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Rev. Key is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Randolph, Wisconsin.

Scripture teaches that the natural man is in an absolutely hopeless state and condition. We are members of a corrupt race in which we are conceived and born in sin, and are wholly incapable of doing any good and inclined to all wickedness. We are guilty before God. Our natures are corrupt. Our sins continue to accumulate an immeasurable mountain of debt before God.

Furthermore, our sin is not a minor fault, but an attack upon the holiness and righteousness of the God with whom we have to do. All departure from God’s law, no matter how minor it may appear to us, must stand condemned by God, lest He deny Himself and His holiness. And that condemnation brings death in all its forms, finally everlasting death and damnation.

An Urgent Question

We ask the question therefore (and to us it is an extremely urgent question): How then can we be saved?

We ask this question from a particular point of view. We are not interested any longer in merely escaping the consequences of our own sins. We have played that game from the time we were small children, always trying to escape the consequences of our actions. We have found time and time again that the consequences of our sins are inescapable.We ask this urgent question now as those who have been touched by the Spirit. And the sinner who has been born again by God’s wonder work of regeneration does not ask for an easy way out of a bad situation. We are no longer denying the reality of the seriousness of our sin.

We are no longer among those who try to bring themselves to believe that the situation is not nearly so serious, and that the picture of man has been colored too dark.

Nor do we raise the question, “How then can we be saved?” with the slightest hope that God will just overlook and forget about our guilt and sin.

We understand fully that there is no possibility of sinning in God’s universe and getting away with it. We read in Galatians 6:7, 8, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption.” That truth is expressed throughout all Scripture and in the soul of every man. The wages of sin is death.

Nevertheless, we ask the question in all seriousness. We who have been given by God to see our misery seek a way out of our spiritual death. We have seen the righteousness and holiness of God and know that His wrath is just. We ask with all urgency, “How can we be saved?”

Still more, when we inquire about that way of salvation, we look not merely for an escape from hell. We look for much more. We look for the favor of God. Ours is the consuming desire to have the consciousness of God’s fellowship and love. Furthermore, if we are to escape the punishment of everlasting death and be received into God’s favor, we must not only be transferred from the legal state of guilt into the legal state of those who are innocent, but we must also be delivered from our shameful condition. All sin and corruption must be rooted out and destroyed, and we must be filled with the love of God. To be changed from guilty to not-guilty, from haters of God to lovers of God—that is salvation.

Apart from that, there may be something which society calls “rehabilitation,” that which enables one to function better in society while he continues on the way to hell. But another salvation there is not.

How then can we be saved? This is the question of those whose hearts have been renewed by God’s powerful work of grace. With the apostle Paul in Romans 7 we cry out, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

Required Satisfaction

If we shall be saved, it will be in a way approved by God. The way of escape, the way of deliver ante, must not in any way violate the justice and holiness and honor of God.

That means that God cannot simply issue a pardon by canceling our guilt arbitrarily. He cannot for a moment simply suspend His justice. The guilt must be paid, the debt cleared. As long as we are guilty, there is no hope for us. And salvation implies that our guilt be paid only in a way which is in harmony with God’s righteousness.

God’s justice must be satisfied. The curse, which rests upon everyone who has failed to obey even a single one of God’s commandments, can be taken away only by rendering perfect satisfaction to the justice of God. God cannot accept a partial payment and forgive the balance of the debt.

From one point of view it is true: God can do all things. That is, He can do all things that are in harmony with His Being and will. But don’t forget, God cannot do anything that would conflict with His own Being, with His holiness and righteousness. For that very reason there are things that God cannot do, just because He is God. He cannot sin. He cannot lie. He cannot set aside His own justice and holiness. Satisfaction must be made.

What is required for such satisfaction?

Satisfaction is not the mere bearing of punishment for sin. The reprobate who are damned and in hell certainly bear the wrath of God without end. But they never atone. Their bearing of punishment never satisfies God for even one of their sins. For the fact is that even in hell God’s demand is trumpeted forth, “Love Me!” And the damned cannot fulfill that demand.

Positively, therefore, the act of satisfaction is the payment of the love-debt to God even while He reveals Himself in His wrath against the sinner. We stand before God as -debtors. He continues to demand from us the payment of a debt. We owe Him. We owe Him perfect love.

It is only when we understand the unchangeable character of God’s love-demand that we can apprehend in a limited way the terrible reality of necessary satisfaction. God requires the payment of everything that we owe. The debt must be fully satisfied. He who will satisfy must voluntarily bear the full punishment of sin in loving obedience to God and for the sake of God’s righteousness.

Do you understand what that means for us? That means that while loving Him perfectly we must bear the burden of God’s infinite and eternal wrath against our sin and guilt.

Perfect satisfaction is required. Without it there can be no salvation. That puts us in a terrible predicament, doesn’t it? Not only are we failing to pay our back debt towards the satisfaction of God’s justice; but to the contrary, we are continuing even daily to increase our indebtedness before God! As Isaiah puts it, Even our righteousnesses are as filthy rags! Even when I do something that appears to you to be a very good work, that deed was corrupted by my old, sinful nature. So rather than reducing our debt with God and making satisfaction of His justice, we continue to increase our debt. Even as God’s people we do that.

You don’t go before God, laying claim to your performance of meritorious religious acts, do you? Would your claim to salvation be that your parents brought you up in the church, or that you attend church regularly, or that you are not so bad as other men are? Oh no! If you think about it, this is the heart of every false religion there is and there ever has been—to try to work one’s own righteousness and merit one’s own salvation. All ancient idolatry and religion centered in a self-made salvation. That was also the sin of the church in Jesus’ day, as was seen particularly in the Pharisees. It has been the sin of Roman Catholicism throughout the centuries. It is the sin of the modern church as well, which has taken the cross and the blood of Calvary out of the preaching of the Word, and replaced it with the social agendas of men.

But if you have been born again by the Spirit, if you have the beginning of the new life of Christ in you, you know that there is nothing you can bring to God to satisfy His justice, but that you only daily increase your guilt. And you say, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.” That is the reality of the Christian life, as we stand before the all-glorious God.

Our situation is so serious that there can be no hope of salvation in us. There is only one way in which we can be saved. There is only One who can and did satisfy the justice of God for us and in our place. He is the Ones whose Word Peter preached, when he explained the power by which the impotent man was healed. I refer to Acts 4:10-12.

Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand before you whole. This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.