“Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?” (Proverbs 20:9). Each of us knows, that, however well we may do when compared to our own defective standards, when compared to the standard of absolute perfection, we fall woefully and willfully short. And would it not be absurd to suppose that a perfect God would not hold all His creation to a perfect standard? How could He do otherwise? But does that mean that there is no hope for rebellious humanity? Thank God, that is not the case! Instead, He has provided a solution!
As we saw previously, Adam disobeyed God almost immediately after he was created. However, God graciously gave him a promise that assured Adam that a representative man would reconcile those who were in him to God and have the final victory over Satan (Genesis 3:15). God was separating between mankind, choosing some to be his people. He would put enmity between Satan and man. Although it seemed that man had chosen Satan’s side, God would reverse that situation and bring his own elect back to himself, frustrating Satan’s designs (Robertson 96). However, for fallen men to become children of God they must have a new heart and the guilt they had already incurred must be taken away. Mankind needed a representative, who, without sinning himself, would be able to take away man’s sin. God promised to provide this Savior, and called upon his people to trust him. This faith would then be counted to the believer as righteousness. Abraham “believed the Lord, and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). God had already promised a Savior to Adam, but in his covenant with Abraham he pointed even more clearly to Christ (Genesis 17). Then we see the Passover, with the blood of a lamb being sprinkled on the doorpost (Exodus 11-12). A lamb’s blood could not take away sin! The whole sacrificial system pointed to the Messiah, the true Lamb of God, through whom the children of God would be forgiven, would be regenerated, and would be given a new heart that was desirous of serving God and doing righteousness! The Davidic covenant pointed yet further to Christ, narrowing the line from which he was to be expected and announcing that he would be the everlasting King of the people of God (II Samuel 7). We have already seen the concept of a Savior who must suffer, whose heel would be bruised as he took the penalty for his people, and now we observe that this Savior would also be King! God’s dealings in history clearly paved the way for salvation from sin and a turning towards the righteousness that he will provide for those who trust in him.
In the poetic writings God calls his people to base their hope in him. Job trusted God for his salvation, and in light of this claims righteousness for himself (13:16, 18). “I know that my redeemer liveth,” Job exclaimed (19:25). God would redeem his people, who trusted in him, but the redeemer would have to suffer for his people to be able to save them. This suffering is visible to a great degree in the Psalms. Psalm 22 details the great suffering experienced by Christ – “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels” (14). What was the purpose of the Messiah’s suffering, but to redeem a people to be holy to God? In Psalm 24 we see God’s consistent demand for a righteous, holy people. “Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully” (3-4). Where was the person who could lay claim to this? Only one who had received “the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation” could stand before God (5). Trust God for salvation, is the uniform command. Put your faith in Christ, because only from him can redemption come!
This same note of trust in God is struck again and again in the prophets (Isaiah 26:4, Jeremiah 49:11, Nahum 1:7, Zephaniah 3:12). “O Israel,” God calls through the prophet Hosea, “thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help. I will be thy king: where is any other that may save thee in all thy cities?” (13:9-10). Throughout the prophetic writings we see the emphasis that “those who take refuge in him [God] have nothing to fear,” because God promises, “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction” (Hendriksen 249, Hosea 13:14). More than that, he proclaims, “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him” (Hosea 14:4). How could God’s anger be turned away from a sinful people? God could only forgive his people if an innocent Savior took their guilt upon him. “Repent,” God commanded, “turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin” (Ezekiel 18:30). How could a sinful people repent and turn to God? They needed “a new heart and a new spirit” (18:31). Where would this come from? Only God could change the sinner’s heart, and this was what he promised to do in Jeremiah:
…this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people… they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more (31:33-34)
The people of Israel, like all mankind, had rebelled against God and God had punished them for it (Ezekiel 36:16-19). There was nothing in the Israelites to recommend them but God for his own sake promised to sanctify his name and cleanse the Israelites (21-25). He would give them a new heart, and a new spirit (25-26). What was the goal of this renewal? God goes on to say that he will “cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgements, and do them… ye shall be my people, and I will be your God” (27-28). God would do this for his own sake, for his name, for his glory. He would bless the new, converted Israel, and all people would know that he is the Lord (31-38). Who would bring the people back to God? This was a work that only God himself could do. Jehovah, the Creator, is also the Redeemer, the one who will provide righteousness for his servants (Isaiah 54:5, 17). This promise can only be grasped through faith. As is stated in Habakkuk, “the just shall live by his faith” (2:4). The only way to life eternal, both for us today and for those who looked forward to Christ’s atoning work, is through faith in God’s provision of righteousness to those who trust in him.
As we have seen in the earlier segments, God is perfect. He demands perfection from his creatures. God is immutable. His demand does not change! But man is imperfect. He cannot achieve the perfection God demands. Worse than that, man is totally depraved. He cannot change himself or turn himself towards compliance with God’s demand! As clearly explained in the Old Testament, man’s salvation would have to come from God. All of it would have to come from God – the fulfillment of the demand in man’s place and the change in man’s heart towards a desire to keep that command. Yet God, of his great mercy, undertook to do all this for mankind – his self-proclaimed enemies, the ones who had eaten the forbidden fruit in an endeavor to take God’s place for themselves! We have no choice but to cry out with the Psalmist:
Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! …they rebelled against the words of God, and contemned the counsel of the most High: Therefore he brought down their heart with labour; they fell down, and there was none to help. Then they cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them out of their distresses. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and brake their bands in sunder. Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! (107:8-15)
All praise be to God for his wonderful mercy, wisdom, and love in enabling us to trust in him, in paying the penalty that our sins deserved, and in giving us the desire and the power to fulfil his perfect demands of righteousness and justice as we now seek to live to him!
Hendriksen, William. Survey of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, reprinted 2001.
Holy Bible. King James Version. Cambridge, Great Britain: Cambridge University Press, n. d.
Robertson, O. Palmer. The Christ of the Covenants. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1980.