For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. (Romans 3:23-24)
I believe that everyone, even an ardent atheist, has a theology, a religion and a faith. By a theology, I mean that everyone has some idea about how they become a right person, someone who is right with the world around them. By a religion, I mean that everyone believes in a particular method for becoming a right person. By a faith, I mean that everyone trusts in something or someone to work through that method to make them into a right person and keep them that way.
Moralists, whether they are theists or atheists, believe that doing good things will make them into a right person and they trust in themselves to do that. All of us are moralists by nature. Some of us are successful moralists and we believe that we are right with the world around us. Some of us are failing moralists and our lives are in disarray because we constantly fail at doing the good things we think we need to do.
In his letter to the Christian Church in Rome, Paul shatters the theology of the moralists. In a series of quotes from the Psalms and Isaiah, he writes: “No one is righteous—not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one.” (Romans 3:10-12)
Paul then points us toward a new way of being made right. Because He loves us, Jesus willingly went to the cross to shed His blood to pay the full cost of forgiveness for all our faults and failures. Jesus is God the Father’s gift to us, the one perfect sacrifice which makes us right with God. And when we are right with God, the source and foundation of all reality, then we will be right people in the way that truly counts.
As we look to Jesus in faith, His infinite rightness, goodness, virtue and purity count on our behalf. There is no more that needs to be done, for Jesus has done it all.
With the new reality that God has given to us by grace, the failing moralist can use the awareness of their brokenness and inadequacies to motivate themselves to keep returning to Jesus and be embraced by His loving, forgiving arms. The successful moralist can stand in the brilliance of their righteous Saviour and realize how far they fall short of being right. Bending the knee to their all-wise King, they lay their many gifts and abilities at His feet, rest in His love and wait for Him to lift them up to a new way of being, living and relating to others.
Our faith, religion and theology are in Jesus and He makes all the difference, both now and forever.
Dear Jesus, thank you for making me a right person. Help me to abandon my moralistic ways and rest in Your unconditional love and forgiveness for me. Amen.