Looking into the Mirror: The Image of God

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments (Ex. 20:4-6).

For many Christians in the west, this passage may seem to be virtually irrelevant. What possible truth could it have for us today? In this post, we’ll see that the commands here go much farther than just carving out images.

Surrounded by Pagan Culture

As we mentioned in the previous posts, Israel was surrounded by pagan cultures. Even though out of Egypt, Israel still encountered other cultures on the way to the Promised Land. The Lord thus was giving these commands to insulate Israel from such pagan worship practices. Israel was to be separate and set apart to God, thus the nation was not to copy of the practices of other cultures or religions or add them in any way to the worship of Yahweh (an idea called syncretism).

The Scope of the Command

Notice first that the Lord said, “You shall not make any graven images.” Does this mean that other types of images would be acceptable? Since that was the only type of images a people could produce at the time, it seems likely that the Lord was speaking in their terms. Thus, if He were giving the command today, it would include all the technologies that are available to make images. This surely includes not only sculptures, but also photos, drawings, paintings, etc. The command would include any means of producing images.

Notice also that the Lord said, “You shall not make any graven images,” and then proceeds to define “any.” Israel was not to make an image of anything in the heaven, or on the earth or in the water under the earth. That runs the gamut of possibilities, whether it be people, animals, birds, fish, stones, whatever.

Finally notice that the Lord said, “You shall not make any graven images . . . [to] bow down to them or serve them.” If the Lord had not included this limitation, one might rightly get the idea that one could not make images at all! No art! This, however, is the real limitation of the command. It was common practice for the nations around Israel (and in many religions today) to have symbols representing gods, that the people would worship. The Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, even set up a golden image of himself for the people to worship (Dan. 3).

The Reason for the Command

Why was this command necessary? God had already told Israel not to have any other gods before or alongside Him (see “No Other Gods”). The thrust of this command, then, must have been to prevent Israel to making an image to represent Yahweh. Before continuing, we should note that the Lord, in His instructions for the tabernacle did give directions to fashion cherubim that would be attached to the Mercy Seat (the Ark). Yet, Israel was not to worship the cherubim, nor was she to worship the Ark.

Why would God prohibit an image of Himself? Because no image can fully represent Him. It’s impossible for an image created by a finite human to represent the infinite God. He will not be limited (or ‘put in a box’) by our conception of Him. Even the pages of Scripture cannot fully contain all that He is (though they do contain all that He has revealed Himself to be). Thus, if we worship a limited version of God (through an image), we are worshipping another God (a violation of the first commandment).

A Jealous God?

In giving this commandment, God is described as jealous. What does that mean as applied to Him? We are told to not be jealous. The Hebrew word for jealous in this passage is qanna’; it is a word that is used only in reference to God being jealous. It speaks of God not allowing any rival to Himself, much as a husband has a right to have the undivided love of his wife. As God over all, Yahweh has the right to pure and undivided worship.

As we said in previous posts, God also demands this because He knows that only He can meet the deepest needs of man. Thus, He is jealous that we come to Him with our needs, not some false or limited god that has no power. We see this in His statement that He visits (not punishes) “the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me.” Taken in context, this refers to those who worship false gods (though it is surely true of other sins as well). Anyone who lives a life contrary to His commandments is said to “hate” Him, but Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). John taught the same: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” (1 John 5:3).

What it Means for Us

What do we as believers do with this commandment? First, it seems clear that we are not to make or possess anything that might represent God, so that we worship it. Whether that includes drawings or paintings of Jesus is unclear. Jesus is, after all, fully human in addition to being fully God. We don’t really know what He exactly looked like (such pictures are guesses, some educated, some not). The best approach would seem to be caution about this.

Second, and more importantly, we are to put aside any limitations or preconceived notions of what God is like. He is much more than the best minds among us can discern. We are to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7), and while fallen man often wants a point of focus, he is called to walk by faith, responding to God as He reveals Himself.

Finally, to visit the last part of the passage, this God who will not be limited by humanity’s vision of Him is one who shows “steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” He is the faithful One whose Word never fails us. As we worship Him and Him alone, He showers us with His amazing love and grace.

It is because of this passage that Paul can write the following:

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen (Eph. 3:20-21).

The Lord who reigns over all can do so much more than we ask or think because he IS so much ore than we can ever think or imagine.

The Shepherd’s Voice is the blog ministry of His Light Ministries. For more information, click here.

Looking into the Mirror: No Other Gods

You shall have no other gods before me (Exodus 20:3).

The first commandment that God gives to Israel (and thus to all) is the logical one: Have no other gods before Me. This may seem an obvious command to many, but we have to remember toe context. Israel had just left Egypt with their many gods and was going to a land of many different cultures, and thus many different gods. Yahweh was thus warning Israel against getting entangled with the gods of that land.

Other Gods

Are there other gods? Isn’t the Lord (Yahweh) the only true God? He is indeed. He tells us,

See now that I, I am He,
And there is no god besides Me;
It is I who put to death and give life.
I have wounded and it is I who heal,
And there is no one who can deliver from My hand
(Deut. 32:39, NASB).

What does it mean, then to have another god before Yahweh? The Bible tells us that fallen man has rejected the knowledge of the truth and the true God (Rom. 1:18-32), setting up gods of his own making. To the unbeliever, these gods are as real (or more so) than the true God. His mind is darkened, and he has excluded the true God.

In truth anything or anyone can be a god. In the abstract, god simply means someone or something that calls the shots in my life. The atheist says, “There is no god,” but he has simply made himself god of his own life (he calls the shots).

Before Me

What does it mean to put something or someone “before” God? Again, the question seems obvious. At first glance the term (rightly) seems to suggest primacy of place. We are to allow nothing and no one to claim the place that Yahweh has reserved for Himself. Later in chapter 20, the Lord repeats the command but with a subtle variation. We read,

You shall not make gods of silver to be with me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold (Ex. 20:23).

Notice the subtle difference here. Not only was Israel commanded to not put any god “before” Yahweh (i.e., in His place), but they were also commanded to not make gods to “be with” Him (or alongside Him). He will tolerate no rival to His throne. This command eliminates any possibility of syncretism (mixing various forms of worship with the worship of the true God).

A Jealous God

Why is Yahweh so demanding in this regard? Is He simply a jealous deity that longs for all the attention? The answer to that is, “Yes.” He describes Himself as a jealous God (v. 5). He is jealous of His position, yes, but He is jealous for our protection. The gods of man’s creation are in reality no gods. They have no eternal power. Following such gods only leads to confusion, darkness, and destruction. Centuries later, the Lord would show what happens when men opt for lesser gods. He spoke to Jeremiah,

“Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate,” declares the Lord, “for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer. 2:12-14).

When man follows false gods, he is inevitably left dry, thirsty, and dead. False gods cannot satisfy the soul; only Yahweh can do that. The sad thing is that He longs to do that. Jesus pleaded with the thirsty to come to Him:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matt. 11:28-29).

How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Matt. 23:27)

If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38).

In addition to being an affront to the character and holiness of God, putting anything before or alongside Him in our lives must break His heart, as He stands ready to meet every need of the human soul. All we need do is turn from those things in repentance and turn to Him in faith.

Looking into the Mirror: The Ten Commandments

And God spoke all these words, saying,

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

“You shall not murder.

“You shall not commit adultery.

“You shall not steal.

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:1-17).

These words from Scripture are familiar to anyone who has read the Bible for any length of time—and even if one has never read the Bible, they are likely familiar. This section of Exodus, known as the Ten Commandments (literally “ten words”), forms the beginning and basis of God’s law (specifically the moral law). Over the next several posts, we will look closely at the commandments, including the original intent and how they are to be applied to the life of a believer. In this post, we’ll take a broad view of the passage, including it’s purpose and relevance to the life of the New Testament Christian.

The Context and Purpose: Deliverance

It’s important as we begin to acknowledge the context and purpose of this passage. The context is given a short summary statement: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” The Lord had just brought Israel out of slavery. The sentence of death He decreed on the firstborn had broken the will of Pharaoh (though he would quickly change his mind, resulting in the drowning of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea). That night would mark the first Passover (“pass over”). The Lord had conquered Egypt and claimed Israel as His own. Thus, He gave the covenant to Moses at Sinai to teach Israel how to live before Him.

Though many people try to live by the Ten Commandments to “be good,” that is not, nor ever was, their intent. Note that the first thing God says is that “I have [already] saved you.” The Ten Commandments, and indeed the law in general, was never intended as a means of salvation (Gal. 3:21). In fact, Paul says, that the law is not for the righteous, but the unrighteous. He writes,

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine (1 Tim. 1:8-10).

Why does the righteous person not need the law? Because the law is already written on his heart. His obedience is not from an external standard but simply comes from who he is. In the same way, Israel’s response to the law was to proceed from the ground of deliverance, rather than the other way around. Those who exercised faith in the Lord would obey His commandments, showing the reality of their faith.

The Ten Commandments for Us

If it’s true (and it surely is, coming from Scripture), that the law is not for the righteous, then what relevance does this passage have for us, or is it even relevant at all? Though one pastor recently made headlines by stating that the Ten Commandments are not for believers, the Word of God disagrees:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Taking this passage at face value, we must conclude that the Ten Commandments (and indeed all Scripture) is relevant to the follower of Christ. It’s value for us lies in Paul’s statement of purpose: “Scripture is profitable [useful] for . . . training in righteousness.” When one is saved, he does not automatically know how to live as a believer, though the desire to obey God’s Word is present. Scripture, then, is used by God to show us what it “looks like” to walk in obedience to Him. (For a look at this, see “Growing in Christ: Our Training Manual.”)

To use James’ picture, the law is like a mirror that one looks at to see his reflection. The mirror shows us what we look like in comparison to God’s eternal standards. When we fall short (as we always do), we are to confess and repent, adjusting our thinking and our behaviors to align with Scripture. It is this mirror into which we will look throughout this series, finding the areas that God is calling us to look more like Christ.

Running the Race

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (1 Cor. 9:24-27).

In the film Overcomer, Hannah Scott is a cross-country athlete who transfers to a Christian school. There are a few problems, though. Firstly, the school has no cross-country team. Secondly, Hannah has asthma.

Asthma, you say? Yes, asthma. Due to some circumstances, the school starts a cross-country team–with Hannah as the only member. She trains and trains, and finally it’s time for the state championship. During the race, she gives her all, with the help of the voice of her dad in her ear (a pre-recorded message) coaching her through the course. She collapses as she crosses the finish line, but wins by a matter of inches. That story has much to say to us, but in this post, we’ll focus on the truths of the passage above, illustrated in the story.

We Are All Running the Race

All of us are running a race, both believers and unbelievers. It’s called the race of life. We are all striving for something. Some strive for fame, money, success, ministry, or a legacy. These wreaths or crowns are what Paul calls perhishable. At the end of life, these crowns will be gone. One cannot take them into eternity.

For the believer, however, our race is different. We strive for an imperishable crown. The crown that is awarded to the believer at the end of his life will last for eternity. Near the end of his life, Paul tells Timothy,

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing (2 Tim. 4:7-8).

This is the crown that all believers will be given at the end of life. It is a crown based solely on God’s grace and the work of Christ.

The Rewards of the Believer

For the believer, there are more rewards that they will be given at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Paul tells us,

Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire (1 Cor. 3:10-15).

Notice here that we are all building. Some are building with precious things (those things that will last and pass the test), and some are building with cheap material (and that material will be consumed in the fire of testing). We should take care, then, how we build.

What does it mean to build with the things that will last? It means that we are building His kingdom, engaging in activities that will have an eternal impact. What is the one thing that will have an eternal impact? Making disciples. That is the command of every believer. We are to preach the gospel, and then call those that believe to a life of discipleship.

Giving Our All

Like Hannah Scott in the film, we are called to give our all for the race we run. Everything we do should be focused toward making disciples, accumulating those rewards that will stand the test of fire. And like Hannah Scott, we do not run alone. The Father has given the Holy Spirit to us to journey alongside us, encouraging, exhorting, and keeping us on the course. At the end, though we receive those crowns, they are not ours. Like the elders of Revelation 4, we too will cast our crowns at the feet of Him who loves us, saves us, and gave His life for us. He gave His all for us; may we give our all for Him.

The Righteousness of God: The Results

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (Rom. 8:28-30).

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:13).

In the last post, (“The Righteousness of God: God’s Provision—Jesus”), we saw that God has made a way to justify sinful man apart from the law. That way is through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. As we said, one is justified by faith in Jesus, and only those who place their faith in Him are so justified.

In our final post in the series, we will look at the question, “Can one know for certain that he is saved?” This is a common question that many ask, usually at a time when they have been confronted with the fact that they still sin as a believer.

We Can Know

The first thing we want to say is that God intended us to know that we are saved. The apostle John wrote a letter for that specific purpose. He told his readers, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (emphasis added). The entire letter of 1 John was written so that we could know for certain. The phrase “we know” appears more than 25 times in the letter.

How can we know? John and the other writers of the New Testament give us evidence tests. There are several in 1 John alone, including love of the brethren, walking in the light, and walking in the truth. All of them boil down to one fact—when God saves a person, that person is changed. They become a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), and that change continues throughout their lifetime, being completed only when they are taken Home to be with the Lord. (For an in-depth look at 1 John, take a look at my free commentary That You May Know, or the blog posts based on that.)

When talking about assurance of salvation and works, there are two important things to remember. Firstly, assurance is based on God’s promises, not on our works. Our works (that is, the change in us) give evidence of the fact that we are saved, but without His grace and power, they would simply be dead works. Secondly, and just as important, one who has been saved will change, will grow in love and holiness, and will understand God’s Word more and more. If one claims to be saved but has no desire to grow, change, fellowship or know God and His Word, then such a claim should be questioned.

Salvation and Sin

But what about our sin? As we mentioned, the question of assurance usually comes up when someone is confronted with the fact that they claim Christ yet still sin. However, the fact that believers can and do still sin is recorded in Scripture—a fact that surprises some. 1 John tells us,

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1 John 1:8-10).

Let’s take a brief look at this passage. The first thing we need to remember is that 1 John was written to believers. It was not written to people in general. With that in mind, what does he say here? Firstly, believers do sin, and to deny that is to live in self-deception. Some think that verse 9 is referring to one who is outside of Christ, but John uses “we” (as he does throughout his letter). He is therefore not referring to those outside of Christ (unless he sees himself that way).

Secondly, if we deny we have sinned then we have called the Lord a liar. Why is this? Because He has said all sin, no one is righteous in themselves. To say, then, that we don’t sin even as believers is to say, “Lord, You were wrong about what You said.” Any time we believe something contrary to what the Lord has said in His Word, we call Him at best misinformed and at worst a liar.

Thirdly, when we do confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us. To confess means “to say the same thing; to agree with.” We agree that the attitude, word, or deed was sin. We repent (change our thinking) and turn from it, turning to the Lord in faith. Confession without repentance is little more than saying, “I’m sorry.”

Does That Mean I’m Not Saved?

Many people seem to struggle with the idea that a believer sins. Does that mean that they are not saved, no longer a believer? Those who advocate for this position do so on various grounds, but it generally boils down to a view of salvation as merely a choice of the will. Thus, I can choose to be saved (accepting Christ’s sacrifice as payment for my sins), and then I can choose to walk away from Him.

As we said above, however, salvation is more than that. Salvation changes a person. Under the New Covenant, the believer is given a new heart that wants to follow God. The very core of his being is changed. To “no longer be saved,” then, would require that God 1) either undo what He has done, or 2) that a believer with a new heart be again subject to His wrath. From a plain reading of Scripture, it seems that neither of those are viable options.

Not only that, but it also seems that such a position would make God a liar, for He has promised (unconditionally) certain things to the believer. Let’s take a look at the Romans 8 passage quoted at the top of the page. What do we see there? First, we see that Paul is referring to those actions in past tense. They already happened. That is to say,

  • He foreknew you. He knew beforehand who you would be, and more specifically, He created you that way. It’s not just that God knew what you would do, but He knew you (the same thought is expressed to Jeremiah in Jer. 1:5). Eph. 1:4 tells us that “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.” You were chosen, not because anything you would do, but because of His good pleasure.
  • He predestined you. Not only did God foreknow and choose you, but He predestined you. The Greek word for this means “to predetermine, decide beforehand.” Those He knew, He also determined to conform to the image of His Son.
  • He called you. When He determined that you’d be conformed to the image of His Son, He called you to Himself. When you placed your faith in Christ, you answered that call.
  • He justified you. When He called you, He drew you to Himself and justified you (declared you righteous) because of the work of Christ, which He applied to you.
  • He glorified you. This may seem strange to say in the past tense, because it seems we are not yet glorified. God, however, can speak in the past tense. The idea here is that He decreed it in the past even before you were born, and thus it shall be. Another way of saying this (and the other concepts above) is, “It’s already happened, you are simply living it out.”

Think about that last statement: It’s already happened, you are just living it out. That’s what the whole purpose of Rom. 8:28-35 is about—giving hope to the believer in the midst of struggles. And for the believer, sin is the biggest struggle, and the one that will last the longest.  But Paul goes on to tell us that nothing in all creation will ever separate us from His love.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:37-39).

[Note: Some of the material in this series has been adapted from my commentary The Righteousness of God: A Commentary on Romans.]

The Shepherd’s Voice is the blog ministry of His Light Ministries. For more information, click here.

The Righteousness of God: God's Provision–Jesus

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. (Rom. 3:20, 22).

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).

In the previous post, we left mankind in a bit of a fix. The gospel tells us that all mankind—every person born since Adam was created—have sinned against a perfect and holy God, violating His law. Because all have sinned, all stand under judgment, subject to God’s eternal wrath.

Just Do Better?

We also saw that even if a man could live perfectly from this point on, he has already violated God’s law and is therefore subject to His wrath. Not only that, but Paul tells us, that “by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” Notice that Paul says that no human will be justified (that is, declared righteous, saved from God’s wrath) by keeping the law.

Why is that? Because the law does not produce righteousness. Instead, it produces “the knowledge of sin.” What does that mean? Its basic meaning is that the law sets the standard, and thus also the knowledge of what is sin (anything that violates that standard). However, as Paul will elaborate later, the law also arouses sin. If a parent tells a child, “Don’t go into the kitchen,” where is the first place the child will normally seek to go? The kitchen, of course—even if she had no thought of going to the kitchen before the command was given. So, the law can only tell you what is right and wrong. And, instead of giving you the power to obey, it actually tends to arouse sin in the flesh. The law simply can’t produce salvation.

By Faith Alone

Instead of keeping the law to be saved, God’s righteousness (and thus our justification) comes by another path: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” Justification by faith. In looking closely at this verse, we see a few important details:

  • First, it is apart from the law. The righteousness of God is separate from the law, meaning the law is not the path to obtaining righteousness (as we have said many times in earlier posts, keeping God’s commandments is done from the ground of salvation, not the path to salvation).
  • Second, the Old Testament writings (the Law and the Prophets) bear witness to it. Righteousness by faith stretches throughout biblical history, going back to Abraham and beyond, as we mentioned in the last post. The heroes of faith in the Old Testament weren’t righteous because they kept the law. All of them stumbled miserably. Rather, they kept the law because they had faith and thus were declared righteous in God’s sight.
  • Third, the righteousness of God comes by faith in Christ. Paul is very specific here. Faith in Christ is the path to God’s righteousness (the justification of the believer). More specifically, this righteousness is given “for all who believe.” All who place faith in the Lord Jesus Christ are saved.

Jesus: The Way to the Father

What part does Jesus play in the gospel? Paul tells us, “Christ died for us.” What does this mean? Remember that the law requires death for sin. Jesus, then, died in our place and bore the penalty of sin—the wrath of God. He could do this because He lived a perfectly sinless life. He said, “I always do those things that please the Father” (John 8:29). Because He lived a perfect life, His death was not for Himself but in the place of others. Because He is God-incarnate (John 1:1-2), His death is sufficient for all (1 John 2:2; 4:10).

How do we know that His death was acceptable to God for our sins? Because He rose from the dead. Remember, death is the result of sin. Because Jesus never sinned, death had no claim on Him. He gave up His life voluntarily for us (John 10:11, 15, 17-18). His resurrection shows that He is righteous. And His righteousness is imputed (credited or reckoned) to those who believe in Him for salvation.

No Other Way

Many people say that there are many ways to God. There are, indeed, many man-made attempts to reach God. But they all fall short for several reasons:

The first reason is that of sin. Sin pervades every part of us and every part of creation. We are fallen people in a fallen world. Our best attempts to “reach God” fall woefully short of His standards.

Secondly, Jesus. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes through the Father but by me” (John 14:6, emphasis mine). That automatically excludes every other “way” to God. Either Jesus was right, and all other attempts are wrong, or He was wrong, and thus we have no reason to believe anything else He has said. But again, His resurrection proves that everything He said was true.

How is One Saved?

The Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). Their answer? “And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (v. 31). To be saved, one places his trust/belief/faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. To put it another way, as Paul says,

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. . . . For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Rom. 10:9, 13).

This is the essence of the gospel. Turn to Christ in faith and trust.

[Note: Much of the material in this series has been adapted from my commentary The Righteousness of God: A Commentary on Romans.]

The Shepherd’s Voice is the blog ministry of His Light Ministries. For more information, click here.

The Righteousness of God: God's Wrath and Man's Need

God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day (Ps. 7:11).

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth (Rom. 1:18).

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. . . . For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:10-12, 23).

When we talk about the gospel, the first question we have to ask is, “Why do we need the gospel? What do we need to be ‘saved’ from?” Today, many people scoff at the idea of being saved from anything—or their idea of salvation is becoming a god in their own right (so-called human evolution). The problem, and the reason that the gospel is necessary, is sin.

What is Sin?

We all have at least a vague idea of what “sin” is. Sin, in a general sense, is wrongdoing. In the Bible, sin is defined as “falling short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23, the idea of falling short or missing the mark). Sin is also defined as transgressing the law of God (1 John 3:4, the idea being that one is a law unto himself and thus violates the law of God).

We should be careful to understand that sin goes deeper than just outward behavior. Why is this so? Because God’s law demands perfection, reaching beyond the appearance to the very attitudes of the heart (Ps. 19:7; Mark 12:30). “Wait, God requires me to be perfect?” He does. He is holy and perfect, with no moral blemish, and His law requires that same perfection.

But, no one is perfect. No human since the fall of Adam and Eve has ever kept the law perfectly. That’s a real problem. Why, you ask? That’s a good question.

The Wrath of God

What’s the problem with sin? Those who fail to meet the standard of God’s law are subject to His wrath. His eternal wrath. Some people teach that we are separated from God’s presence by our sin; however, God is omni-present, everywhere at once. We are certainly separated from His goodness, mercy, and love, but not from Him. And we could never hide from Him, as the psalmist has said:

Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you (Ps. 139:7-12).

All humanity, then is in danger of His wrath. Our experience in life confirms what Scripture has already said: No one is perfect. No one is righteous. All have sinned.

God the Righteous Judge

Many people object to the idea of God as a judge, since it means they are subject to His judgment. Scripture does affirm, however, that God looks down and makes righteous judgments, and is rightly indignant with human sin (Ps. 7:11). God’s judgment, however, is not capricious, cruel, or arbitrary. They are righteous. They are based on standards that are in accord with His character.

How is that so? Firstly, because we all are born with an instinctive awareness of God and His righteous decrees:

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse (Rom. 1:19-20).

We all know instinctively that there is a God and He has standards. Those who deny His existence have been taught to deny His existence and violate their own instincts.

Secondly, besides the revelation of nature, man has awareness of right and wrong (God’s moral decrees) through the vehicle of conscience (Rom. 2:15). God has given humanity light to see His moral decrees.

God’s judgments, then, are based on evidence, and as Paul tells us, the judgement of God rightly falls on those who violate His law. The standard has been set, and when people violate the standard, he is subject to the wrath of God.

What is to Be Done?

What is the solution to this dilemma? How can a righteous and holy God justify and reconcile sinful man to Himself? Are we to simply “do better?” Is that enough? That can’t be enough, simply because even if one could be perfect from this point on (an impossible task), he has already sinned in the past! If salvation from the wrath of God is not possible by keeping the law, then what hope have we? That will be the subject of the next post.

[Note: Much of the material in this series has been adapted from my commentary The Righteousness of God: A Commentary on Romans.]

The Shepherd’s Voice is the blog ministry of His Light Ministries. For more information, click here.