RIGHTEOUS BY FAITH
It's a lot easier to persuade people to hate Billy Graham than it is to get them to believe that they are saved through faith in Christ. There are many who want to focus almost exclusively on political issues — who all but equate Christian living with a specific political affiliation — and this is not the heart and soul of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The heart and soul of the gospel of Jesus Christ is this: You become righteous through faith. That means you are saved through faith. That means you find life in God through faith. The Christian life is first and foremost a life of faith.
If you grew up in the church, especially the evangelical church, you have undoubtedly heard this all your life. You can probably repeat these words from memory: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9) We are saved by faith. We've heard it enough that we can repeat it in our sleep, but we still have a hard time really believing it.
Many people think that salvation — and at this point I'm referring to getting into heaven and staying out of hell — should be based on two things: how many good things you did do and how many bad things you didn't do. If they were completely honest, many would also have to admit that, in their opinion, doing the good things isn't nearly as important as not doing the bad things. So, when it comes down to it, for some people the Christian life is defined almost completely by what you do not do. If you don't drink, if you don't smoke, if you aren't promiscuous, if you don't swear, if you don't dance, if you don't gamble and if you do show up for church services, then you're living the Christian life.
Salvation isn't based at all on what you do or don't do. It is based exclusively on your faith in Jesus Christ. You cannot earn it or deserve it. No amount of good deeds can make it happen; it is available only through God's grace. And no amount of bad deeds can negate the power of God's grace. This is the objection people often make: If salvation is free gift of God that comes through faith alone, what's to prevent me from having faith in Jesus and then going out and sinning with total abandon? Sin is never a good idea. It never makes the situation better. To do something sinful just because you know God won't send you to hell for it is not only childish, it's insane. That's because sin never makes a situation better. It always makes it worse. If you commit a sin, God will forgive you — there's no question about that. It doesn't change the fact that sin complicates your life.
Here’s what sin brings to the table: death. It destroys whatever it gets near. You bring sin into your marriage and it will kill your marriage. You bring it into your friendships and it will kill your friendships. You nurture sin in your emotional life and it will make you an emotional basket case. The wages of sin is death. God forgives sin — all sin, no matter how bad it is — but you need to understand that sin's only threat isn't eternal. Sin doesn't just send you to hell after you die — it puts you through hell before you die. Let’s be clear, God forgives sin, all sin, freely and completely. He never withholds his forgiveness. However, if you take that as carte blanche permission to run wild you’re begging for trouble and flirting with disaster and inviting all kinds of misery into your life.
Sin is nasty, dirty, and ugly. When you see sin for what it really is — it is death incarnate — you are able to more fully appreciate the scope of God's grace and the significance of the gospel of Jesus Christ. “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’” (Romans 1:17)