Suggested Pre-Reading: Eternal Judgment: 3
Upon hearing that righteousness before God is granted apart from the law, through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, one might be inclined to think that everyone will therefore be counted as righteous on the Day of Judgment. After all, if salvation is not the result of human effort, but an effect of Jesus’ atoning death, what would prevent all humans from being saved? Indeed, this is a fair question to ask. To answer it, we must go to Scripture. As we do so, we see unequivocally that only some people get saved; only some are counted as righteous before God.
If this sounds shocking, that a loving God only grants righteousness to some people, consider the only other options in regards to salvation and righteousness:
- God saves none
- God saves all
If either of these options were true, there would be no need for the Bible and the teachings of God. If the point of Scripture is to teach the way of salvation, then such a teaching is pointless if God does not save. Conversely, if God has determined to save everyone, then there is no need to know the way of salvation taught in Scripture, for salvation will be granted no matter what one believes.
So the idea that the Bible teaches only some will be saved stands up under logical scrutiny. Furthermore, the New Testament is replete with references to righteousness being granted to those who have heard about the sacrifice of Christ and believed the message they were told.
But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness. (Romans 4: 5)
…with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform…for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification. (Romans 4: 20 – 25 segments)
…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. (Romans 10: 9 – 10)
How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!” However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “LORD, who has believed our report?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Romans 10: 14 – 17)
These passages make it clear that it is not simply the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that saves. The sacrifice of Christ must be coupled with the faith of an individual, in order to be efficacious in regards to righteousness. We see in the Old Testament this idea of coupling faith with a God-ordained sacrifice. The prophet Isaiah rebuked the people of Israel for faithlessly participating in God-ordained temple sacrifices.
The people did not have faith in God. Yet they brought before God sacrifices in accordance with the law. Because they lacked faith, the sacrifices they brought were not received by God. Likewise, if someone does not believe in Jesus Christ, the sacrifice of Christ is of no value to them, although the fact remains He did indeed die for them, just as the bulls and goats did indeed die on behalf of faithless Israel in the days of Isaiah.
We see another precedent in the Passover. Although the invitation to slaughter the Passover lamb and smear the blood was given to all, only those who actually believed God, and killed the lamb and smeared the blood, were passed over by the destroying angel. Similarly, the invitation to believe in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ is extended to all people through the preaching of the gospel. Yet only those who believe the preached message will be declared righteous on Judgment Day. Spiritually speaking, the atoning work of Jesus Christ must be applied to the individual human soul, just as the atoning blood of the Passover Lamb had to be applied to the doorposts. If the lamb was slaughtered and the blood was shed, but the blood was unapplied, the house would have lost its firstborn that night.
Let us end with a hypothetical.
There are two people sitting next to each other at church on a Sunday morning. Both claim to be Christians. Both, on the Friday night before church, went out on the town and committed grievous sins against God – drunkenness and sexual immorality. While the pastor is preaching the gospel message of Jesus Christ, the first person is delighted with joy, for they know that not only the sins they committed on Friday, but the sum work of their entire life, will lead to a judgment of “guilty” by God. But they do not fear this judgment, for in faith they believe in the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and they know their righteousness is because of Christ and not because of their own piety. The other person, knowing that they sinned against God on Friday night, made a point to show up to church on Sunday, hoping to make up for the sins they committed by attendance and by putting a little extra in the offering plate. This person in their own mind is generally a moral person pleasing to God, but every once in a while slips up and needs to make amends to get right with God.
Only the first person has true faith in Jesus Christ. They will be counted as righteous on Judgment Day. The other person has a false faith. They believe in themselves, and that they can atone for their own sins through religious service. They will be guilty on the Day of Judgment and judged as an unbeliever.
Righteousness before God is real. It is not given to all, but only to some. And it cannot be faked, for God is not deceived. Those with true faith, a faith that is itself a gift from God, are the righteous ones. Those with a contrived faith, a faith that comes not from God but from within, are lawless and do not know Christ.