Today I want to look at the issue of all issues: How can a person be right with God? How can a man or woman, marred by the fall of Adam and with an inborn sin nature, ever be reconciled to a holy God?
This is exactly what Job asked in chapter 9 of his book: "How can a man be righteous before God? If one wished to contend with Him, he could not answer Him one time out of a thousand. God is wise in heart and mighty in strength. Who has hardened himself against Him and prospered?" (vv. 2-4). In other words, "I'm in touch with my fallen nature. I know I'm not perfect. How can a man be right with God?"
From a divine perspective, we don't have what it takes to pull it off (see Psalm 14:3; 130:3; Romans 3:23, etc.). People try to fix the problem by being good, religious, or sincere, but none of those approaches work. There's a gap between us and God.
This is where Jesus Christ steps in and provides the answer: He bridges the gap and secures our pardon—and you can have deep and lasting peace because of it. So how does it work?
First of all, we're made righteous by Jesus' act on the cross, not by our acts. God "made Him who knew no sin [Jesus] to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21). In other words, God put all the wrath of sin on Jesus at the cross so that we could bear Jesus' righteousness. That's the great exchange of the gospel.
Second, our righteousness is declared, not earned. Romans 3 says that we're justified by faith, not works (see v. 28). You don't earn righteousness; it's free. Justification is when God imputes the righteousness of Jesus Christ to you, declares you to be righteous, and treats you as if you never sinned.
Third, religion will frustrate you, but righteousness brings peace. "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). Religions have been invented to try to reach God, but they only bring frustration. The gospel, on the other hand, is God reaching down to reconcile with man through the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and it produces peace.
So how can a man be righteous before God? He can't on his own. But he can enjoy the righteousness of Jesus Christ imputed to him. So if you're in Christ, quit trying to be religious; instead, enjoy the peace Christ brings. Rather than trusting in human achievement, let your trust be found fully in His divine accomplishment on the cross.