God justifies the ungodly

We have heard these truths before — that God justifies the ungodly and that Jesus Christ came to save sinners. We have heard these truths so often that I am unsure if we (believers or not) have taken the time to think deeply on these great truths in hopes that they would move from mere words in our heads to something that constrains our hearts and souls, leading us to faith, joy, and repentance.

Often times, when discussing the Gospel, God, Jesus, or the church with individuals, they often tell me, “ I want to follow Jesus but I need to clean up my act first” or “ I have too many problems to be a Christian.” I also have conversations with individuals who believe they are saved because they attend Church regularly, pray every night, abstain from drinking and cussing, etc. I believe both of these ideas are distorted views of the Gospel and that both belittle what Jesus Christ accomplished through his death and resurrection. You see, believing that you are too “unrighteous” to be saved operates on the premise that Jesus Christ’s bloodshed on the cross was not enough to cover you sins. And those who believe that they have somehow earned salvation also operate on the same premise, that Jesus Christ’s bloodshed on the cross was not enough, something additional must be done. Scripture teaches that Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection is indeed enough.

To someone who believes they are too wicked to be saved, consider these truths:

  1. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24)
  2. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person, though perhaps for a good person one would dare to die, but God shows his love for us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:7–8).
  3. Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31–32)

To someone who believes that they have earned/deserve salvation, consider these truths:

  1. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)
  2. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law, You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace (Galatians 5:3–4)
  3. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.(Ephesians 2:8–9)

The beauty of the Gospel is that a holy blameless God sent Jesus to die the death that we all deserved on the cross so that those who would come to believe may have favor with God. In response to this magnificent news, we must depend entirely on Christ’s righteousness for our salvation. Does this mean that we do not obey God’s word? Certainly not. However, once we realize the depth and magnitude of what Christ did for us on the cross, we begin to obey out of joy and gratitude for the grace and mercy we have received, rather than obeying out of fear so that we may look good to others and somehow earn salvation.

I close with a story I read in the book All of Grace by Charles Spurgeon. It seems to encapsulate the idea I am trying to put forth:

A great artist some short time ago had painted a part of the corporation of the city in which he lived, and he wanted, for historic purposes, to include in his picture certain characters well known in the town. A crossing-sweeper, unkempt, ragged, filthy, was known to everybody, and there was a suitable place for him in the picture. The artist said to this ragged and rugged individual, “I will pay you well if you will come down to my studio and let me take your likeness.” He came round in the morning, but he was soon sent about his business; for he had washed his face, and combed his hair, and donned a respectable suit of clothes. He was needed as a beggar, and was not invited in any other capacity. Even so, the gospel will receive you into its halls if you come as a sinner, not otherwise. Wait not for reformation, but come at once for salvation. God justifieth the ungodly, and that takes you up where you now are: it meets you in your worst estate.