Saved by Faith
60. How are you righteous before God?
Only by true faith in Jesus Christ: that is, although my conscience accuses me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil; yet God, without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sins, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.
Heidelberg Catechism question #60 has always been one of the most beloved questions in the catechism. In this one question the doctrine of justification is clearly and fully spelled out. The reality of sin is acknowledged, that we have absolutely no righteousness of our own that can ever stand before God. Even after, by God’s grace, we repent of sin and begin to put off the body of the flesh, we never have any good works that can truly stand up to the requirements of God’s law. Our very best works in this life are tainted by the presence of sinful motivations, of pride, of the desire for recognition, of self-righteousness.
But despite this truth, we can nonetheless stand fully confident before God in the righteousness of Christ. Our standing before God is and must always be on the basis of this alien righteousness. If we ever attempt to stand before God on the basis of our own goodness, then we become “debtors to do the whole law.” It’s all or nothing; Christ’s perfect righteousness or ours.
When we stand by faith in Christ’s righteousness, we can lay hold of this wonderful truth, that God regards us as perfectly sinless, as if we had accomplished all the obedience that Christ had accomplished, and were possessed of the perfect innocence which He Himself possesses. God still knows that we are sinners, for He chastens and disciplines us away from that sin. But in a legal sense, there is “no condemnation” (Romans 8:1) for those who put their trust in Christ. There is truly no wrath, no judgment against the believer in Christ at all, for he is viewed as perfectly righteous. The sacrifice of Christ forever covers his sin, past, present and future.
When we come to worship God, we know we will fail in many ways. We may come distracted by the cares of the world, or be lifted up in pride, thinking ourselves more worthy of God’s blessings because we worship. We may think that since we came to church on Sunday God now owes us some blessing. We may come to church to be seen of others, so that other people would think of us as good people.
Yet even with all these and other failings, we can have confidence and joy, that God will receive our worship, not because it is perfect worship, but because we stand in the merits of Christ. God receives us and is pleased in our worship, when that worship is offered in the name of His beloved Son, in faith. We can be sure that we have the heart of the Father when we lay before Him the name of His Son, Jesus Christ.