Rev. Haak is pastor of Georgetown Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan and radio pastor for the Reformed Witness Hour, on which this message was aired.
The subject that we will consider is the single, most important truth of God for you to know. Absolutely everything else in your life, and every other possible concern you might have today, fades into insignificance before this subject. The subject will speak of the only possibility for your soul to stand before God. It will answer the most basic question of human life.
That question is this: How shall I be right with God?
If that is not the question that lies in the pit of your heart, then you are not living in reality. Your heart is deceived. You refuse to reckon with reality—God and sin.
To a believer in Christ Jesus, to one in whom the grace of God has worked, to him this is the vital question. Peace in every circumstance in life can be found only in the assurance that one is righteous before God in Christ.
How am I to be right with God? The gospel of Christ answers: in the righteousness of Christ alone. His perfect, complete, finished work upon Calvary’s cross, credited to me by the grace of God and embraced by faith (also the gift of God), is all of my hope and my standing before God.
The Bible never wearies to tell us of this. In Revelation 19:8 we have this picture of those who stand before God in glory. We are told that they are arrayed in fine linen, clean and white, for the fine linen is the righteousness of the saints. The cry and earnest desire of the apostle Paul in Philippians 3:9 was that he be found in Christ, not having his own righteousness, which is of the law, but the righteousness that is of God by faith. We read in Romans 3:24, “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” The believer is righteous in God’s eyes on the basis of the work of another.
This is the gospel. This is the good news, the only good news. And it is sure.
Because it is the gospel and the only truth, it will always be attacked and distorted. Adam and Eve already attempted to cover their nakedness by their own works—their fig leaves. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day clasped their robes around them and boasted that they were able to keep the law. Always the idea of man is that his standing with God is a matter of his own doing, his resourcefulness, his prayers, his deeds. And the gospel of God comes and condemns it all and says to us today, “If you hold up before God, as the basis of your being accepted by Him, anything other than Christ’s finished work, you are unrighteous in His sight.”
Isaiah 64:6 says, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” Galatians 5:2-4: “Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing…. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law.”
You see, the words “Christ alone” are crucial. Either our acceptance with God, our righteousness before God, is in Christ alone, so that all of our standing before God is based upon His finished and perfect work, or we are not righteous before God, we cannot be righteous, and we never will be righteous before God. The cross of Jesus Christ (now hear carefully) condemns all works, all prayers, all repentance as the ground or cause of being accepted of God.
Oh, for sure, those who are saved by grace will love, will desire to do good works, will repent, will pray. But none of these, absolutely none of these things, makes us righteous in God’s sight. Righteousness is in Christ alone! See Colossians 2:10: “And ye are complete in him [in Christ].”
Today comparatively few receive this gospel. But we are set for its defense, for it alone is the truth. For the glory of God, and for the only peace that a soul can ever know, we declare the gospel. We can be righteous before God only in the work of Christ!
Now you ask, exactly what does that mean? Well, according to the Scriptures, to be righteous in Christ alone means that, according to God’s judgment, He does not see sin in you. And more, He sees you in Christ as having kept His law and being exactly what you should be. Righteousness before God has to do with our standing before God, our legal position before the bar of His eternal justice. To be righteous in Christ means that God pronounces a verdict from His throne. That verdict is, “You are innocent, you are cleared from sin, you are pardoned, you are not guilty, you may go in peace.” It has to do with how God sees us. We read in Numbers 23:21: “He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel: the Lord his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them.” To be righteous in Christ alone means that the basis for God’s judgment that we are innocent is not found in any other work or merit except the work and the merit that Christ once performed upon the cross.
This is what the Bible means when it teaches us the truth of justification. “Justified” and “righteous in Christ” are the same thing. Justification is God’s declaration that we are just, we are righteous, we are free of debt before Him. It is God’s gift to us, to the believer, on the basis of Christ’s finished work on the cross. Simply put, righteousness in Christ means that I have the pardon of my sin and that there has been reckoned to my account before God the obedience and the righteousness of Christ.
Read Romans 4:6, 7: “Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth [the word impute means to reckon to your account, to place on your standing] righteousness without works [that is, without our own works], saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.” This is in Christ. God has given Christ from all eternity to be the Head or Representative of His children, that is, of those whom He has chosen in His eternal election. He placed upon Christ the guilt and the penalty of their sins. God then poured upon Him the wrath that was due to them for those sins. And Christ, on the cross, not only endured that wrath, but He replaced it with His own perfect obedience, so that now Christ’s merits are applied to the believer. And on the basis of what Christ has done, and only on the basis of what Christ has done, the believer is now declared righteous in the sight of God.
You read of this also in Romans 3:20-26. That is a very beautiful passage. It speaks there, first of all, about man. Man is guilty before God. Every mouth is stopped. Man has violated the law of God in his heart and through his deeds. And man is unable to save himself. But God has made a gracious declaration. Bursting as a sunrise over the devastation of our sins is God’s declaration that there is a righteousness that is by faith in Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe. Through faith, the gift of God, we are given to know what God has done for us. And what has God done for us? He has reckoned the righteousness of His Son to our account.
Not my faith. That does not make me righteous. Not my repentance, not my prayers, not my deeds, not my sacrifice, not my love. These cannot atone for sin. They are the fruit of gratitude for salvation. But Christ’s blood and His righteousness alone make me righteous before God.
Is that important to you?
You see, this answers to the two realities of life that we were talking about: God and sin. The great reality confronting you is the living God and your sin before Him who is holy. The great question is, how are you going to stand before Him. The great issue for you is not, “What of tomorrow? Will I get married? Will I be happy? Will I grow up? Will I escape my present troubles? Will I be able to cope?” No, the primary (and only) question is this: How will you be right with God?
People today make all kinds of questions to be number one among those confronting mankind. Must the church take up those concerns and begin to make pronouncements upon them? Oh, no! The gospel confronts you with the most basic question: How are you going to stand before God? Not, first, how are you going to stand before men? Not, first, how shall all men come together and agree? Not, first of all, what about the husband/wife relationship, or about the parent/child relationship? Oh, yes, all of these things are important. But you cannot even see your way clear to answer those questions until the most urgent problem in your existence is answered. That is to be found, not in your relationship to other people and to other things in the world, but in your relationship to God. That is the question. And if you do not answer or face that question, you live in delusion—your own proud delusion. You ignore God.
You must face that question. All other questions and concerns, of all trials and sorrows in your life that may be breaking your heart, will pass. Everything in your life will fade away because you will go, ultimately, to the grave. Then, the Bible tells you most solemnly, you shall stand before God.
For you—old or young, married or single, distraught by concerns or carefree—that is the question: How will you stand before God? And the gospel is the only answer. Now get it straight. This is the gospel: Christ alone. By grace alone, Christ in His work has done all to obtain the salvation of His people. We stand in Him before God—or we will be condemned.
As I said, human nature—all the way back to Adam—has always resented and resisted this truth. Satan opposes it and does his devilish best to ensnare men in the proud thought that by their works they are going to obtain something before God. But it is not so. It is alone in Jesus Christ.
God, by grace, and in His capacity as the eternal Judge, gives to His children the complete and the perfect righteousness of Christ in an irreversible verdict from His own throne of justice.
This is the gospel. The gospel declares that salvation is only of God and that it is only of grace. The truth of righteousness in Christ alone is the truth that shatters human pride. It is not of you, but it is of God. For “of him (of God) are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord” (I Cor. 1:30, 31).
We know why the gospel of works is popular. It tells me what I want to hear. It tells me, “You can do it. You can make it.” I hear the old lie of the serpent: “Ye shall be as God.” But the gospel of Christ, the gospel of grace, humbles men…so as to exalt God. All the world is guilty before God. By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in His sight (Rom. 3:19, 20). It is in Christ.
This glorious gospel is the truth. And it saves the vilest of sinners in God’s sight. We cling to this gospel because it is salvation.
Upon what do you rely? When you come before God and face Him in eternity, to what are you going to appeal? As God looks upon you and sees through you, what will you say? How will you justify yourself? Will you look to something you are of yourself, something you did, something somebody else on earth did for you? Will you?
There is but one plea—the plea that God places in our mouth by grace. The plea that He loves. It is a sure plea. It is eternal life. Righteous in Christ alone, by the mere grace of God alone!
There is a very beautiful poem that I like so much. It goes this way:
Not the labors of my hands could fulfill Thy laws demands;
Could my zeal no respite know; could my tears forever flow;
These for sin could not atone. Thou must save and Thou alone!
But this is peace. This is peace in every situation and circumstance of life. Listen to the apostle Paul: “I am persuaded that neither life nor death, angels nor principalities, will be able to separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus my Lord.” Here is a man who, in this world, had everything against him. But yet, his peace and his joy remained the same. Why? Because he knew the answer to the question: How am I righteous before God? In Christ.
How can we stand up today in this world? Only one way. Hear the gospel—overwhelmed of heart, burdened, guilt-ridden—hear the gospel: Righteous in Christ alone.
Christ, by grace, hath clothed me in His own righteousness. Out of mere mercy He promises that He shall present me without fault before the presence of God with exceeding joy. This is the way. Heaven’s gate opens to one voice. Father’s house is purchased by one price: Christ alone!
Let me put it urgently. If you had to stand before God now, or in the next moments, or tonight, what would you say? Do you feel that you could trust your own efforts or the efforts of men or the efforts of saints for you? Turn away from it! Only His blood and righteousness. Then hear the greatest words that were ever spoken, the words of the Savior to a publican who could not even look up to God but smote his breast crying, “God be merciful to me the sinner” (Luke 18): “This man went down to his house justified.” In Christ alone.