God justifies the ungodly, but not the self-righteous
Everyone knows that in order for God to forgive your sins and accept you into his family, you must first prove yourself worthy of such acceptance, right? Not so fast. The fact is, the Bible teaches just the opposite. The scriptures declare that God justifies the ungodly.
Yes, you read that right. God justifies the impious. But don’t take my word for it. Look at how God’s Word explains it: “He who does not work but trusts in God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is counted unto righteousness” (Romans 4:5).
This concept is completely revolutionary for the natural way of thinking of man. We tend to think that God justifies those who are godly enough to deserve justification. But that’s not how it works in the Kingdom of God at all. The Gospel proclaims that man is justified by faith alone before he performed noble deeds or righteous deeds (Romans 4:1-16).
We often assume that our personal righteousness is impressive enough, but God’s Word sets the record straight: “There is not one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, together they have become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).
Surely we have to do something worthwhile to get God to accept us, right? Bad. God justifies the ungodly, but God does not justify the self-righteous. That is, those who are righteous in their own eyes. The Epistle to the Romans reveals that “there is no one righteous” in the sight of God. This is why we desperately need “God’s righteousness”, which is exactly what God gives believers through faith in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
“But now a righteousness of God apart from the law has been revealed, to which the law and the prophets testify. This righteousness of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came through Jesus Christ” (Romans 3:21-24).
God justifies sinners who admit their sin. God justifies those who fall short of the glory of God. God does not justify those who assume that they have arrived spiritually by their own zealous efforts. This is why Jesus said: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance, but sinners” (Luke 5:32).
While everyone is ungodly and needs the Savior, only those who see their sin are willing to appreciate what Jesus has done for us on the cross. Do you acknowledge your sin today? Do you see your need for the Saviour? Do you realize that you are ungodly, unrighteous and lost apart from Christ? If you are aware of your spiritual sickness and aware that Jesus came for sinners, then you are ready to receive Jesus.
“Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26), but that doesn’t mean a person can make their way in the Christian faith. You can only repent and believe your way into the family of God. (Acts 2:38-41; Mark 1:15; Acts 20:21). Good works are the fruit of saving faith in Jesus Christ, but good works never produce faith or earn forgiveness of sins. Salvation is a free gift received through faith in Christ. (Romans 6:23)
Notice who Jesus had the harshest words for in his earthly ministry. It is not prostitutes, tax collectors, or adulterers who have been called by the Lord to repent and believe the good news. Instead, his harshest words were reserved for religious leaders who assumed their righteous deeds merited salvation. But they were wrong.
Jesus said to them:
“Woe to you, doctors of the Law and Pharisees, hypocrites!…Woe to you, blind guides!…blind fools!…blind!…Woe to you, doctors of the Law and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed graves, which are beautiful on the outside but inside are full of the bones of the dead and all that is impure. Likewise, on the outside you appear righteous in the eyes of people, but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:13,16-17,19,27-28).
God justifies the ungodly, but not those who claim to be sinless. (1 John 1:8-9). God justifies those who know their spiritual sickness, but not those who claim to be spiritually healthy and who claim to have no need of the cross where Jesus gave his life for sinners.
Jesus said to the right-thinking religious leaders:
“Woe to you, doctors of the law and Pharisees, hypocrites! You travel land and sea to win one convert, and when he becomes one, you make twice as many sons of Gehenna as you” (Matthew 23:15).
On the other hand, Jesus said to a woman caught in adultery: “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11). God justifies the ungodly, but not unrepentant sinners, who are far from the kingdom of heaven. This explains why Jesus once said to a group of people, “But unless you repent, you will all also perish” (Luke 13:3).
Are you self-righteous? If so, you are in serious danger. However, if you are ungodly and you know it, and if you want to be righteous in the eyes of God, then there is immense hope for you today. You are close to the kingdom of heaven. Turn from sin when you call on the Lord Jesus Christ and are saved.
You who are ungodly will be welcomed with joy by the perfect, loving and forgiving One. You can pray this simple prayer right now: “Wash me Jesus with your precious blood. And always remember: Jesus never pushes away the ungodly who come to him in sincerity, humility, repentance and faith.
Dan Delzell is the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska.