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Author:Rev. Mendel Retief
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
 frckelmscott.org
 
Title:Christ is our righteousness
Text:LD 23 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation
 
Added:2013-03-06
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Christ is our Righteousness

Ps. 98: 1, 2

Ps. 112: 1

Ps. 103: 1, 2, 4

Hymn 27: 1 – 4

Ps. 32: 1, 2, 5

 

Scripture reading:       Jer. 23: 5, 6; 33: 14 – 16; Rom. 3: 9 – 31

Text:                              LD 23

 

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

 

From LD 7 up to LD 22 we have been dealing with the 12 articles of the Apostles’ Creed.   These 12 articles were introduced to us in LD 7 as a summary of all that God has promised us in His Word.

 

And now LD 23 comes with the question:

 

            “…what does it benefit you now that you believe all this?”

 

Now that the whole gospel has been spelled out to you, now that you came to trust all that God has promised you in His Word, what does all this benefit you?

 

Well, remembering the words of LD 7, we would expect that also here in LD 23 the answer would be: that by this faith I am grafted into Christ and share in all His benefits.  

And that would be a faithful answer.

Faith unites us to Christ, and being united to Christ we receive all that belongs to Christ.

 

But now, here in LD 23, the benefits of being in Christ, the treasures and blessings that we receive in Him, are described as being “righteous before God and heir to life everlasting”.

 

In this context everlasting life refers to the sum total of all God’s blessings and all that He has promised us.   It is everlasting life in the presence of His glory.

But the first blessing, the greatest gift, by which we receive everlasting life, is that in Christ we have been made righteous in the eyes of God.

 

Only because we are righteous before God are we heirs to everlasting life.

 

And it is this exceedingly great treasure, of being righteous before God in Christ, that will now be proclaimed to us: justification through faith in Christ.

 

The first gift that we receive in Christ, the greatest treasure of being grafted into Christ, is that His righteousness is imputed to us – accounted to us and reckoned as our own.

 

And that will be our theme this morning:

Christ is our righteousness

 

We will note…

1.      That the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us

2.      That we do not trust in our faith, but in God’s promise

3.      The application of this doctrine


In the first place we note that…

The righteousness of Christ is imputed to us

 

Our justification proceeds from the throne of God.   He, the Judge of all the earth, declares that we are just, yes, that we are perfectly righteous, before Him.

To be justified means: to be declared just.

 

Yes, when God justifies us He makes as Judge the pronouncement that we are righteous in His eyes.

But how can God declare, how can He pronounce this judgement, that we are righteous before Him?

 

Dear congregation, we have no righteousness in ourselves.   We don’t even have a bit of righteousness in ourselves!

How then can God justify us?   How then can He declare that we are righteous before Him?

 

When the apostle Paul explains this doctrine of justification he says that God justifies the ungodly – Rom. 4: 5.

That means that God declares the unrighteous righteous!

But how can that be?

How can God, who is holy and just, declare an ungodly man to be righteous?

How can God, who cannot lie, say that someone who is unrighteous is righteous before Him?

The Lord said very clearly in His Word:

 

            “…I will not justify the wicked.” – Ex. 23: 7

 

And in Prov. 17: 15 the Lord says: he who justifies the wicked is an abomination to the Lord.

It is an abomination to justify the wicked, He says.

 

Now, if the Lord will not justify the wicked, and if it is an abomination to Him to justify the wicked, how then can He justify us?  

We sinned from our youth.  

We were born guilty.  

All of us sinned grievously and deserve eternal punishment.  

Yes, we are as guilty as can be.   Unrighteous!   Unjust!

 

How then can God, who is just, declare that we are righteous?   How can He justify the unjust?

 

The answer is of course that God does not declare that we are righteous in ourselves, but that we are righteous in Christ.

Only in Christ are we counted as righteous.  

Apart from Christ we have no righteousness before God.

 

God justifies only those who are in Christ – those who, by faith, are grafted into Him.

Christ is our righteousness.   He is our only righteousness.

 

We may summarise this gospel by saying that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us.

Imputed means: it is put on our account; it is reckoned as our own.

The perfect righteousness Christ is accounted as our own!

 

But note carefully that this justification happens to someone who is ungodly in himself.  

God justifies us in Christ while we have no righteousness of our own.

 

We read this morning from Romans chapter 3 where the apostle Paul says that we receive God’s righteousness apart from our obedience to the law.

Our obedience to the law is excluded from this justification.

God requires perfect obedience to His law, and we are unable.

In fact, we are not even a little bit righteous in ourselves.   No, in ourselves we are totally unrighteous.

And therefore our works are excluded from this justification.

God does not declare us righteous because of anything that we have done.

Nothing that we do can contribute or add to the perfect righteousness which is freely and graciously given to us in Christ.

 

But what exactly does it mean that the righteousness of Christ is given to us?

The Roman Catholics also say that we are justified by grace through faith in Christ.  

They also say that this righteousness by which we are justified is freely given to us.  

What then is the difference between the Roman Catholic view of justification and what we confess?

 

When the Roman Catholics say that we are justified through faith in Christ and that this righteousness is freely given to us, they do not mean that this righteousness is only imputed to us, but that it is also infused into us.  

They say that in our justification the righteousness of Christ is also poured into us so that our righteousness before God does not only consist of the imputed righteousness of Christ, but that we are also made righteous in ourselves.  

 

Yes, they say that this righteousness is a free gift of grace through faith in Christ, because God, in His grace, works this righteousness in us through Christ.  

And that sounds very close to the truth, doesn’t it?

 

Yet, it is a fatal error.

 

It is true that whenever God justifies a man He also sanctifies him.   Whenever God justifies a man He also renews and restores him to be holy and righteous.   It is true that we may never separate justification and sanctification.   But it is also true that we may never confuse justification and sanctification.

 

Dear congregation, why is this so important?

Why do we have to distinguish clearly between justification and sanctification? 

Because: our justification in Christ is the only ground for our acceptance before God.

Our progressive sanctification cannot reconcile us to God.   Our progress on the way of obedience cannot contribute to our acceptance before God.

He accepts us and adopts us as children only because of what Christ has done for us, and not because of anything in us.

Our obedience is completely excluded from the righteousness by which we are justified.  

We are justified only because of the perfect and complete righteousness of Christ.

 

If we add anything to that, we destroy the whole gospel.

If we reckon that we have any righteousness in ourselves, we deny Christ and all that He has done.

 

To summarise this in a few words: We are not justified because of an infused righteousness in us, but because of Christ’s righteousness imputed to us.

Or to say it even more plainly: Christ is our righteousness.   He is our only righteousness.

And apart from His righteousness we have no righteousness.

 

Brothers and sisters, for this very reason we are fully assured of our salvation.   We are fully assured of our acceptance before God because of Christ’s righteousness.

If our acceptance before God depended in the least on something good in us, our case would be hopeless.  

 

It is everything or nothing.   There is no in-between righteousness.  

Either we are perfectly righteous in Christ, or we are not righteous at all.  

Either we accept His righteousness as our only righteousness, or we don’t accept Him at all.

 

Dear congregation, it is easy to create a righteousness that will impress men.   But, when we appear before the throne of God, the blinding light of His holiness exposes us.   In ourselves we stand naked and filthy before Him.   He sees everything and knows us inside out.   There is nothing that we can hide from Him.  The law of God exposes our sin and declares us guilty before God. 

Yet, we are slack to acknowledge this to ourselves.   We rather compare ourselves to our neighbour and then we are quickly satisfied with ourselves, thinking that at least we are better than this one or that one.  

But after we have fooled ourselves in this way, how will we appear before the judgment seat of God?   With what righteousness?

Do not say that you are a covenant child and that you are therefore distinguished from other men, for we deserve exactly the same wrath and condemnation as our unbelieving neighbours.   On the day of God’s judgement our own righteousness will not cover us any better than theirs.  

God will not count anything righteous which is not perfect.  

If you are a sinner, then you are without righteousness.  

If you trespass the law in any way, then you are not righteous in God’s sight.  

There is no in-between righteousness, no half-righteousness, that can stand in the judgment of God.   The only righteousness that God will accept is perfect obedience to His law.

 

In Romans chapter 1 the apostle Paul proved the condemnation of all men, but then, because he knew how proud the Jews were, thinking that they should not be counted with other men, he continued in Romans 2 and 3 to prove that also God’s covenant people deserve the same condemnation.   We have no righteousness in ourselves to stand before God.  

“There is none righteous, no, not one…”  

But the apostle had a hard time to convince the Jews of their own unworthiness.   They boasted of being covenant children.  They thought that they possessed a sufficient holiness by their separation from the world.  

 

Whenever Scripture rebuked man in his depravity, they thought that God was speaking to other men.   Yes, they thought that they were indeed in themselves holier than other men.

 

And so the apostle Paul had a hard time subduing the covenant people.   He had a hard time convincing them that they deserve the same condemnation as their heathen neighbours.   And thus he directed the arrows of God’s judgment towards them, showing them that they deserve the same frightful condemnation as the rest of mankind. 

Dear congregation, we too deserve nothing but condemnation.  

We know God’s law; we know His perfect demands.   We know its immeasurable height.   We have seen something of its infinite extend, and we find ourselves naked in the light of God’s righteousness.  

Let us not try to cover our inward depravity with a veil of outward holiness.   No traditions of men and no religious activity can cover our filthiness before God.

Our mouths will be stopped by the law – either now or on the day of judgement.   By the law every mouth will be stopped.   The law exposes our sin in such a way that no one will be able to say a word in self-defence.   The whole world, all men, yes, all flesh, those outside and those inside the covenant, all stand guilty before God.  

Each man’s deeds testify against him; and the law rightly pronounces God’s curse.

It is in this context of our damnable state before God that the apostle, in Romans 3, proclaims the gospel of our justification in Christ. 

He exposes our sin in order that we may detest ourselves and flee to Christ and cling to His righteousness.  

 

After crushing and destroying all confidence that we foolishly may have of our own righteousness, Christ is proclaimed to us as our only righteousness.  

Over against the unrighteousness of man, he proclaims to us the righteousness of God which is freely given us in Christ.

Through faith in Him we receive His righteousness as our own.

This is the gospel. 

This is our assurance.  

 

“…having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…” – Romans 5:1

We are no longer afraid, running away from God.   We are no longer naked and condemned.   We are justified.   We are clothed with the righteousness of Christ.  Therefore we have peace with God.

Brothers, sisters, when we meditate on this teaching of Scripture our hearts are burning with hope and joy.    Our salvation is sure, for it is not a work that we can do or achieve; it is by grace alone in Christ alone. 

And we receive all this though faith alone.

But what does that mean?  

Is it our big or strong faith that justifies us?

Is our faith the one good work that qualifies to be counted for righteousness?

 

No, we note, in the second place, that…

We do not trust in our faith, but in God’s promise

 

Strictly speaking it is not our faith that saves us.  

God saves us.  

He saves us by grafting us into Christ.  

Faith is the instrument by which He joins us to Christ.

 

There are indeed people who have faith in their faith. 

They reckon that it is their faith that saves them.   And so they trust in their own faith.

But that is not faith at all.

 

And therefore LD 23 asks this question:

 

            “Why do you say that you are righteous only by faith?”

 

What do you mean by that?   Is it your faith that makes you righteous?

 

No, our faith does not make us worthy or acceptable to God.   Only the sacrifice and obedience of Christ makes me acceptable to God.   Faith is simply the means by which God joins us to Christ so that we may receive everything in Him.

Therefore I do not trust in my faith, but in Christ only.

My faith is not a good work that makes me acceptable before God.

 

Yes, we need to spell this out, and we need to understand it clearly, for it happens so easily that at this very point where our eyes should be fixed on Christ alone we again start to look inward to our own abilities – my ability to believe!

No, we, of ourselves, don’t have the ability to believe.   Faith is not a power that you have to discover in yourself.  

 

Let us then not be so foolish as to trust in our faith – my faith, my act of believing, my endurance in faith.

God gives us faith while we don’t have any faith.

He, by His Word and Spirit, makes us alive and grants us eyes to see and ears to hear so that we may see Christ and cling to Him.

Our faith is a gift of grace by which God, according to the decision of His eternal election, joins us to Christ.

 

Faith is God’s gift to His elect.   And whoever receives this faith does not trust in himself – not even in his own faith – but seeks everything in Christ alone.

 

Therefore I do not proclaim to you a recipe how you can start believing.   I do not proclaim to you the wonders of faith.  No, the gospel is not about us and our faith.

I proclaim to you Christ – crucified for your sins, and raised for your justification.

 

Brother, sister, it is not your choice to believe in Jesus that justifies you.

It is not your seeking after God.

Neither is it your repentance or your altar experience.

God justifies you while you are nothing but ungodly in yourself.

 

Yes, the Father draws us to Christ and He joins us to Christ by the faith which He grants us according to His gracious election in spite of ourselves.

 

Our faith does not make us worthy to appear before God.  

Our faith does not save us.

 

How then are you assured that you belong to God?

Not because you know the date of your conversion.   Not because you decided to believe in Jesus.   Not because of your endurance in faith. 

Our only assurance and our only acceptance before God is the promise of the gospel that Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification.

By His work only are we accepted and justified.

 

In the third place we note…

 

The application of this doctrine

 

The Roman Catholics teaches that no one can reach full assurance of faith in this life.   They say that it would be dangerous if we would have full assurance, for it will make us indifferent.    But far from making us careless, this doctrine inflames us with hope and joy and thankfulness.   It causes a new life of thankfulness; a new life of obedience.   This gospel is a power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes.   By this gospel we are raised from our spiritual death, and by this gospel we continue to live.  Far from making us careless this gospel inflames us with zeal to live from now on to the glory of God alone.

 

It was the rediscovery of this doctrine that caused the great Reformation of the 16th century.   It is the heart of the gospel.

 

I will not doubt my salvation, for Christ’s righteousness is mine.

I am not afraid to appear before the judgement seat of God, for I will appear before Him with the perfect righteousness of Christ.  That is our assurance and our glory!

 

And we need this assurance in order to stand.   For, as the Catechism says, even my own conscience accuses me that I have grievously sinned against all God’s commandments, and have never kept any of them, and am still inclined to all evil.

 

“…yet, God, without any merit of my own, out of mere grace, imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ.  

He grants these to me as if I had never had nor committed any sin, and as if I myself had accomplished all the obedience which Christ has rendered for me, if only I accept this gift with a believing heart.”

 

Here we confess that when we look at ourselves then even our own conscience accuses us that we are unrighteous and damnable.  

But now the law can no longer condemn us, for in Christ we are perfect.   He met all the demands of the law on our behalf.   The perfect righteousness which God’s law requires Christ has rendered for me.   It is accounted as my own.

 

“Who is he who condemns?   It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.” (Rom. 8: 34)

 

With such a High Priest representing us we have full assurance of faith.

 

And therefore our joy is complete. 

Yes, true joy and thankfulness is only found where this gospel is believed.

True joy and thankfulness is only found where there is this assurance.

For how can anyone be truly joyful or thankful without this assurance?

It is this gospel that causes us to thank and to praise God for the infinite riches of His mercy.

It is also this gospel that brings God the honour which is His due – no honour or glory to man, but to God alone.

 

Yes, this gospel strips us of all pride and self-complacency, and makes us to trust in Christ alone.  

 

When the Father looks at us He sees Christ; and when He sees Christ He sees us.

We have become one with Him.   We are His, and whatever is His is ours!

 

Dear congregation, not only does this gospel cause us to have full assurance of God’s acceptance, and not only does it make us truly joyful and thankful, and not only does cause us to praise God for His mercies, and to embrace our Lord Jesus Christ as the fullness of all that God has promised us, but this gospel of the imputed righteousness of Christ, this gospel by which we are justified before God, also gives us the boldness to draw near to His mercy seat, to ask for the forgiveness of our sins.

 

Now someone may ask: If we are already justified, why would this justification cause us to ask forgiveness?   Why should we ask forgiveness if our sins are already forgiven?  

 

Brothers and sisters, our justification in Christ is not a progressive process.   Our justification through faith in Christ does not become more and more.   No, we receive the perfect and complete righteousness of Christ once for all.   His righteousness which is imputed to us cannot increase, for it is complete and perfect.   And everyone who by faith is grafted into Him possesses this imputed righteousness as his own.   It is something that can never be taken away from us.   We are not today justified and tomorrow condemned.  

Once we are grafted into Christ we remain justified.

 

But what then about the forgiveness of sins?   If I remain justified now and forever, who do I have to pray daily for the forgiveness of my sins?  

 

It is not so hard to explain.   When God justifies us in Christ then we are no longer condemned.   We will never again come under God’s condemnation, for we are justified.   His holy law can no longer condemn us, for in Christ we are perfect.   This status which we receive in Christ shall remain forever.   In Christ we are accepted and adopted as beloved children, and nothing can or shall rob us from this grace once received.  

Now, a child, once accepted and adopted, can sometimes offend his father.

But no matter how many times your child offends you, he remains your child.  You will never reject him as your child, yet you will become angry with him when he does not listen to you, and you will even chasten him.   For a time there may be tension between you.   You may even for a while withhold from him some privileges, until he repents and listen again.   Then the relationship is good again.

 

The same is true with regard to our relation with God.   Justified in Christ, we are fully accepted by the Father as His beloved children.   But our sins do continue to offend Him.   God is indeed grieved and angry about our sins – also about the sins which we continue to commit.   All sin is against God, and He reacts against it with displeasure.

But with regard to those who are justified in Christ God’s displeasure is the displeasure of a father towards his beloved child.   And it is this fatherly displeasure that is removed by the continued remission of sins as often as we repent and ask forgiveness.

 

When we who are in Christ stumble and sin we do not come under the wrath of a condemning Judge, but we meet with the displeasure of our Father.   And it is this fatherly displeasure that has to be removed as often as we sin, and which is indeed removed as often as we repent and pray for forgiveness.  

 

Being justified in Christ all our sins – past, present and future – has been forgiven.

We will never again come under the condemnation which has been removed by Christ. 

And it is exactly because of this acceptance before God, that we have the boldness to draw near to His throne to ask forgiveness as often as we offend our Father.

 

Dear congregation, in Christ we stand before God, justified, clothed with the fine linen of His righteousness clean and bright.  

 

It is freely given to us by grace alone.  

It is given to you by the preaching of this gospel: Christ our righteousness.  

 

Amen.

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Mendel Retief

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