Hover over Romans 1:20-22 for proof of God's existence, and over Matthew 5:27-28 for Judgment Day’s perfect standard. Then hover over John 3:16-18 for what God did, and over Acts 17:30-31 for what to do.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

An Atheist’s Honest Question

"My question for you is, if the whole point of accepting Christ is that it makes you righteous, do you mean righteous as in compassionate, loving, etc. . . . or righteous as in clean, pure, or saved? Or am I completely missing the point and you actually mean something else altogether? Because if it's the first one (compassionate, etc.), I think that many Christians and non-Christians alike fit that profile." Sarah

I will do my best to answer your question. There are two sorts of “righteousness” being spoken of here. Living a compassionate and clean life is a form of righteousness. It’s living in a righteous way. However, the righteousness that we speak of in becoming a Christian, is what is called "imputed" righteousness. This is the one that saves us from death and Hell. Let me try and explain with an analogy.

Let’s say your father lost his wife years ago to a drunk driver, and he strictly told you never to drink and drive. Even though you could drive a car, you didn't have a license, so you gave him your word that it would never happen.

But one night you had too much to drink, and without his permission you grabbed your dad’s keys and took your friends for a quick joyride in his new car.

You hit the freeway and decide to show them how quickly it accelerates. Suddenly a dog is in front of you! You swerve to miss the animal, and the next thing you know, you awake in the hospital with the police at your bedside. You not only destroyed your dad’s new car, but you seriously injured your three friends, and ran two other vehicle’s off the road. You didn’t have a license, and your blood alcohol level was off the charts. You are in big trouble.

At your trial, you can’t begin to justify your actions. What could you say for your justification? What could get you off the hook? Could you say that you didn’t mean to do what you did? That you were not drunk? That plenty of people drink and drive? That you are sorry and won’t do it again. Of course you should be sorry, and of course you shouldn’t do it again. You do the only thing you can do. You plead guilty.

The judge fines you $250,000 to cover damages, $100,000 for court costs, and he fines you $200,000 for the crime of drunk driving, and for driving without a license. The total is $550,000 or imprisonment. You don’t have two beans to rub together. You are horrified that you are going to prison for a long time.

Suddenly your dad steps up to the bailiff and asks to speak to the judge. He then gets out his checkbook, writes a check and gives it to the judge. The judge looks at the check, then at you, and says, "You father just paid your fine in full. You are free to go."

You find out later that your dad made a huge sacrifice to pay your fine. He sold his beloved house, and used a life-time of savings. He is now penniless; but his sacrifice has saved you from a long prison term. Tell me, how are you going to now feel about your dad, and about his incredible sacrifice? You would be truly sorry for what you did, very humbled by what he did, and unspeakably grateful to him. Isn’t that true?

In a sense, your father’s sacrifice gave you a type of "imputed" righteousness. You couldn’t justify yourself, let alone declare yourself righteous. You knew that you were a guilty criminal. It was your father’s payment that “justified” you. The payment that he handed the judge immediately made you right with the law. It had no demands on you. You were declared righteous the moment it was paid. You did nothing to deserve it, and after a lifetime of living to please your dad, you still won’t deserve it. It was his unmerited gift of love to you.

Here now is the message of Christianity. We have all deliberately violated God’s Law. We willfully gave ourselves to the sins of lust, greed, lying, stealing, blasphemy, ingratitude, adultery, hatred, fornication, gossip, and anger. Keep in mind that God is so holy, He sees lust as adultery, hatred as murder, and any sort of lying is so serious to Him that He warns that all liars will have their part in the lake of fire.

Who of us can justify ourselves under the light of that perfect Law (the Ten Commandments)? Dare we say that we are not guilty? Dare we say that our sins weren’t willful, or that there are people worse than we are? Remember, the moral Law shines into the heart. God sees your thought-life. He sees the unclean sexual desires, the hidden sins of conceit, selfishness, the envy and jealousy, etc.

If we stand before that Law of the Day of Judgment, it will justly condemn us to Hell. Our crimes against God have put us on death row. It patiently waits for the moment of our execution. We have nothing to offer the Judge in payment for our crimes. How could we ever make things right? We are without hope.

Hence, the gospel. God sent His Son. He created a body for Himself, lived a perfect life, then paid the fine for the Law that we violated. He paid it through excruciating suffering. God commended His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Then He rose again on the third day. Now, upon our repentance and faith in Jesus, the Judge can legally dismiss our case. We couldn’t justify ourselves, but God justified us (made us righteous) through the death of His Son.

It’s important to understand that the Christian isn't simply a forgiven criminal. God actually clothes Him with the righteousness of Christ. This is “imputed” righteousness. It is difficult for us to conceive of such a thing, but that means (in God’s eyes) the one who trusts in Jesus is made absolutely perfect, pure, holy, and righteous. This is because God "puts" righteousness on those that trust alone in the Savior.

That may not mean too much to skeptics and atheists right now, but on Judgment Day they will suddenly see that the Christian is free from the demands of the Law. It can’t touch him. He is right with the Law, and the Scriptures even say that he can have “boldness” on the Day of wrath. The Christian escapes execution. Death can’t touch him. He has escaped the damnation of Hell.

That righteousness will come to you the moment you confess and forsake your sins. You will be born again, and God will give you a new heart with new desires. So, what are you waiting for?

Set aside your questions, your arguments, and your doubts, and humbly and earnestly call upon the name of the Lord. Go on. You may not have tomorrow. Time is ticking, and it will eventually take you into eternity. It may happen in time, or in the lack of a heartbeat.

The moment you find the truth of what I have just told you, you will join the ranks of those who look upon that sacrifice--that old rugged cross--that bloodied torture stake, with new eyes. You will find a place of genuine godly sorrow, heart-felt humility, and unspeakable gratitude for such amazing grace . . . for the gift of eternal life.