Does everyone fall short of what God
commands? Romans 3:9-10, 23. What is the penalty of sin? Romans 6:23; 5:12. Did
Jesus pay the penalty for us? 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; 1 Peter 2:24. Therefore,
can we be confident that our sins have been forgiven through what he did? Acts
2:38; 10:43; 13:38-39; Romans 3:24.
God is perfect, but human beings are not. God is holy,
humans are not. We do not deserve to live forever with God. No one can claim
such an eternal blessing as a right. No one can claim to have earned the right
to be with God forever. On judgment day, no one can say: “You have to let me
in. I’ve been good enough.” No one is ever “good enough” to obligate God to do anything
for them. What we deserve is death.
However, God wants us to live with him forever. That is why
he created us. He loves us and wants us, so he paid the penalty for us, as a
gift. God loves us so much that he sent his only Son to die for our sins. Through
his payment on our behalf, our sins are forgiven and we are given eternal life
with God (John 3:16). This is wonderful news: God wants to live with us!
Does God live in each believer? John
14:23. Does Jesus Christ live in us? Galatians 2:20. Does the Holy Spirit live
in each Christian? Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians 3:16.
3. However, does sin
also continue to live in us? Romans 7:17-23. Do Christians continue to struggle
with sin? Romans 6:11-13; Ephesians 4:22-32. Is there anyone who does not sin?
1 John 1:8, 10. What must Christians therefore continue to do? Verse 9; Matthew
No one is able to live up to the perfection that God
commands. We are unable to be perfect and holy in the way God is perfect and
holy (Matthew 5:48; 1 Peter 1:15-16).
Therefore, we have a continuing need for God’s mercy and
forgiveness. No one can say, “I’ve been so good that I deserve to live with God
forever.” When judgment day comes, everyone will need mercy. Because all
Christians sin, we continue to need God’s grace — and the good news is that we
continue to be forgiven and made clean through the atoning work of our Savior.
Salvation is a gift from start to finish.
Paul talks about forgiveness by using the term justification, which means not
only forgiveness but also giving us the status of being righteous. Christians
are not just declared neutral, but are declared good and righteous, acceptable
to God. How can this be? Let’s take a closer look at what Paul wrote about
Can a person be justified by obeying
God’s law? Romans 3:28; Galatians 2:16; 3:11; Titus 3:5. How then can we be
justified — declared righteous and acceptable to God? Acts 13:38-39; Romans
3:24, 28; 5:1; Galatians 3:24; Titus 3:7.
We are incapable of earning our salvation. We can never perform
enough good deeds to make up for the fact that we are sinners. We can never be
saved on the basis of righteous things we have done. Salvation is always by
God’s mercy and his grace.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and
this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no
one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). This gift was made possible by the death of
Jesus on the cross. He paid the penalty of our sins, and through faith in him —
by accepting what he has done for us — we experience forgiveness.
God’s grace does not mean we are given permission to sin (Romans
3:31; 6:1). God created us to do good works (Ephesians 2:10), and grace teaches
us to quit sinning (Titus 2:11-12). Throughout the New Testament, we are
exhorted to obey God, and we are warned about sin. But regardless of how
obedient we might be, salvation does not come from our good works, but through
the grace of God.
Of all humans, Paul had an excellent claim to his own
righteousness, both in the Old Testament law and in zeal for Jesus Christ. But
he did not trust in his own works.
“If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence
in the flesh, I have more: …in regard to the law, a Pharisee…as for
righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now
consider loss for the sake of Christ. I consider everything a loss because of
the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have
lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found
in him, not having a
righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through
faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God on the
basis of faith” (Philippians 3:4-9).
The righteousness that we need for salvation cannot come
from ourselves. It can come only from Jesus Christ. The good news of the gospel
is that his righteousness is given to us, and we receive this by faith, not by
works of the law. It is in Christ that “we might become the righteousness of
God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
“Christ Jesus has become…our righteousness, holiness and
redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). He becomes our righteousness, and in him we
become the righteousness of God. We are justified — counted among the
Many Christians haven’t fully understood the gospel of
salvation by the grace of Jesus Christ. Many people still think that salvation
is by faith plus works. The truth is that works can’t save us, since even at
their best they fall short of what God has commanded.
As an illustration, let’s suppose that people are at the
gates of paradise, and the gatekeeper asks, “Why should I let you in?” Many
Christians would respond: “Because I’ve been good. I went to church every week,
I always gave a generous offering, I read the Bible every day, I never took
anything that wasn’t mine, I never looked at pornography, etc.” Alcohol
abstainers would mention what they did, and Sabbath keepers would mention what
But the gatekeeper would reply: “So what? For one thing, you
never did those things perfectly. For another, even if you did them perfectly,
those things wouldn’t erase your sins and corruption. If that’s what God
wanted, he could make machines to do those things.”
The correct reply, in contrast, is that we rely on the
sacrifice and righteousness of Jesus Christ, knowing we have nothing to offer
God. Salvation is given to us because of God’s grace revealed in Jesus Christ,
nothing else. The faith and love God has granted us lead us into obedience and
wholehearted devotion to him, but salvation does not depend on our success in
obedience, or we wouldn’t be saved. Since our obedience is never perfect, it
can never count for salvation.
Even so, obedience is important. If we have faith in our
Lord, we will obey him. We live for our King who died for us and now lives for
us and in us (2 Corinthians 5:15). Our deepest allegiance is with him forever.
The Bible sometimes describes salvation with the word redemption. This word comes
from the ancient slave market. People who could not pay their debts were sold
into slavery. If their friends and relatives were able to get enough money to
pay the debt, then they could redeem
or buy the person back from slavery.
To use this figure of speech for salvation, we see that we
have a debt to sin that we cannot pay, and we find ourselves in the slavery of
sin. We cannot work our way out of slavery, but Christ is able to pay our debt
for us. His death on the cross redeemed us out of sin and debt. He purchased
us, and we belong to him. We are now obligated to our new Master, and we owe
him our obedience and loyalty.
God values us much more than slaves. We are his children and
heirs; we are his friends and family, members of his household. And through our
Savior Jesus Christ, even our broken personal relationship with God is
restored! We were once enemies of God, working against him. But through Christ,
we are reconciled to him, made friends again. Once we were rebels; now we are
allies. We have given our allegiance to God because of what he has done for us.
Let’s see how Paul develops this concept.
5. How were we
reconciled to God? Romans 5:8-11; 2 Corinthians 5:18. Did one person — Jesus —
die for all of us? Verse 14. How then should we live? Verse 15. Do we have new
life in Jesus Christ? Verse 17. What work does God then assign us? Verses
Because Jesus died for us, we now live for him. We obey him.
We have a new life. This is described in other places as being “born again”
(John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:23). Our purpose and orientation in life is changed by our
new relationship with God. Our new identity as God’s children has practical
implications for the way we live. As he is living in us, he is also changing
our hearts and minds toward his purposes. The Holy Spirit leads us to continue
to put off old ways and to put on Christlike ways. Because Jesus loved us, we
love him, and we love the people he loves.
As part of our love for God and neighbor, we support the
“message of reconciliation” — the good news that God was reconciling the world
to himself in Christ — the good news that forgiveness is given through him. As
Christians, we are Christ’s representatives, and God is making his appeal to
humanity through us. Just as Paul did, we implore people to be reconciled to
God through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your
minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s
physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish
and free from accusation — if you continue in your faith, established and firm,
and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel”
Peter says that Christians are “a chosen people, a royal
priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession.” And why have we been
chosen? “That you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness
into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). Once we were not God’s people — although
he loved us, we were alienated from him. Now, through the reconciliation given
to us through Christ, through the mercy of God, we are now his people, his
children (verse 10).
How then should we live? Peter continues: “Dear friends, I
urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage
war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they
accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the
day he visits us” (verses 11-12).
What does the Holy Spirit put believers
into? Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13. What is that body? 1 Corinthians
12:27; Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18. Whom is our fellowship with? 1 John
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com
This article was written by Michael Morrison in 1997 and updated in 2014. Copyright by the author. All rights reserved. If you’d like to learn more about the Bible, check out Grace Communion Seminary. It’s accredited, affordable, and all online. www.gcs.edu.
7. What do the
believers do together? Acts 2:42. What are we exhorted to do with and for each
other? Hebrews 10:24-25; 1 Peter 4:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:18; Colossians 3:16.
Throughout the New Testament, believers are often found
meeting together. Although our homes may be scattered among unbelievers, we form
a new community, the church. In the church, we are learning to love each other,
to be reconciled to each other, to help each other. We worship God together, we
pray together, we study the Bible together and encourage each other in the
faith. And together, we reach out to share the gospel with those who walk in
As an organized community, the church encourages its members
to serve others, each according to their ability. But our interactions are not
just with one another — they are also spiritual. Our fellowship is also with
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As we express love to one another, we
also express love for God, since God wants us to love one another.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved
you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my
disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).