Author: Ron Graham
—More about “justification”
I think it's fair to say that popular reasoning is badly astray on the matter of goodness. Most people think that you're right with God if you do more good than harm.
Even many Christians, who probably ought to know better, think that God is not so hard and uncompromising that he withholds eternal life from good people just because their rightness or righteousness isn't absolutely perfect. "Surely God will overlook a few little sins if a person is truly sorry for them and makes up for them with lots of goodness"?
That's a reasonable question and the Bible is not short of an answer.
1 Not Righteous Enough Ourselves
It comes as a shock to some people to find out that if God based our admittance to heaven on our own goodness, none of us would get in the gate. It would require absolute perfect 100 percent righteousness, and no sin whatsoever on record, to receive eternal life on the basis of one's own merit. Even then I doubt that it would do.
This doesn't mean that God ignores our goodness, or thinks it's worthless. It simply means that we don't have sufficient goodness to satisfy God, so he has to base our admittance to heaven on something other than our own righteousness.
We need to understand that God does not express his kindness by compromising with evil. He has a different way. Here's how Paul explains it: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:23-24).
2 Righteousness of Jesus credited to us
In saying that we are "justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:24), Paul shows us that we are made right with God as a gift from God through the righteousness of Jesus (Romans 6:23). That's what "justification" means.
You cannot be accepted in your own right (Philippians 3:9), but you can be "made accepted" in God’s beloved Son (Ephesians 1:6 KJV). You can be "counted worthy" through the righteousness of Jesus Christ (2Thessalonians 1:5).
3 Example of Cornelius
How did God’s kindness find a way to save Cornelius from eternal death, the consequence of his insufficiency? Was it by lowering the divine standard to Cornelius’s level? Was it by tolerating the sins of Cornelius in view of his outstanding goodness (Acts 10:1-4)?
No, Cornelius needed the goodness of Christ to be credited to him. That's why, even as good as he was, Cornelius had to "be saved" (Acts 11:13-14).
When we seek justification through Jesus Christ, even though we are not sufficiently righteous on our own account, nevertheless we are counted righteous through the cross and righteousness of Christ. His sacrifice and righteousness is all-sufficient. Our shortfall is removed, and we are made perfect by the blood of Jesus, just as if we'd been perfect already.