Why can God not overlook sin?
Today it is perhaps easy to misunderstand the righteousness of God, since the picture we have of God is a kindly old fellow, who will at the last moment, if needed, fudge the scales of justice a bit in our favor. We do not think credibly of a holy and righteous God when we think thus, and we actually have a very weak idea of what total righteousness is like. Most often, among the unregenerate, I hear similar excuses, with all of the above faulty thinking. “Oh,” he says, “I am not such a bad fellow, after all, and I am sure that God will remember the many good things I have done.” Thus he says, little realizing the impossible problem he is presenting to God.
Perhaps we need a strong dose of Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, by Jonathan Edwards. In that sermon, Edwards elaborately builds upon two truths; the utter and complete perils of hell, and the supreme justice of God. There is not one reason God should receive us into heaven, and God is totally just and pure to keep us in the state in which we find ourselves—lost, irredeemably lost, lost without hope, and, more importantly, lost without merit. Hell is our just dessert, and there is no reason why God should not leave us to our deserved estate, where Jesus tells us, the worm is not quenched, and the fire does not go out (Mark 9:48).
I heard a poor soul recently say that when he died, he wouldn’t even have to wait in line to get in heaven. Heaven would give him a “Fast Track” ticket so he could go right past the line. He acted as if God would feel lucky to get such a soul! This man, a public man, and a very rich man, has spent portions of his wealth in an attempt to better society. Well and good. But we do not get into heaven on the basis of what we have done. We get into heaven only on the basis of what God has done for us.
To understand the righteousness of God, we must come to a better understanding of sin. Someone long ago pointed out that we cannot define sin without God, and therefore, in an atheistic society, talk of sin ceases. It is of no little matter that our society has no definition of sin—perhaps it is a great signal of just how far our apostasy has gone. Sin’s basic meaning is to miss the mark. When we miss doing what we know to be right, that is personal sin. But sin goes far deeper than personal sin, which will always separate us from the righteous God. Sin’s origin is from the first man, Adam, who passed the sin nature unto all of the human race. That sin nature has condemned the whole human race, and God is entirely justified to allow all of us to go to hell. “In the case of Adam’s posterity all of whom inherit the sin nature which unceasingly excites to sin, a constant state of sin exists which can be relieved only by the preventing power of the indwelling of the Spirit. Sin is therefore sometimes defined as a state of heart or mind” (italics added).1
Our consciences are the signal to us of sin, albeit they are imperfect indicators. Every person is subject to the feeling that their actions do not live up to their expectations. Those who error more heavily spend their lifetimes denying their conscience, and indeed, arrive at the point where the definitions of right and wrong become extremely muddled. But no matter. The point is that our consciences were given to us that we might acknowledge that we are not going the right way. It is a further testimony to us that our hearts are evil.
The contrast between the sinner and the righteous God could not be more pronounced. “No relationship to God can be conceived that does not acknowledge His holy will or law, nor can any authority be discovered in His holy will or law that does not ground itself in His holy Person.” 2 God is completely righteous, meaning that he does not “wink” at our sins, nor look at us at all like wayward prodigals. There is only one thing that can be done with sin, and that is to judge it. Sin has separated us from God, beginning with Adam on through the human race. Sin will continue to separate us from God, unless it be righteously judged.
Thus, when Christ, the only righteous one to ever live, died on the cross, he famously cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” God took him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be made righteous in him. Thus, God righteously judges sin, and gives us the imputed righteousness of his Son. Two mistakes often happen at this point. The first mistake is in underestimating the cost of forgiveness. It literally took all that God had to give in order for us to gain forgiveness, and have imputed, or transferred righteousness. God could not have paid a higher cost than himself in redeeming us, and he did it freely, of his own volition, without regard at all to any “deserved” rewards. God did not owe us anything, except his judgment for our folly. The second mistake is that people do not recognize that it is our belief of what God does is our only justification. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done,” declares the scripture, “but according to his mercy he has saved us.”
“The death of His Son as a sacrifice is required only because God cannot compromise His holy character by making light of sin.”3 Thus, it can be clearly seen by those who bother to follow the thoughts through, that God is not the kindly old gentleman who looks the other way when we sin—on the contrary, he has fully judged the sin in his Son, and because of that judgment, and our imputed righteousness, can declare us totally and completely righteous. It is a base insult to God to assume that he can look the other way when we sin. The person who relies in any form upon his own works, benevolent rich man or not, is being a fool. Our own works could never save us, but what we could not possibly accomplish, God has done in Christ.
Remember the final cry of Christ. “It is finished.” There remains nothing to be done except to believe in the Savior who has done it all. Adding to that with our own works, or depending on the graciousness of God to overlook our folly is the idiocy that ends in judgment and hell. “Should God save one soul from the condemnation which rests on that soul because of sin by softening the condemnation or by so loving the sinner that He surrenders or relinquishes one fraction of His holy demands against sin, that the soul might be saved, God, in turn, would be lost, His essential Being ruined by a compromise with sin, and Himself needing to be saved from dissolution.”4 Thus we insult God by bringing our works to him for approval, and we can expect nothing but condemnation with our Cain-like offerings. The only “ticket” to heaven is through faith in Christ, because it is only Christ who has received judgment, and any other ticket will be utter and complete rejection, just as the work of Cain was refused.
I am afraid there are going to a great many surprised souls on judgment day, for they will be very busy trying to present their best before the Lord, only to find that it is automatically rejected. Remember (Matthew 22) where Jesus tells the story of the wedding where the King finds a guest at his wedding without the wedding clothes. The poor guest finds himself both surprised and speechless, but still cast out into the outer darkness. On that day, do not be found trusting in yourself, but rather in the Son who was provided as the only suitable sacrifice for an angry God.
1. Chafer, L. (1948). Personal Sin. In Systematic Theology (Vol. 2, p. 254). Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications.
2. Chafer, L. (1948). Personal Sin. In Systematic Theology (Vol. 2, p. 255). Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications.
3. Chafer, L. (1948). Personal Sin. In Systematic Theology (Vol. 2, p. 256). Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications.
4. Chafer, L. (1948). Personal Sin. In Systematic Theology (Vol. 2, p. 256). Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications.