"Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God....
"For if by one man's offence death reigned by one, much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1-2, 17).
Do you remember what your life was like before you surrendered to Christ? You were an enemy of God living in blindness, a lost soul without hope. You were ungodly, guilty — and the wrath of God was "abiding on you" (see John 3:36).
How did you find forgiveness and acceptance before God? How did you enter into the blessed assurance you were saved, rejoicing in the love of Jesus Christ?
Was it because God saw something good in you? Did you possess some inherent righteousness that attracted Him to you? Did you earn His favor with obedience and kindness?
No — absolutely not! No one is ever saved by his own works or merit. Scripture says, "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6).
All our sins are blotted out and we are reconciled to God by faith in the shed blood of Jesus. It is by grace alone we are saved — and not by anything we have done.
The theological definition of GRACE is "the unearned pardon, mercy and favor of God." Scripture says: "But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness [which is justification], and sanctification, and redemption" (1 Corinthians 1:30).
Please don't be put off by all the terms in this verse. Simply put, the goal of the gospel is redemption — and God's grace includes everything He has done for us through Christ to redeem us from the power the devil and bring us into the kingdom of his glorious light!
Justification is the cornerstone of grace. To be justified by God means to be "acquitted" — forgiven of all sin and guilt — and to be considered holy and righteous before Him.
No one is justified — that is, he cannot become holy or righteous — by his own works, obedience or faithfulness. Rather, these things are all the result of a justifying faith in the power of Christ's blood to make us acceptable in God's sight: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).
"Even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified" (Galatians 2:16).
Here is the foundation of all faith, which every believer must fully understand. Your entire walk with God depends on it:
You can't have peace with God if you do not know how you are made right before Him. You must be fully convinced you are clear before God, not by your own diligence or works — but by believing and trusting in the victory of the Cross of Jesus!
The apostle Paul did not want to be found standing before Christ in his own righteousness. Here was a good man — a Pharisee who had diligently kept all the numerous rules and regulations of the law. He paid tithes faithfully. He loved God with all his heart. He attended all the functions of the synagogue. He studied the Word of God endlessly. He loved his fellow man and went about doing good. According to the law, Paul was a perfect man.
But all that became as rubbish to Paul — he counted it all as loss — when he came into the revelation of the righteousness of Christ!
"But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.... And do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith" (Philippians 3:7-9).
To Be Made Righteous By Faith Is The Hardest Thing For The Flesh to Accept!
There are many sincere believers today who have not yet submitted to the righteousness of Christ. They still go about trying to please God by their good deeds. They accept salvation by faith but then they want to take over from there!
There is something in our flesh that rebels against a faith-walk. We want to earn our salvation — to help God out! We don't mind being saved by faith; but we don't want to live by faith. Our flesh cries out, "All my obedience, all my hard work to please God — it has to count for something!" Yes, it is worth something — but not for meriting forgiveness and pardon!
We don't want to accept that we are made right before God simply by believing. We would rather "bite the bullet" — and when temptation overwhelms us, we say through gritted teeth, "Bless God, I'll get victory if it kills me!" (And it will kill you!)
But that is not the path to victory. Obedience and faithfulness come as a result of standing steadfast on the rock of justification by faith alone!
Paul said this of a certain people: "They have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth" (Romans 10:2-4).
These people were trying "to establish their own righteousness." We know that process by another name: legalism!
Legalism is misunderstood by most Christians. Even most ministers don't know what it is.
I used to believe legalism had to do with man-made rules and regulations designed by sincere, God-loving people who were trying to lead holy lives. I thought it was all about observing dress-code restrictions and other do's and don't's.
No — legalism is much more subtle than rules and regulations. It goes far beyond that!
When I was a boy, I heard evangelists thunder against the sins of the day. They preached against bobbed hair, women's "open-toe" shoes, makeup and fancy dresses. This was called "holiness" preaching — but the standards kept changing with the new fads.
I thought that was legalism!
When I first came to New York City more than thirty years ago, I was shocked by all the rigid rules in Hispanic Pentecostal churches. Our workers would go to the streets, pray with drug addicts and try to get them into local churches. But if a newly saved girl was wearing jeans or makeup, the pastor would rush out and say, "You can't come in here dressed like that!"
One minister told a young girl, "Go home and dress like a woman — then come back. We don't allow worldliness in this church!"
I thought that was legalism!
A young couple in England who received our newsletters began listening to tapes of our services at Times Square Church. They grew to love the messages of holiness. So they came to visit — but when I met them after a service, they looked hurt, crushed, their eyes filled with tears. They told me they were upset because the women in our church did not wear head coverings! They said, "How can the Holy Spirit be at work here, when you don't obey the command to cover a woman's head?"
I thought that was legalism!
I hear from prayer groups all across the country who are tossed, turned and left confused by all kinds of new rules brought in by passing teachers. One tells them, "You must kneel to pray. God hears only those who kneel." Another teacher comes along and says, "You must sit in His presence. You need not kneel — that is Catholic!" Someone else says, "You must stand when the Bible is read. You dishonor God when you sit during the reading of the Word!" Yet another tells them, "That is bondage! Jesus made the people sit when He preached the Word!"
I thought all this was legalism!
It is indeed all rules and regulations. But all of this is only a part of legalism — it is not the heart of the matter.
Legalism is far worse than all these things. In fact, all of us have a bit of its leaven in our hearts — because legalism is based on pride!
Legalism Is an Outward Show, a Facade — a Pretense of Holiness to Impress People, Not God!
At its heart, legalism is a desire to appear holy. It is trying to be justified before men and not God!
Legalism is wanting to be known as a prophet, a man of prayer, a woman of intercession — and feeding and fostering such an image!
The legalist is not out to earn justification. He is more interested in appearances — in impressing other Christians that he is devoted, pious, serious, all-out for God. He says, "I am deeply religious — and everybody ought to see it!"
We see this in the Jewish Talmudic writers' list of seven classes of Pharisees. Among these classes were:
The Shechemites. These Pharisees said long prayers in public to be considered holy — but on the side they robbed widows of their estates!
The Stumblers. These were so mock-humble they wouldn't dare lift their feet before a holy God. Instead, they shuffled along with a "poor, humble, insignificant me" attitude.
The Bleeders. This group would not lift their eyes from the ground, lest they look at something evil. They got their name from constantly walking into walls; the more they bled, the holier they were!
Beloved, these types are in every church! They have a sad, serious, "holy" look. Some of them dare not raise their hands to praise God — nor clap and be happy or joyful! They think of themselves as "shut in with God," holy, above everybody else. They sit in "deep meditation," their lips moving, lost in the Spirit. Yet "all their works they do for to be seen of men" (Matthew 23:5).
God Has Lovingly Reminded Me of Some of My Legalistic Games!
Last year, Gwen and I spent a vacation at a Florida hotel with some dear friends, a couple from Texas, Dr. and Mrs. Rice. We all had spent the week seeing Disney World, and now we just wanted to relax. As we stood in the lobby of the hotel, Gwen suggested we go to the Rices' room to play dominoes.
Now, I know the Rices have always considered me to be a righteous man — and I figured I didn't want to blow it! I realized that during the week our friends hadn't once seen me retreat to pray. I thought, "How am I supposed to be holy in front of these people if I don't go pray?"
So I told them, "I'm sorry, I can't play dominoes. I need to go in my room and touch God. You all go ahead and play."
But do you know what I was really saying? "I don't have time to waste, like you poor earthlings! You worldly minded ones go and tinkle around with dominoes. This prophet is going to shut himself in with God!"
(I ask you: How can you relax at playing dominoes when you know that someone like that is nearby, "pleading with God"?)
When I got to our room it was about eight o'clock. I thought, "I'll watch just a half hour of CNN News — then I'll pray." One hour of news later, CNN announced an upcoming documentary on the rise and fall of Hitler. I quickly reasoned, "That has to do with prophecy — I have to see it!"
At a quarter to ten, I'd already seen Hitler rise and fall — when I heard Gwen coming down the hall!
I jumped up, ran to the TV, shut it off, turned out the light — and fell on my face in the dark at the foot of the bed!
When Gwen walked in she saw her devoted prophet-husband getting up slowly from his holy position — piously acting as if he had been in prayer for two hours. I looked up meekly, rubbing my eyes, and said to Gwen, "Oh, honey, isn't the Lord good?"
I hope you can laugh at this as loudly as our congregation did when I shared it in my sermon! But, more importantly, I hope you laugh at it hard enough to drive the truth down into your soul: We all play games, trying to maintain a facade of holiness before people! I had to maintain my image of a holy man — and that is legalism at its worst!
The fact is, people who truly have the righteousness of the Lord don't have to put on airs. They are common, ordinary folks who know how to weep and laugh and enjoy Jesus and the fellowship of the saints. They are involved in other people's burdens and needs — and they're not always "shut away," trying to maintain an image!
We all look at appearances — but God sees the heart! We each need to come down from our high horse of pretented holiness — to be honest and ourselves, the way we know God sees us. That is the only way to enjoy true fellowship with Him and with each other!
Beyond Legalism Is the Perversion of the Gospel of Grace!
Grace as it is preached in many churches today is producing a class of Christians who are still pleasure lovers, deeply involved in sin. Multitudes today live like the devil, yet claim, "I am the righteousness of Christ by faith!" Beloved, that is a lie from the pit of hell! They are deceived!
A few years ago, on my Sundays off between crusades, I used to drive by a certain church that preached what is called "the grace message." (This isn't a Baptist, Presbyterian or Pentecostal doctrine; the gospel of grace is indeed the gospel of Jesus Christ.) As I drove by, the deacons stood outside smoking, several of them shaking off a hangover from Saturday night.
Some of these men were known adulterers, some wife-beaters. Still others were known around town as cheats in their business. Yet, because of the "grace message" they heard, they were convinced they were justified, no matter how they lived — that they were made the righteousness of God in Christ.
I knew the pastor of this church to be a righteous man. But there was something wrong with his message: He didn't preach the entire gospel!
He once told me, "David, I really believe in righteousness. And if you have the righteousness of Christ, it will produce a desire to be pure and holy."
But I thought to myself, "Wait a minute — you've been preaching to these people for eight years! After all that time, where is the evidence among them of a pure walk with God? Why hasn't your 'grace message' produced a truly godly congregation who are separated from worldliness? Why is there still so much divorce, and so many illegitimate babies born to your teenagers? Many of your people still live for the devil, they're dying and going to hell — and you know it!"
Beloved, I preach without reservation that justification and righteousness come by faith alone. I am saved by faith, made righteous by faith and kept by faith in Christ's blood. That is the very foundation of the gospel and of true grace preaching.
But not all faith is justifying faith! The Bible clearly speaks of two kinds of faith: one that justifies, and another that is of no value — a faith that even the devils exercise!
The book of Acts records that Simon the magician "believed" — but his faith was not the justifying kind. "Simon himself believed also: and...he was baptized" (Acts 8:13). Simon offered the apostle Peter money to get the power of the Holy Ghost — but Peter answered, "I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity" (verse 23). He was saying, "Your heart is still bound by sin!"
Peter told Simon that without repentance both he and his money would perish! Indeed, Simon believed — but he was not made the righteousness of God in Christ! His faith was not justifying faith — the kind that purifies the heart and brings the righteousness of Christ!
Scripture says many people "believed (in Jesus)...when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them...for he knew what was in a man" (John 2:23-25). These people had a belief in Christ — but it wasn't the faith of those who receive "power to become the sons of God" (1:12).
Justifying faith is more than a faith of assent; it does more than just acknowledge God. James argued: "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble" (James 2:19). James was talking about a dead, temporary faith — not an eternal one. And Jesus warned about this kind of faith, saying some believe "for a while...(but) have no root...and in time of temptation fall away" (Luke 8:13).
But there is a justifying faith — one that "purifies the heart" (see Acts 15.9) and "believeth unto righteousness" (Romans 10:10). The great Puritan writer John Owen said it well:
"We absolutely deny that we are justified by that faith alone which can be alone — that is, without a principle of life and obedience in all things, at all times.... For we recognize no faith to be of the sanctifying kind, but that which virtually and radically contains in it an obedience at all times — yea, we acknowledge no faith to be justifying, which is not itself a spiritually vital principle of obedience and good works."
For faith to be justifying, there has to be an accompanying desire to obey and be faithful to God! This kind of faith contains a vital force — a principle of total, everlasting obedience and love for God. Anything short of that is a dead, temporary faith. It does not produce the true benefits of grace — but instead it mocks grace!
Many "Grace" Preachers Do Away With the Law Before It Can Do Its Work Of Convicting of Sin!
We are not saved by the law — but we are convinced and convicted of our sin by the law! "For by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20).
The law was sent "that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God" (verse 19). "The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Galatians 3:24).
"The law is holy...and just, and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceedingly sinful" (Romans 7:12-13).
Paul was saying, "I couldn't really confess my sins until I knew they were sins! I couldn't seek after the holiness of God until I saw how far from Him I was! The law hit home to me, destroying my nonchalance about sin. When I saw God's holiness by His commandments, sin became utterly sinful to me!"
That is the conviction that drives you straight to the arms of Christ, crying, "Mercy, Lord! I can't save myself, I can't fulfill Your law. I've seen the sin of my heart!"
Faith has been defined as "the flight of a convicted, repentant sinner unto the mercy of God in Christ Jesus." Only the person who has been convicted of his sins by the law of God will "flee to Christ" for refuge.
On the day of Pentecost Peter stood and offered the crowds the gospel of God's grace. But first he put them under the blazing light of the law! He pointed his finger and said, "Ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain...Jesus...both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:23, 36). The people were pricked in their hearts — so utterly convicted by the Word of God they cried out, "What shall we do?" (verse 37).
Adam was given the gospel of grace — after his "eyes were opened" (see Genesis 3:7). It was only after he had seen his pitiful condition and the consequences of his sin that God brought to him the message of mercy and hope!
This is why modern-day grace preaching is not changing sinful hearts: because it does not open the eyes of the sinful! There is no guilt, no shame, no sorrow for sin.
Pardon for sin is being offered to people who do not even admit they are sinful! They are offered justification for sins they have never felt guilty of committing...deliverance when they don't even know they are bound...righteousness for which they do not hunger or thirst...freedom from a holy wrath they don't know rests upon them!
There Is a Spirit of Lawlessness in the Land!
The sinner calls it "rights": The right to practice homosexuality. The right to abort. The right between consenting adults to do with their bodies whatever they choose. In short, the right to do whatever they please! Sinners want all these rights — but do not want to pay any penalties and consequences. That is a spirit of lawlessness!
This spirit is now creeping into the church: "Give me free pardon and everlasting life — without any cost. Free me from all guilt and condemnation. Promise me a justification I can never lose. But don't disturb me by asking me to lay anything down! Let me have it my way — without giving up my personal freedom, without any call to obedience!"
This may not be what is actually said — but it is what is lived. And now we have invented a queasy "grace message" with no foundation on which to build a holy life — a gospel that appeases the spirit of lawlessness in our land!
You may be saying, "I don't understand all these Bible doctrines — grace, justification, sanctification. It's all too confusing."
Dear saint, God gives us something very simple, which we all can understand: "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble" (James 4:6).
If you have any pride in you — especially in thinking you are more spiritual than others — then you can be sure God will bring you down. He says He will resist you!
But God pours out His grace to the humble! You don't have to figure out how to get this grace. James 4:6 says He will give it to you!
"Humble" as used here means "broken in spirit, repentant." It is a sense of emptiness, helplessness, need. You don't have to understand any doctrine to be humble before God; you don't have to wonder if you are doing everything right. God says, "Just stay broken — stay needy, hungry and thirsty. And I will supply all the grace you need!"
"Submit yourselves therefore to God" (James 4:7). While this ungodly world cries, "Give me my rights, let me do it my way" — God's people submit to Him! We cry, "Not my will or my rights — only Yours, Lord!"
If your heart is pricked in any way by this message, it is a good sign God is dealing with some pride in you. Can you laugh at your own games of hypocrisy and legalism? If so, you can laugh the devil right out of your soul!
Can you say right now, "All my righteousness and goodness are filthy rags in God's sight, without the blood of Christ. But because of the blood, all my works, obedience and faithfulness are received as a sweet-smelling savor unto the Lord!" That, beloved, is true zeal for God — and for holiness and righteousness!