God is holy, righteous, and good. Man is unholy, unrighteous, and sinful. We do nothing but sin against God. We disobey His commands. Even when we do seemingly good things they are usually in vain. We cannot stand before God and expect to not be judged and condemned.
So what shall we do? How can we stand in the presence of God and live? Can we work our way into His presence? Can we just be good people?
The Apostle Paul explains in his letter to the Romans:
“As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one;11no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Romans 3:10-18
The prophet Isaiah also says;
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. Isaiah 64:6
These and many other passages tell us that we can really do nothing to earn God's forgiveness. We would have to be perfect. All of our good deeds would not only have to be done perfectly, but they would need to be done with perfect intentions. If they are not done from a place of pure love then it is sinful. If God's commands are not kept perfectly then the entire law has been broken.
When asked what the most important commandment is,
Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31
I have never loved God with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength. I really have never loved my neighbor as myself. I have broken the most important commandments. I am lost and without hope. What shall I do to escape? How can I stand before God? Can I ever be forgiven?
Yes I can. There is grace. And thanks be to God for His grace. All I have ever done in my life has been sin. This life deserves nothing but God's wrath. But God's amazing grace covers all of my sin. He does not count sin against me.
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” Romans 4:7-8
How can this be? God is holy, and just, and good. Can He look over my sin as if I did not sin? How can He be just and let me off?
God has punished sin. He has received the full wage of sin of all He has pardoned. Bu those He has pardoned, those He has forgiven, those He has adopted as sons and daughters did not pay the fine. God the Father sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the wages of sin for all who believe in Him. Jesus is the Lamb of God who was put to death on the cross. He lived a perfectly sinless life but died a sinners death. As the hymn goes, “Jesus paid it all. All to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain. He washed it white as snow.”
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. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:21-26
So God is both just and the justifier. He can forgive, pardon, and adopt sinners because of the work of His Son. He can be merciful to the sinner because He was wrathful to His Son. He is gracious to all who believe and have faith. And even that faith is a gift of grace.
Sinners are now seen as righteous because Jesus Christ was treated as if He was unrighteous. We can be assured of pardon, not because of our own works, but because of the one who worked for us and in whom we have faith. It is finished. God's wrath is satisfied. Jesus saves His people from their sins. We don't get what we deserve and we get His righteousness all by faith because of the grace of God alone.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Isaiah 53:10-11
This is grace!