man centered filters, which means that we often fail to see the pristine beauty of a God who rescues us by His work alone. We tend to think ‘there must be something God demands us to bring to the table of redemption.’
Here’s what we know. There is a God and neither you nor I are Him. We therefore need to acknowledge Him as God, the way He has revealed Himself, both through nature and in Scripture, and approach Him on His terms. To act in any other way means that we create an idol and engage in idolatry.
The Bible makes it abundantly clear that God is holy. In fact, saying these words is wholly inadequate. Accessing the immediate presence of God, the angelic host proclaim day and night without ceasing, He is “holy, holy, holy” (Isa 6). Not just “holy” but “holy, holy, holy.”
God is perfect in holiness and therefore His standards are likewise perfectly holy. He demands perfection. Christ said, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt 5:48)
What God demands from you is:
1. Perfect obedience to His law - Getting close is just not good enough. No best efforts are allowed.
2. Perfect repentance.
3. Perfect faith.
Do you see the problem here? No man is capable of any of this. Jesus said “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:20) This statement should rock our religious world to its very foundation. Jesus, the kind and Good Shepherd affirms the fact that just as a country’s leader might not negotiate with terrorists, God will never negotiate with sinners. The requirement for entry into God’s presence is perfect righteousness. His standards are perfect and He will never lower them. God is just and He will not violate His character in order to allow a sinful man into His presence.
The sinner’s dilemma is therefore massive and distressing. Every sin we have committed is an act of high treason against God, fully deserving His just and eternal punishment. It is precisely at this point where we recognize our desperate need for a righteousness we do not possess, that the Gospel of Jesus Christ begins to make sense. We hear it and say, “I must have Christ. He alone can save me.”
Greg Francis makes the point very well: “God demands 100% faultless perfect obedience, and if you can’t do that, you better find Someone who can do it for you.” That Someone is the Lord Jesus Christ.
When I say that no man is capable of perfect obedience, repentance and faith, there is one exception to this rule. The Lord Jesus Christ lived a perfectly righteous life – fully pleasing His Father always. There was not a single stain or blemish of sin in His life. And here is where this affects us and is the very essence of the Gospel. Christ did all that He did in obedience to His Father and as our Substitute. What God demands FROM us, Christ provides FOR us. Christ lived for us and He died for us. He lived the life we should have lived, fulfilling all the demands of God in His holy law. He loved God with all His heart, soul, mind and strength. Then He died for us. All the sins of all of those who would ever believe in Him were laid on Him at the cross and He absorbed the full punishment we deserved (Isa 53:4-6; 1 Pet 2:24).
God is holy and He is also love. Once again, what God demanded, Christ has provided. It was love for the world that motivated the Father to send His Son to live and die for us. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Knowing that we could never repent, believe or obey Him perfectly, the Father has given gifts from His heart to all of His people:
1. The perfect obedience of Jesus is given to us (2 Cor 5:21).
2. Repentance is perfected in and through Jesus – remember Jesus was baptized by John with the Baptism of repentance (Matt 3:11).
3. The faith God requires is a gift from Him (Eph 2:8,9; Phil 1:29).
Christ saves His people from their sins (Matt 1:21). Salvation is not achieved by a combined effort of God and man working together. It is God’s work entirely. C. H. Spurgeon declared, “Substitution is the very marrow of the whole Bible, the soul of salvation, the essence of the gospel." The Bible is therefore a revelation of His rescue plan – God’s work done for us through the means of Christ in total substitution. The Gospel is about Christ’s life for us, His death for us and includes His present day High Priestly ministry at the right hand of the Father where He always lives to make intercession for us (John 17:9: Heb 7:25).
Heidelberg Catechism - Question 60. How are you righteous before God?
“Only by true faith in Jesus Christ; that is, although my conscience accuse me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil; yet God without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sin, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.”