Fact, Not Feeling
What does it mean to have peace with God? Let me make an analogy. Let's say you committed some crime against the government of the United States, and you fled the country. Now you're sitting on a beautiful beach somewhere and you feel perfectly at peace. Are you at peace with the U.S. government? No, absolutely not. If you try to re-enter the country, you'll find you have to make it right by their rules.
The situation is similar with God. The Bible says, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). To have peace with God, to be right with Him, doesn't mean to have a feeling based upon an emotion (feeling at ease as you relax on the beach, so to speak). It means to have the fact of peace, based upon revelation.
People have come up with different ways to fix the problem of being right with God. The first is being good. The reasoning goes: "Good people go to heaven, so if my good deeds outweigh my bad deeds, that will make me right with God." But Isaiah 64 says that all of our righteous deeds are like "filthy rags." And that's because salvation is "not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Ephesians 2:9).
A second way is being religious. It's like the first one, but with a spiritual component -- using spiritual disciplines and rituals, observing laws, and other kinds of legalism. Every religious system has this approach: "If you do these things, you can be right with God." Even within Christianity you find people who say, "I'm good with God because I keep the Ten Commandments" or "I live by the Sermon on the Mount." That's turning Christianity into self-effort, an "I'll-do-this-to-earn-that" approach. But that's self righteousness. Read Jesus' parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18 to see what He thinks of that!
A third approach that people have is to be sincere. I think this applies to the large majority of Americans: "It doesn't matter what you do or don't do, or what you believe or don't believe, just as long as you're sincere. Be heartfelt about whatever you're into." Well, the big problem with that is the Bible declares, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 14:12).
The point is, we can't earn a right standing with God. All of those approaches don't work. So how can we have the fact of peace with God?
First of all, we are righteous not by our acts but by His act. In 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, it talks about how we are reconciled to God by Christ's action, and our sins are not held against us. The essence of the gospel is this: Jesus bore our sins so that we could bear His righteousness. And this righteousness is not earned, it is declared. Romans 3:21-28 explains how God justifies those who have faith in Christ, apart from any deeds. And it is this imputed righteousness that brings us peace with God (see Romans 5:1). I wonder how many Christians really know this enough to enjoy it.
How can we be righteous before God? The answer: We can't ... not on our own. God declares us righteous as we place our faith in His Son. Jesus takes away all our sin and freely gives us His righteousness in return. That's the only way.
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