How do we get into the position where God is 100 percent for me and never again against me? Is there a more important question for each of us? I don’t think there is. So how do we find a satisfying answer, especially in a world that tells us that we are good enough or special enough to warrant God’s eternal favor, and in a world full of religions that say we can save ourselves? Everyone has an answer to how God can become 100 percent for you. But how does God himself answer the question in his holy word? Pastor John explained in a 2017 chapel message.
How do you get into this position? Who’s he talking about? How do you get into the position where God is 100 percent for you and not against you? How do you get in there? I want in there! I want to be in that paradise! How do you get into the position where God is 100 percent for you and not ever at all against you? The answer of the New Testament is this: by faith alone. Now, follow me. You need to be able to stand on this with all your might. Follow me.
Romans 3:28: “We hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” I think “works of the law” here, and usually, means any effort at law-keeping — which does imply that Luther, at least by way of an interpretation, got it right when he translated, “one is justified by faith alone apart from works of the law.” I think that is implied there, but it doesn’t say it.
Let’s look at another text. In Philippians 3:9, Paul says he aims to be found in Christ. That’s crucial. He says he wants to “be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law [law-keeping], but [a righteousness] that . . . comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”
Again he is denying and affirming. He denies that the righteousness he needs in the presence of God is his own — a righteousness that comes from law. He affirms that the righteousness he needs in the presence of God is in Christ, in union with Christ, which comes through faith in Christ — “the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” Again, “not law-keeping, but faith” implies faith alone.
It gets clearer. Galatians 2:21: “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” So, the righteousness we need before God is not through the law, not through law-keeping.
Little Bit of Law?
Now maybe, maybe though, it means not completely through law-keeping. Maybe there is room for a little bit. Maybe it’s really salvation by faith, with just a little bit of law-keeping — like maybe just circumcision. That’s not much.
“The righteousness we need before God is not through the law, not through law-keeping.”
The most radical statement on this is Galatians 5:1–3: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision” — just one little effort at law-keeping. If you add that one little effort in addition to faith in Christ, “Christ will be of no advantage to you.” That’s wildly radical. “I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.”
So, if you choose to rely just a little bit on law-keeping as a way of getting justified, as a way of getting into a position where God is 100 percent for you, Christ is of no advantage to you. If you go the route of justification by faith plus a little bit of law-keeping, you go the route of justification by total law-keeping. All or nothing. Here’s verse 3 again: “I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.”
Two Routes to Righteousness
There are two ways of justification: the way of law-keeping, which requires your perfection, and the way of faith, which depends on Christ’s perfection. These two paths into the place where God is 100 percent for you are so distinct, they cannot be mixed at all.
If you are trusting Christ for a righteous standing, where God is 100 percent for you, you cannot mix one quiver of effort to establish your own righteousness. And if you are seeking to establish your own righteousness, your own record of virtue as an entrance into the position where God is 100 percent for you, you cannot mix the slightest faith in Christ as your all-sufficient righteousness. They are mutually exclusive.