Picture perfection as a heart filled with plus signs. Now picture another heart with minus signs representing sin. The longer a person lives, the more minus signs are added.
How does the heart containing minus signs become one filled with plus signs?
It’s a simple question but a vitally important one.
Many people immediately think of Jesus’ atonement. That’s good. Scripture says, “the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Jesus’ blood erases away our sins.
So, this leaves an empty heart. No minus signs. But also no plus signs.
Where do the plus signs come from?
This is where many people get tripped up. Most think of the good works they do. The more they do, the more plus signs are added.
That, however, is not what Scripture says. It says eternal life is God’s gift to us. It is nothing we earn, achieve, or even contribute to.
For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.Romans 6:23
It’s important to see that God gives it “through Jesus Christ our Lord”. Jesus didn’t just die for us, he also lived for us. His entire life he kept all the commandments perfectly – not for himself, but for us.
The plus signs in the heart are the perfect things Jesus did – things credited to our account through faith in him.
A name the prophet Jeremiah gave Christ emphasizes this. Talking about the coming Savior he said,
This is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESSJeremiah 23:6
Take a moment to think about this. Righteousness is another term for perfection. It was represented in the hearts test by the plus signs. Here Scripture identifies Jesus as “our righteousness”!
Imagine someone getting a college degree for you. Or somebody going to work for you every day for years, while you receive the paycheck.
Such things are unheard of. But the fact is that, for 33 years, Jesus kept every single commandment perfectly for us – something which is much greater than those examples. Jesus dedicated his entire life to redeeming us – not by showing us what we need to do, but by doing it for us. He is THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS!
This means that when Jesus loved his enemies, we can get the credit for it. Or when he prayed all night. Or when he helped countless people. All this and much more can be credited to our account.
It sounds too easy, doesn’t it?
Why would Jesus do this? Why would God even accept his righteousness in our place? It doesn’t seem fair! Shouldn’t we have to do something?
The sobering news is, we can’t.
The prophet Isaiah made a startling announcement about human righteousness. He said,
We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.Isaiah 64:6
Isaiah wrote in the Hebrew language. What he wrote in the original Hebrew is even more striking. He said our righteousnesses are like used menstrual cloths.
Why did the prophet describe them in this way? It’s because sin contaminates everything we do.
We help somebody only to have it tainted with pride. We can’t do anything from a completely pure motive. And sin doesn’t just stain our motives and thoughts. It also corrupts our words and actions. We pay our taxes, grumbling throughout the process. We grudgingly obey our superiors. On and on it goes. Sin contaminates everything we do.
Every Sin Separates
What makes it even worse is that we have trouble seeing this. We like to minimize sin and not call it what it is. Worry becomes part of human nature. Hurting someone with our words becomes a mistake. Not helping my neighbor becomes a poor choice.
Minimizing sin is deadly. It’s like a man who denies he has cancer. So, he doesn’t look for a cure.
Minimizing sin deludes us into thinking God wants us to add our righteousness to Jesus’ righteousness. In fact, it often goes further. It makes us think it is all up to us to fill the heart with plus signs. It gives Jesus credit for washing away our sins but no credit for the plus signs.
That’s deadly. Because our plus signs are really minus signs. They are nothing but filthy rags.
It’s essential—and so comforting—to know that Jesus is our righteousness. For only his righteousness is acceptable to God.
How is perfection achieved?
Not by trying to be perfect but by trusting that Jesus was perfect for you.
The prophet Isaiah expressed this beautifully.
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousnessIsaiah 61:10
Isn’t that a wonderful picture? God covers people with Jesus’ righteousness. He drapes them completely with it so that all he sees when he looks at them is Jesus’ perfection. He sees them as perfect right now and worthy to live with him for all eternity.
It seems too easy. In one sense, it is. But in another sense, it isn’t.
It’s hard to admit that all my righteousnesses are filthy rags. It’s difficult not to try and take some credit – even a little credit – for God accepting me. It’s tempting to divide my trust between what Jesus did and what I do.
Doing that, however, is disastrous. If we approach God pointing to any of our “good works” as a reason why he should save us, then we have introduced flawed evidence. And damming evidence.
Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of allJames 2:10
One little sin makes us completely guilty.
In Jesus, We’re Perfect Right Now
This is why God, in his love, covers us completely with Jesus’ righteousness. This is why it’s essential for you to trust solely in what Jesus did for you. It is the only way to eternal life.
You don’t have to wonder if God is pleased with you. You don’t have to undergo a painful and long process to get back into God’s good graces. You don’t have to be resigned to thinking that you will never be good enough to live in his eternal presence.
Look again at Isaiah’s words:
He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.Isaiah 61:10
When we are covered with Christ’s perfection, the Lord looks at us like a bridegroom looks at his bride walking down the aisle. This is how pleasing, how attractive, Jesus’ righteousness makes us – right now!
When you trust that Jesus has already done everything for you—that he not only paid the price for yours sins but also kept all the commandments for you—you can be confident, cheerful, and at peace. Then you can dedicate yourself to thanking God for his great gifts.
Why did Jesus come for us?
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Additional Questions You Might Have
How can I be sure I’ll avoid outer darkness?
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What Does the Atonement Mean?
Atonement doesn’t make forgiveness possible; atonement guarantees forgiveness.