All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
When an accused person is brought before a judge in a court of law, they are either justified or condemned. The accused is not made righteous or unrighteous but is declared either righteous or unrighteous; the defendant is either acquitted and set free or is found guilty and punished.
Romans 3:23-24 explains to us that the sinner, who deserves condemnation, is justified through faith alone in Christ alone—not as a result of some quality inherent to them but as a result of God’s grace. At Calvary, Christ took the sinner’s place, and now, because of His finished work, God bestows upon us a declaration of righteousness.
How else could someone like the thief on the cross receive salvation? Here was a man who was in the process of “receiving the due reward of [his] deeds” (Luke 23:41). He had absolutely zero chance of making up for whatever evil he had committed which had led to his crucifixion. And yet, when he asked the Lord to remember him, Jesus was able to say in all sincerity, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (v 43).
The thief didn’t deserve such scandalous grace—and neither do we. But that is precisely the point: God justifies us “by his grace as a gift.” He doesn’t save us because we’re great or good, or even because we’re making progress. He saves those who confess and believe in Jesus Christ (Romans 10:9) because of the immensity of His own great love (5:8).
Such scandalous grace can be a stumbling block. We want to do something about our sorry condition. We want to bring something to the table and contribute to our salvation. Before we become Christians, we want to offer our sense of moral goodness. And after we have been Christians for a while, we often want to offer our Christian obedience. But the truth of the matter is that we all come before the cross empty-handed. We couldn’t hope to add even a single ounce to our worth before God. There is no reason to pat yourself on the back and every reason to praise the Lord Jesus. For it is when you realize you have nothing that you are in just the right position for Christ to be your everything:
Nothing in my hand I bring
Simply to Thy cross I cling.
So, when your days in this life have drawn to a close and you reach the gates of glory, what will you say? Be sure that there is not an ounce of you that would offer your own goodness as your reason for gaining entry. Be sure that you are ready to say what we can imagine the thief on the cross said after his earthly life had ebbed away on that first Good Friday: The man on the middle cross said I could come in.
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Devotional material is taken from the Truth For Life daily devotional by Alistair Begg, published by The Good Book Company, thegoodbook.com. Used by Truth For Life with permission. Copyright © 2021, The Good Book Company.