Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone
Posted: Thursday, May 3, 2012 3:12 pm
The Messenger, May 3, 2012
Very Good News!
By WALLY BUMPAS
Special to The Messenger
Is Christianity too good to be true? That depends on what you think Christianity is. Is Christianity belief in God? That’s not too good to be true. In fact it’s quite common. Paul says in Romans 1 that everyone believes in God because they can’t help it. Is Christianity about being a nice person and helping your neighbor? That’s not too good to be true. It’s fairly achievable and expected of all of us.
But let’s say that Christianity is first of all news: Christianity is “the gospel,” which means an announcement of good news. And let’s say that the good news is this: God gives us everything He requires of us. Is that too good to be true? If you’re not tempted to say yes, you didn’t hear it right. GOD GIVES WHAT HE REQUIRES!
We have examined the Apostles’ Creed, an outline of what Christians believe. Question 59 of the Heidelberg Catechism now asks an obvious question: So what? “What good does it do you, however, to believe all this?” Answer: In Christ I am right with God and heir to life everlasting.
In other words, believing these things, you are right with God and will go to heaven when you die. But what is meant by “right with God?” This question is the heart of the good news. It is what makes the news of Christianity good.
Question 60 asks: How are you right with God? Answer: Only by true faith in Jesus Christ. Even though my conscience accuses me of having grievously sinned against all God’s commandments and of never having kept any of them, and even though I am still inclined toward all evil, nevertheless, without my deserving it at all, out of sheer grace, God grants and credits to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ, as if I had never sinned or been a sinner, as if I had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for me. All I need to do is to accept this gift of God with a believing heart.
Question 61 continues: Why do you say that by faith alone you are right with God? Answer: It is not because of any value my faith has that God is pleased with me. Only Christ’s satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness make me right with God. And I can receive this righteousness and make it mine in no other way than by faith alone.
Our computers have “default” settings. That’s what they do if we leave them alone. The default setting of fallen human nature is to think like this: “To be right with God, I must DO. I must work. I must be a good enough person.”
If that’s true, then the two answers above are too good to be true. They say that God gives us what He requires of us. We don’t do. Instead, we hold out empty hands and receive.
We may be offended because this sounds too easy, but it is the teaching of the Bible. Of course the catechism answers are not inspired Scripture. To see the above truth most vividly, one might start with Paul’s letters to the Galatians, the Ephesians and the Romans.
In theology, this is called justification. Justification is one of those big Bible words that we mustn’t skip over. We must understand it, as if our lives depended on it. There’s a lifetime of meditation and celebration in this truth. But for now, let’s break in into three statements that flow out of the catechism answers.
First, a Christian is both justified and a sinner at the same time. We are right with God, fully and forever, and we are sinners, too. God “justifies the ungodly” (Romans 4:5).
Second, our right standing with God is based on someone else’s righteousness, not our own. We are accepted because of Christ’s righteousness, His perfect record of obeying God. “By the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). This righteousness is credited to us. It’s not infused into us so that we instantly become a godly person in practice. Picture a man changing clothes. He takes off dirty clothes and puts on clean ones. Underneath he is the same man, though a big change has begun. His acceptance with God the Judge is because of the new suit of clean clothes. This is the righteousness of Christ.
Third, we receive this blessing by believing, by faith alone. Our faith doesn’t save us. We aren’t saved because we believe. We are saved because of what Christ has done. Faith is simply the channel through which it comes to us. And even that faith is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 1:29).
Other than sounding too easy to be true, the big objection to this good news is that it will encourage a life of carefree sinning. Paul and Jesus heard the same objection to the Gospel. In fact, if we’re not accused of encouraging sin, we likely haven’t explained the good news of justification.
No, the gospel doesn’t encourage sin. Quite the opposite. In fact, future articles will be devoted to explaining the life of grateful obedience. The present question is how God accepts us. And the news is good: Christ alone!
(If you have questions or would like to comment on this article, you may do so online at http://graceunioncity.com/resources/gcc-in-the-news. Scroll to the bottom of the page to submit your comment.)
Editor’s note: Wally Bumpas serves as pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Dyersburg.