The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Christ our righteousness #5 A real reliance essential

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(Part 5 of 5. See parts 1 and 2 and 3 and 4.)

Finally, we must ask the question: How does a sinner obtain such incalculable blessings? “In him.” The blessings are obtained by being united to Christ. God is “the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom 3.26) and in so doing his justice and holiness are by no means compromised but rather exalted. Faith is the instrument of union with the Lord Jesus: real, lively, engaged faith, as opposed to something static or inactive. Faith is not a child stillborn: it cries! It is a gift of God by which the regenerate man reaches out with an empty hand to latch hold of Christ. Christ saves, and the instrument by which he saves is faith. Do we describe faith as active or as passive? Faith acts, but it acts by receiving. It is not mindless, it does not bypass man and his faculties, but is the engagement of the whole man with the whole Christ, by means of which union the God-righteousness of Christ is made man’s. Robert Traill speaks of justifying faith thus:

They all, both Christ’s enemies and his disciples, knew that faith in him was a believing that the man Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God, the Messiah, the Saviour of the world, so as to receive, and look for salvation in his name (Acts 4.12) . . . . That faith in Jesus Christ justifies (although, by the way, it is to be noted that it is never written in the Word that faith justifies actively,[1] but it is always expressed passively: that a man is justified by faith, and that God justifies men by and through faith; yet admitting the phrase) only as a mere instrument, receiving that imputed righteousness of Christ, for which we are justified. And this faith, in the office of justification, is neither condition, nor qualification, nor our gospel-righteousness, but is in its very act a renouncing of all such pretences.[2]

These blessings belong to a man in union with Christ, and nowhere else; that union is effected by saving faith, and nothing else. We shall be judged in accordance with our relationship with Jesus Christ the Righteous, and faith alone brings us into a saving connection with him.

In closing, I want to address each of you with two questions.

Firstly, what is your relationship with Jesus Christ and his righteousness?

Are you in Christ? Have you ever reckoned with the fact that God will reckon your sins to your own account if they are not reckoned to Christ? Have you realised that if your sins are put to your own account then you are under the just condemnation of a holy God, and exposed to the damnation and abandonment that your sins deserve? Will you not turn from your sins to Christ, in order that you might be saved? Or perhaps you are in agony of conscience, and have been for days, or weeks, or months, or even years, and you feel yourself to be on the outside, longing to be reconciled to God and to have peace with him? As an ambassador for Christ, I implore you: “Be reconciled to God!” Believe and be saved! Trust in Christ for your reconciliation with God! Come to this glorious Redeemer, receive this real righteousness, rest upon the promises of the merciful Almighty. How poorly we have painted his glory, but how glorious is his sufficiency for guilty sinners! Trust in Jesus Christ the righteous and these blessings are yours. The most perverse and filthy sinner who trusts in Jesus Christ receives in that moment pardon for his sins, and is accounted in the eyes of God as actually possessing the flawless righteousness of the perfect God-man, in whom he is well pleased. This is what it means to be “accepted in the Beloved” (Eph 1.6): this is God’s grace in Christ.

But are you indeed in Christ by faith? Then you, as John Owen says, have obtained acceptance before God, with a right and title unto a heavenly inheritance. What joys and blessings are unshakeably and unmistakeably yours! You are loved like Christ (Jn 17.23) on account of the righteousness of Christ imputed to you, received by faith. You are a justified man: having been justified, you have peace with God through your Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also you have access by faith into this grace in which you stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but you also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance, character, and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Rom 5.1-5). How many sweet hours we might spend considering what we have in Christ: privileges and blessings unshakeably, securely, and eternally ours! These joys and blessings do not rest upon your works, or lack of them. They can never be taken from you. No flaw shall ever be found in the righteousness which God considers as yours, and so there will never be any falling short to be made up in your relationship with God through Christ. He is yours, and you are his, and in him you stand eternally secure.

Secondly, what is your report of Jesus Christ and his righteousness?

What is your report to heretics and opposers? What do you have to say to those who set themselves against these truths? Christian, if you die, this will be your hope – shall you therefore be ashamed of it while you live? We live in an age when once more the very heart of the gospel is at stake, and we must take pains to identify and defend truth, and identify and contend with error. This is a time when there is a great necessity of standing for the truths upon which the destiny of your immortal soul is hanging. Can we not afford to suffer a little now for the sake of the Christ who suffered to obtain these blessings for us, especially when we recall that those sufferings are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Rom 8.18)? Martin Luther put it this way:

If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing him. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.[3]

This is no “little point”: this is the centre of things. As we have already seen from Mr Traill, all the great fundamentals of Christian truth centre in this of justification. The Trinity of Persons in the Godhead; the incarnation of the only Begotten of the Father; the satisfaction paid to the law and justice of God for the sins of the world by his obedience and sacrifice of himself in that flesh he assumed; and the divine authority of the Scriptures which reveal this: these are all straight lines of truth that centre in this doctrine of justification of a sinner by the imputation and application of that satisfaction.

If the heart of truth is shifted, it will bend and bias all the lines of truth which centre upon it; if the lines of truth are twisted and bent, they shall lead no one to salvation. We face a battle to defend truth, but William Gurnall reminds us that one of the qualities of truth that helps us to love it and hold to it is that it is victorious. He admits that “sometimes, I confess, the enemies to ‘truth’ get the militia of this lower world into their hands, and then truth seems to go to the ground,” but reminds us that “persecutors need not be at cost for marble to write the memorial of their victories in, dust will serve well enough, for they are not like to last so long”:

Who loves not to be on the winning side? Choose truth for thy side, and thou hast it. News may come that truth is sick, but never that it is dead. No, it is error that is short-lived. ‘A lying tongue is but for a moment;’ but truth’s age runs parallel with eternity. [4]

We might be tempted to wonder at Gurnall’s suggestion that error is short-lived, given that we are fighting old errors reborn, but when we realise that his context is eternity, then we are encouraged! Truth’s face is now covered in tears and blood, but we must stand with her and fight for her, in the sure anticipation of her eventual and eternal victory.

And what is your report to the ignorant and needy? What report do you have of Christ and his righteousness for your lost family members, neighbours, friends and colleagues? We are none of us apostles, but we all of us have some duty and warrant in this text to call to the ungodly: “Be reconciled to God!” These and these alone are the truths that can heal the broken-hearted – no-where but here is salvation to be found. Again, Traill asks of the man or woman whose conscience is awakened, who asks what must they do to be saved:

Why should not the right answer be given, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved’? Tell him what Christ is, what he has done and suffered to obtain eternal redemption for sinners, and that according to the will of God and his Father. Give him a plain downright narrative of the gospel salvation wrought out by the Son of God; tell him the history and mystery of the gospel plainly. It may be the Holy Ghost will work faith thereby, as he did in those firstfruits of the Gentiles in Acts 10.44. If he asks what warrant he has to believe on Jesus Christ, tell him that he has an utter indispensable necessity for it, for without believing on him he must perish eternally; that he has God’s gracious offer of Christ and all his redemption, with a promise that, upon accepting the offer by faith, Christ and salvation with him are his: that he has God’s express commandment (1Jn 3.23) to believe on Christ’s name, and that he should make conscience of obeying it, as much as any command in the moral law. Tell him of Christ’s ability and goodwill to save; that no man was every rejected by him who cast himself upon him; that desperate cases are the glorious triumphs of his art of saving.[5]

Do you do this, brethren? Are you speaking for, praying for, and looking for the glorious triumphs of the art of Christ’s saving through his finished work? Can you tell the history and mystery of the gospel plainly and clearly? Are you ready to give to wretched and needy sinners a plain downright narrative concerning Christ and him crucified, the forgiveness of sins, and a God-righteousness obtainable through faith in Jesus? Are you calling sinners to trust in this Jesus and thereby to be delivered from sin, to obtain acceptance with our holy God, and to receive a right and title to a heavenly inheritance?

On these things hang the eternal destinies of our own souls, and the souls of every man and woman, boy and girl, in this world. Let us, then, love, hold to, and proclaim the Christ of the truth, and love, hold to, and proclaim the truth as it is in Jesus Christ.


[1] Traill’s point is not that faith does not act, but rather that God does not view us as righteous because of our faith (which would make faith, in essence, a work), but because of Christ’s righteousness, which is appropriated by the God-given instrument of faith.

[2] Traill, Justification Vindicated, 29 and 46.

[3] Martin Luther, Briefwechsel [Correspondence], Works (Weimar Edition), 3:81.

[4] William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1964), 316.

[5] Traill, Justification Vindicated, 27-28.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 30 April 2008 at 10:40

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